On the Road

What's a Good Driver?

December 20, 2011

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Everybody wants good truck drivers these days. Funny thing though, the recruiting ads are usually desperately short on specifics. So what is a good driver? Let's ask a few of the many masters that drivers serve in the course of their duties.


A dispatcher might say that a good driver is one he can depend on to get the freight delivered, no matter what. Dispatchers love drivers like that. Helps them sleep at night. Ask the safety supervisor, and advise him of the dispatcher's response, and he'd likely have a stroke.

"If the driver's willing to do whatever needs to be done to get the freight to the customer on time, no matter what, then maybe the driver isn't taking safety seriously enough," the safety supervisor might say. "Hours of service, bad weather, traffic congestion, all that and more are safety concerns. Maybe I'd better speak to that driver."

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Now ask the safety supervisor what she thinks a good driver is, and she might say someone who does whatever needs to be done to get the freight delivered on time, provided it doesn't compromise the safe operation of the vehicle.

"The good driver is mindful of bad weather and other motorists, doesn't drive aggressively, and obeys all the rules of the road," the safety supervisor might say.

Next, let's ask a carrier sales rep what a good driver is, and while you're at it, tell him what the safety supervisor said. When he gets up off the floor, he'd likely rant and rave about all the promises he made to the customer.

"I sold that customer on on-time delivery. What happens if your driver runs out of hours before he gets to the customer? I'm toast!" he might say. "How can we separate ourselves from the competition if we don't go the extra mile? I'm going to have to offer the customer a discount on the next load just to keep the business."

Since we're making the rounds, let's ask a mechanic what makes a good truck driver.

"He's not hard on the equipment, he looks after the truck, and he's not always walking into the shop waving work orders around for silly stuff like radios and air conditioners that don't work, or squeaky doors," the guy with the wrench in his pocket might be inclined to say. "What does he know about trucks anyway? He's not a mechanic."

And just for fun, let's ask a DOT enforcement officer.

"A good driver would always be in compliance. He'd always be polite and helpful while I conduct my Level 1 inspections, and he would never question my judgment. I know the regulations better than any driver does," he might say.

A driver's spouse would probably say a good truck driver is one who always comes home when he says he will and never misses the kid's birthdays. The insurance broker might see a good driver as one who's never had an accident, even though he may have never had to avoid one either.

And any member of the motoring public might tell you that a good truck driver is one who never speeds or tailgates, or better still, stays home and doesn't clog up the busy highways. But that member of the motoring public might well be informing you of his opinion while standing in line at the train station waiting for a loaf of bread or a gallon of gasoline.

As we already know only too well, a truck driver serves many masters, and precious few really understand just what a valuable asset a good truck driver really is. But back to my original question: what is a good truck driver?

I think a good driver is one who is aware of the importance of what he does, and at the same time he understands what an awesome responsibility driving a truck on a clogged highway can be. He knows the value of customer service, but his self-esteem won't allow him to be taken advantage of in the process. He respects authority, but draws the line at bending over backwards for some misguided little Nero with an inflated sense of his own importance.

He knows enough about his truck to know when it needs attention, and he gets it when it's needed. He wouldn't drive anything in less than tip-top mechanical condition. He knows that delivering the load isn't always the most important thing in the world. And he values his family and his personal life enough to say 'no' at times when it may be imprudent to do so.

He knows trucking is a hard row to hoe, but he gives it 100 percent everyday anyway, and he respects his fellow drivers enough to flash the headlights for a passing driver, and he won't leave the landing-gear crank sticking out from beneath the trailer in a dark drop yard.

But mostly he knows that he can't possibly please everyone so he picks his battles and stands his ground in the face of bad direction. He's acutely aware that he'll be left holding the smoking gun when something goes awry.

He knows the value of being a good driver, and will do nothing to jeopardize that standing. Today, a good driver should be worth his or her weight in gold.

Now let's hear from you. How do you define a good truck driver?

