Maverick last year completed a $4 million expansion of its training center.  Photo: Maverick Transportation

Maverick last year completed a $4 million expansion of its training center. Photo: Maverick Transportation

Experts on driver recruitment and retention may disagree on the relative importance of such key motivators as base and bonus pay, length and scheduling of time away from home, quality and care of equipment, and fringe benefits ranging from healthcare to 401(k) plans.

Yet there is broad agreement that positive communication between drivers and their employers is crucial to attracting and keeping those best qualified to deliver the goods. That holds true through the hiring process and throughout their career with a carrier – and good training programs are one aspect of that communication.

Communication is critical when training new hires and veteran truckers alike. How else will they know how to operate safely, efficiently and profitably within the operating parameters of a given fleet? What’s more, professional training that instructs drivers on how they can go about their work at minimal personal risk and with optimum financial gain will help recruit and retain them.

There’s no dearth of tools, including high-tech programs and systems, available to streamline and even automate the process of evaluating driver skills as well as implementing corrective training. But fleets would be wise to first and foremost put a baseline training program in place that clearly communicates what is expected of their drivers.

Basic training

An excellent back-to-basics handbook for training drivers on all facets of their job is the “Skill Standards for Professional Solo Tractor-Trailer Drivers” issued by the Professional Truck Driver Institute in Alexandria, Va. The 55-page document can serve fleets as a detailed blueprint to constructing a comprehensive training program. It covers everything from performing a pre-trip inspection to the vagaries of dealing with life on the road. PTDI says these standards “represent the touchstones that a tractor-trailer driver finishing program should contain and against which any such program may be judged.”

Why think of training in terms of skill standards? PTDI contends taking this approach will boost recruitment and retention at a fleet by communicating to drivers exactly what is required of them. The group believes drivers who develop their skills by meeting standards will ultimately make better decisions about their career path. That will include seeing the value in training needed to obtain and keep well-paying jobs.

On top of that, PTDI thinks completing standards-based training will help drivers communicate more effectively to employers about what they know and can do. And it should lead them to work more effectively with employers on upgrading their skills and developing their careers.

The skill standards were developed from data originally created by the Department of Transportation and PTDI to focus on what it takes to be a successful truck driver. The insights gleaned were compiled into “a role map for truckers,” which became the basis for developing the standards. The result, it says, is “useful to guide the training and performance of first-seat, solo professional tractor-trailer drivers.”

PTDI created 21 task-specific standards to cover the major duties of a truck driver as defined by that role map. Each standard is described in detail. Listed are the required conditions of performance to be met, a statement of the work to be performed and its criteria, along with the performance elements and criteria assessed to meet a given standard.

Before and after

Of course, no driver — new or veteran, young or old — is a blank slate. Every driver brings with him or her the baggage of past experiences. But knowing what that contains can enable a fleet to provide corrective training as warranted. It may cost carriers less in the long run than having to find, recruit, vet and train a replacement for a driver let go for violations that stemmed from repeating ingrained behavior.

A University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study in 2008 found that the past driving record of CDL holders is “related to unsafe or hazardous actions that result in traffic crashes.” The 32-page paper examines crash and offense rates for 2006-2007 across CDL drivers grouped by the patterns of crashes and offenses charged to them from 2001-2005.

Significantly, the UMTRI data shows that those with safe driving records in the first period studied went right on to have safe records in the second period. And, by contrast, drivers with crashes, speeding offenses, and alcohol offenses on their records before continued their “risky driving behavior” after.

The study also shows that CDL drivers who had no offenses to begin with ended up having the least involvement in crashes of all severities the second time around.

CDL drivers with records of speeding offenses incurred the highest rates of fatal crashes. The research reveals that the overall rate of fatal crashes per CDL driver in the after period was 0.0009 per driver — or about one fatal crash per 1,111 drivers. Drivers who had at least two speeding tickets before, later had the highest rate of fatal crashes per driver — working out to one fatal crash per 588 drivers. And drivers who clocked at least two speeding offenses up front also had the highest rate of speeding offenses later on.

The authors of the UMTRI study, Lidia Kostyniuk and Daniel Blower, say the study’s findings can help trucking improve driver hiring, training, and retention policies.

Similarly, a study by the American Transportation Research Institute indicates that truck drivers who had a past crash also had a significant (88%) increase in the likelihood of having a future crash. “Predicting Truck Crash Involvement: A 2011 Update,” based on data from 587,772 U.S. truck drivers collected from 2008-2009, identifies specific driver behaviors (violations, convictions and crashes) correlated with crash involvement.

The ATRI study ranks the top 10 “driver events” by percentage increase in the likelihood of predicting a future crash. “Failure to use/improper signal” came in as the conviction most associated with an increased likelihood of a future crash — boosting it by 96%. Other events that increased the likelihood of a future crash were:

  • Past crash (88%)
  • Improper passing violation (88)%
  • Improper turn conviction (84%)
  • Improper/erratic lane change (80%)
  • Improper lane/location (68%)
  • Failure to obey traffic sign (68%)
  • Speeding more than 15 mph over limit (67%)
  • Any conviction (65%), and
  • Reckless/careless/inattentive/negligent driving (64%).

A key takeaway from the study, ATRI says, is that “by becoming aware of problem behaviors, carriers and enforcement agencies are able to address those issues prior to them leading to serious consequences.”

Back to the future

Just because past actions can predict future consequences doesn’t mean one should not intervene in the present. Training tailored to the negative behaviors of specific drivers may ensure safer driving down the road.

Doing that requires nothing less than effective, consistent communication with drivers about what their employer expects from them. That’s just half of it, though. The rest is providing those drivers with the training they need.

As consultant Duff Swain, president of Trincon Group, Columbus, Ohio, sees it, “the lack of consistency in how trucking trains and educates drivers contributes to the driver shortage. Companies have to cultivate the best graduates of certified CDL driving schools or put their own candidates into such programs through tuition reimbursement” to bring in new workers.

But no matter how they come onboard, Swain argues that “drivers require effective, sustainable training throughout their careers” to build satisfaction with their job. “Continuous education and skills development will help keep drivers engaged with their occupation and their employer.”

“Drivers should continuously enhance their skills through training and obtaining industry-related certifications throughout their tenure,” he points out. “To enable that, a carrier can make a variety of professional-development opportunities available to drivers along with driving-skill and remedial training.”

Where to start? Swain sees training as integral to showing drivers how valued their role is, so he advises starting on day one with a thorough, engaging orientation process that leaves them feeling they made the right decision joining a fleet.

“That’s when the job description, the expectations involved, and how progress will be measured should all be laid out — everything on how they will work for the company,” he explains. “From there, it’s all about providing drivers with the training to build the required skills for their jobs and, of course, treating them positively with respect.”

About the author
David Cullen

David Cullen

[Former] Business/Washington Contributing Editor

David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.

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