Asleep at wheel: Carriers profit from trucker training mills

A recent New York Times editorial urged the U.S. Department of Transportation to stop “dawdling” on issuing federal regulations for truck driver training.

They wrote, “A disproportionate number of highway fatalities involve large trucks, yet current federal standards are grievously lax. To get a commercial license to operate a big rig, drivers are only required to receive 10 hours of classroom lectures, pass a written test and take a brief road test. While some also receive hours of supervised behind-the-wheel training, many do not.”

My firsthand experience with poor and unsafe entry level driver training was so egregious, the problem so vast, that I have spent six years writing about it in order to inform anyone who would listen how unsafe and unaccountable the trucking industry and trucking regulators are for driver training practices.

Student truckers are seen as a for-profit industry, one that is not held accountable to public safety. Profit motive drives the many steps involved in training – from recruitment to loan approval. The federal government, through its MAP-21 and other programs, provides funds to train truck drivers. Yet, hundreds of men and women each year sign on to become truck drivers and fill critical truck driver shortages, and most of them are gone the following year.

The lack of standards in training allow Commercial Driver’s License mills to exploit people, who are sold a dream of trucking. Anyone who receives a grant or loan is considered qualified to operate a tractor trailer. It’s about money, not about training qualified people to become qualified truck drivers.

Carriers often push their drivers to become trainers to make more money. But they also push bad students to pull real freight, which is a danger to everyone. Some trainers become resentful and violent toward their students, which affects women the most. Carriers use cheap student labor to run team freight and they risk public safety each and every day doing it. Some students who have had a number of mishaps because of their poor training go off driving solo with their bad skills. Out of this mess, they learned the carriers’ “golden rule”: “Do what it takes to get the job done and don’t get caught doing it.” This is a hirable driver.

A driver that protests poor training or anything else is considered weak and a troublemaker. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has allowed this to go unchecked for decades. Why should the taxpayers be funding a 100 percent turnover rate and an industry not held accountable for the lack of driver training standards?

In 2013, the vice president of our women’s trucking organization read a letter to a listening session on entry level driver training held at the Mid-America Truck Show. Anne Ferro, FMCSA administrator, was there. That anyone from the FMCSA attended was considered a victory. Here is what the letter said in part:

My name is Sandi Talbott, I am 71 years old and I have been driving for 34 years.

Only drivers like me see the effects of poor entry level driver training when we are out on the road, not the CDL school administrators, not the American Trucking Associations not the Commercial Vehicle Training Association.

We see the student truck driver crashes that do not make the news and the scattered rigs along the off-ramps operated by a new drivers that have not been taught to park, back up properly, manage their hours of service, logbook or know how to stick up for themselves against training carriers pushing them because they are an expendable cheap labor source.

In our weekly group we have come in contact with student drivers who are put out on the highway with as little as two weeks experience and they are running freight even though they feel they are not prepared to do so.

There is no oversight on the turnover rate in the training carriers and the claims of the ATA of a critical driver shortage.

As a veteran driver and as a taxpayer I feel if the FMCSA truly cared about safety they would have a cap on how many students could be recruited by a training carrier per year.

Government funding for entry level driver training has become a welfare program for some big carriers that the ATA represents.

This system is setup that someone with my qualified driving experience cannot train an entry level driver but a person who has just a few months of experience CAN train another student.

This is not highway safety.

Our group wishes to educate elected officials and the motoring public how government funds like MAP-21 are being misused at carriers who are recruiting between 90 and 200 entry level drivers each week without accountability.

Carriers like Werner, CR England, Covenant Transport, CRST Van Expedited, SWIFT, US Xpress, New Prime, these are just few of the carriers who use students to run team freight before they have enough skill, sell them on a lease owner-operator one sided sharecropper trucking programs, and do not provide qualified logbook training or equipment training.

The FMCSA should conduct an audit into these carriers with regard to the government funds they are receiving to train students, the turnover rate associated with them, exit interviews from those who sought training and compare just how many of these entry level drivers are now out of the system.

Drivers who have no desire to train are pressured into taking on the task. This is highly dangerous and can become volatile, especially for females.

You can read the full letter and docket of our other comments along with the video of Sandi delivering this testimony HERE.

The FMCSA has been asleep at the wheel, putting people at risk on America’s highways. The public must educate themselves on this topic and demand action. They must understand they are at risk by these sweatshops on wheels driving next to them on the interstate.

Desiree Wood is president of REAL Women in Trucking, Inc., a 501 (c) 6 association formed by REAL professional truck drivers to promote safety and to improve truck driver training.

Photo: via FCMSA on Facebook