Comments

  1. 1. Mike Reardon, Virage [ December 21, 2011 @ 04:35PM ]

    What is a good driver, comes up daily in my work. Our mission here is to improve road safety, by focusing on the driver. In this work, we have found truckers to be the majority of professional drivers on the road. This is why we know the best of drivers among them likely came to it within an apprenticeship type approach and continue to do so throughout their careers.

    In doing so, they are safe because they understand how to completely avoid accident situations. They are reliable for getting there on time and taking care of their equipment because they understand cutting corners is a road to nowhere. They are productive because they know speeding will not improve their time and likely cost them in more ways than one. At the end of the road, they know what's important is to get home in one piece to family. Everything else is secondary, which is why the motoring public appreciate such drivers more than others.

  2. 2. Jim Park [ December 21, 2011 @ 05:38PM ]

    Thanks for the comments Mike. I especially like the line, "cutting corners is a road to nowhere." So true.

  3. 3. Guy H. Broderick [ December 22, 2011 @ 02:43AM ]

    Jim

    Great article. I have always been from the understanding a true great driver is not born but is created. Have a good training school behind is just the first step to a career in the trucking industry. Having a company stand behind you in training is the second step. Yes some drivers can pass a road but are they truely professional. I have been in this business 28 years and I still learn from mentors everyday. I take these idea's and tricks of the trade and introduce them in my training scheduale all the time. To be a professional driver today it is not just driving skill that is needed. People skills are a very important part of the job.

    Guy h. Broderick

  4. 4. Mike Bush [ December 28, 2011 @ 11:51PM ]

    WOW! Great article!!! Super insightful, while showing accurate emotional response from all the trucker's "encouragers". Been at this since 1968, still enjoy it, while enjoying DOT less. I still learn things daily, & try to share knowledge from a "may I help" rather than the "whatchuneedtodo is this". Good drivers are made, not born. Even more rare are the Business owners that happen to drive a truck. Thanks again, great article.

  5. 5. G Decker [ January 04, 2012 @ 04:00AM ]

    There is always something new to LEARN!!! I am just breaking into the heavy haul side of the business (after 21 years of driving) and it is not a learning curve but a learning spike. Having a blast while doing something new!! Treat every day as another day to learn something NEW!

  6. 6. Terry Phillips [ January 06, 2012 @ 02:33AM ]

    I have just retired after 48 years in the driving business. I have trucked from the Mexican Border right up to Alaska..I have done the lumber camps, the mountains, the ice roads, and downtown in the biggest cities. I have had one small fenderbender...the other guy was charged. I have had maybe 3 small speeding tickets and to the end,being a Canadian, my abstract and CVOR abstract were clean. A good driver? Maybe.. but very lucky as well. I learned the business by doing it and learning as I went. I am thinking that being a good driver is more about one's attitude and practicing what one has learned while behind the wheel and also in everyday life as well.

  7. 7. Jim Park [ January 03, 2012 @ 07:36PM ]

    Mike,

    Glad to hear you're still learning something new everyday -- even after 43 years. It's amazing how many industry experts have learned everything there is to know about trucking in five years. Good on you, too, for offering to share that insight. It's worth its weight in gold. I wish more would listen.

  8. 8. Jim Park [ January 31, 2012 @ 09:17PM ]

    Thanks for that Terry. That's a great attitude for driving and for life.

  9. 9. Trucker79010 [ January 09, 2012 @ 07:46AM ]

    I'd say you described it pretty well. In my field of trucking(hauling feed to feedyards) I see a lot of drivers that don't take pride in what they do they think of trucking as a just a job and hate driving a truck and have no respect for the other drivers in the company or anyone else on the road.

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Author Bio

Jim Park

Equipment Editor

Truck journalist 13 years, commercial driver 20 years. Joined us in 2007. Specializes in technical/equipment material (including Tire Report), brings real-world perspective to test drives.

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