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Graphic of instructor training drivers

Use test scores to evaluate students’ progress as well as the performance and curriculum of your program and the trainer.

This article is from the Spring 2016 issue of The Quill. To view the full issue, visit The Quill archive.

Load demand is high and driver availability is low. During the difficult search for qualified drivers, some motor carriers are considering modifying their driver experience requirements to accept applicants with limited or no experience. In light of this trend, we’re kicking off the “Driver Training Academy,” a three-part series on the topic of driver onboarding and education. This first lesson will cover techniques for training drivers who are just beginning their trucking careers.

A Word of Caution

Before altering your standards to accept inexperienced drivers, be sure to consult with your legal counsel to determine if doing so will raise any legal concerns or increase the potential for punitive damages in the event of a loss. Also consider how a reduction in driver experience may affect your perceived safety and compliance status or the level of confidence your customers have in you. Evaluate whether your staffing needs could be addressed by improving retention rather than training new drivers.

If you plan to hire less experienced drivers, follow the best practices in this article to establish a sound training program. Keep in mind that trainee drivers should continue to meet your minimum age and all other driver eligibility requirements with the exception of your minimum driving experience level.

Truck Driver Training Schools

There are a couple of different ways to approach hiring a new driver from a truck driver training school. Some companies pre-hire trainees based on their qualifications and direct them to the school that best fulfills the needs of the company and the student. This approach often yields more success for motor carriers versus hiring students as they graduate.

Truck driver training school selection is important. Some schools take the profession very seriously and have comprehensive classroom, laboratory, range and road training programs, while others provide only the basics for students to pass their state CDL road exam. Protective recommends that schools provide a minimum of 24 hours of behind-the-wheel (BTW) training on public highways in addition to any range time they offer.

Thoroughly evaluate the schools you are considering. The Professional Truck Driver Institute has information you can download that will help you evaluate a school’s curriculum and performance. Contact motor carriers that have used the school and get a firsthand report of their satisfaction level with student hires.

Be aware that in early March 2016, FMCSA released a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) proposing a set of comprehensive national prerequisite training standards. These standards would apply to entry-level commercial truck and bus operators seeking to obtain their initial CDL, upgrade or reinstate their CDL or apply for a hazardous materials, passenger or school bus endorsement. Class A applicants would be required to have a minimum of 30 hours of BTW training including 10 hours minimum on a practice driving range. Class B applicants would be required to have a minimum of 15 hours BTW including seven hours minimum on a practice driving range. This training can only be provided by an entity that meets FMCSA criteria and is listed on FMCSA’s proposed Training Provider Registry. There is currently no proposed minimum number of hours for classroom training.

We encourage you to review this NPRM. When finalized, the regulation will be adopted into the Protective Minimum Loss Prevention Standards.

In-House Driver Training Programs

In lieu of sending drivers to truck driver training schools, some motor carriers may choose to train students on their own. Before starting a student driver training program, clearly define the program’s purpose and explain how the training, monitoring and coaching will maintain or improve your drivers’ performance level.

Ideally, a potential student should be employed by your company for at least three months and receive a recommendation from his or her supervisor prior to beginning driver training. To conduct in-house training you will need a dedicated trainer(s), classroom, range and behind-the-wheel training time. Anytime a student is behind the wheel, a trainer must be with the truck to observe and provide guidance. (Guidelines for trainer selection will be provided in a future article from the Driver Training Academy.)

The training process should include a series of written and performance-based tests to evaluate students’ progress. Review the test results and provide guidance as needed to help students learn. Also use the test scores to evaluate the performance and curriculum of your program and the trainer. If a student is not progressing as quickly as you expected, do not immediately place the blame on the student—consider the effectiveness of your training program and the performance of your trainer.

Provide a defensive driver training program such as the Professional Truck Driver Course structured by the National Safety Council and the Smith System of Safe Driving, or create a formal in-house program that aligns with the format of these systems. Your state CDL manual also has a great deal of information to help drivers perform safely. Place emphasis on speed and space management, turning, lane changes, overhead clearances, stopping distances and distracted driving at a minimum. Regardless of the program you choose, ensure it is well documented and that the instructors themselves have received the necessary training and/or certification.

Classroom training for new drivers should be more in-depth than your orientation for seasoned drivers and cover, at a minimum, the basic topics listed below. Provide additional detailed training on any other topics that apply to your driver force and company operations.

Minimum Topics for Classroom Training

  • Driver work environment and expectations at your company
  • Company operations
  • Hours of service, including ELDs where applicable
  • Pre- and post-trip vehicle inspections, including vehicle weight
  • Roadside inspections
  • Driver responsibilities as they pertain to:
    • DOT, OSHA and other regulatory agencies related to truck operations
    • Company standards
    • Vehicle maneuvering, operations and maintenance
  • Shifting techniques
  • Shipping papers and working with shippers and consignees
  • Trip planning and map reading
  • Vehicle loading techniques including weight distribution and load securement
  • Personal and vehicle/load security
  • Driver fatigue and distracted driving
  • Hazardous materials
    • Even if your company does not transport hazmats, provide introductory training so the driver will learn to recognize hazmat loads if he or she encounters them
  • Worker injury prevention and driver wellness
  • Drug and alcohol awareness
  • Adverse driving conditions including steep grades
  • Collision reporting and investigations
  • Categorized in:
  • Driver Management
  • Transportation Safety