Professional driver training! Sufficient or not?

If you spend a lot of time on the road, especially the Autobahn, you’ve probably noticed the huge commercial vehicles that rumble by all the time. Behind these trucks is a legacy of professional driver education.

These trucks are everywhere, transporting all imaginable goods within a state or even from coast to coast. If you buy fruit from a grocery store, chances are it spent some time in one of those trucks before ending up in your fridge.

There’s no denying that these huge trucks are necessary, but they’re also potentially dangerous. Its sheer size makes some drivers nervous when they pull up next to you on the way to or from work. Because if the driver of this vehicle decides to flinch suddenly, this truck could drive you into a bulkhead and severely injure you or a passenger.

This is reminiscent of training to become a professional driver. Is it enough to allow the millions of drivers on the road to operate vehicles of this mass?

That is the question we are trying to answer in this article.

How bad are truck accidents?

Let’s look at the state of Texas for a moment. Commercial trucking in Texas is a huge industry as these big trucks haul everything from lawn mowers to exercise equipment. There are also some pretty worrying truck accident statistics in the Lone Star State.

Texas has more truck fatalities almost every year than any other state. It’s a big state so that probably has something to do with it, but even considering the size, it’s alarming how many people die or sustain injuries related to commercial trucks. In 2018, for example, 664 people died in accidents involving commercial trucks.

Training as a truck driver

Anyone with a driver’s license but no commercial truck driver training should never get behind the wheel of one of these giants. A tractor-trailer can, in most cases, reach speeds of around 80 miles per hour and weigh up to 80,000 pounds. Imagine a person with no proper training trying to maneuver something like this.

All states, including Texas, require commercial truck driver training. As with obtaining a regular driver’s license, there are two parts involved. You must first find out about the road traffic regulations for commercial trucks, some of which deviate from the regular vehicle regulations. Then you have to spend some time in a simulator that will eventually prepare you for reality.

This training usually lasts at least several weeks. Drivers cannot drive commercial trucks until they have what the industry calls a CDL, or commercial driver’s license.

There are different CDL classes

You should also understand that there are three different CDLs and not just one. Which one the driver has to get depends on three particular details.

The first is what you want to promote. Some CDL licenses are harder to get than others because the driver is transporting things like toxic waste or volatile chemicals. It should come as no surprise that these CDL licenses are some of the hardest to get.

Next comes the variety of trucks you plan to drive. There are a variety of large rigs, and some of the largest are also the most difficult to maneuver. Usually you need additional simulation time if you want to get such a CDL license.

The final factor is whether you will be operating exclusively in-state or out-of-state. It’s generally a bit easier to get a commercial truck license if you plan on staying in just one state. However, as a commercial truck driver, you typically make more money and have more opportunities if you can haul your cargo from state to state.

The FMCSA regulations

There is a regulatory body called the FMCSA that regulates truck drivers and commercial truck licenses. If you don’t have the proper license and the FMCSA catches you or the company you work for, you may have to pay fines or, in some cases, even face jail time.

In 2016, the FMCSA enacted some significantly stricter regulations for commercial truck drivers. Some of the truckers and companies they worked for found these new rules quite onerous, but they will soon have to comply.

These rules require more difficult entry-level driving training, sometimes abbreviated as ELDT. They will come into force in February 2022.

Commercial drivers who have been on the road for many years probably don’t need to worry too much about the new requirements, but some entry-level drivers aren’t so sure. These expanded protocols and training requirements should address particular safety concerns of truck drivers in Texas and elsewhere in the country where commercial truck accidents are more common than the public would like.

Is that fair to truck drivers?

Whether these new, stricter rules are fair to truck drivers or whether they go beyond that cannot be said with certainty. A novice truck driver may grumble about this, but other non-commercial drivers in road traffic in particular are happy when they hear about these new requirements.

The fundamental difference between the new ELDT and the old way of doing things is that the new rules require a lot more actual training behind the wheel and less simulated training. The FMCSA’s argument was that simulated trucker training doesn’t work as well as real time behind the wheel.

While the new training sounds good in theory, it probably won’t be possible to see how well it works until we’ve delved a few years into the new protocol and we start seeing some traffic stats for comparison. Perhaps new truckers will find that the improved training isn’t as bad as they make it out to be.

However, the general public is unlikely to understand truckers who complain that they are having a harder time obtaining their commercial license. The thought of someone driving an £80,000 vehicle without proper professional training as a truck driver is terrifying, so most people probably won’t mind the new requirements.

Commercial trucker training articles and permission to publish here provided by Susan Melony. Originally written for Supply Chain Game Changer and published on July 30th, 2021.

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