Driver attitudes the biggest factor in highway safety

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“I will not be writing about – or interviewing anyone during – the Manitoba Truck Driving Championships! I will be a competitor and just enjoy the day.” Those were the words I kept telling myself leading up to the event on June 17.

But as is often the case, they’re just words.

Why is that even an issue, you ask? For years I have been writing about the importance of the Truck Driving Championships. I’ve spoken about them to friends, co-workers, and industry movers and shakers. This year leading up to the event I did some promotional work through my podcast.

driving competition
David Henry feels more fleets should encourage participation in truck driving championships. (Photo: James Menzies)

Frankly, I was sure nothing more could be done on my end. I wanted to enjoy the day, because it is a fun day for all involved.

Preparing for competition

This year, for the first time since 2017 and only the second time since 2013, I entered as part of a team. I approached my boss, who talked to his boss, who talked…you get the picture. It’s a large company. They let me put together a team of three and get prepared. It was so much fun. We had quizzes, a practice day a week before the competition, and I made sure my team knew what to expect. Our team was the only one with a female driver.

So, after all that work, I thought some enjoyment was on tap. I was going to try to get one final radio interview to help promote and get fans out to watch us.

Great idea. Then the crash near Carberry happened on June 15. Two days before we went on track.

I didn’t do a final radio interview. I felt like I had taken a punch to the gut. Devastated.

I still don’t care who’s at fault.

On the 17th, our day started at 7 a.m. with registration. My relaxing day wasn’t really very relaxing. I tried hard to keep my team from stressing too much about how they would perform and tried to keep my mind off the tragedy. Surprisingly, local news stations showed up to highlight what the competition was all about, as there was so much media focus on trucking. They wanted background on the industry. So much for keeping my mind clear!

So much for not writing about the competition as well. Because this is exactly why these competitions matter. Every company that sends their drivers and volunteers, is interested in being better today than yesterday.

If you want to compete, you need to be constantly learning. No matter your years, you need to stay alert every second of every day.

One of the questions for the written part of the competition was: “What makes the most difference in the fuel economy of a truck?” Despite all of the fuel-saving measures and computers, the biggest impact is the driver.

Media interest

With all the media attention at the event, ‘driver attitude’ kept going through my head. Here’s another answer from a defensive driving question: “Drive to avoid incidents in spite of the actions of others or adverse conditions.”

This spring has been hell on the roads. Fatalities all around. In good conditions. It has been brutal. Impatience is at an all-time high. I’m continually getting passed in unsafe, illegal conditions. Every day there’s someone entering a roadway with not nearly enough space. The attitude out here among many drivers is horrible. Impatient. Distracted. Arrogant. The list goes on.

Focus on mental health

I know what we need to do in trucking.

Expand our classroom retraining to include mental health strategies as well as a driving aspect. I know some companies use training simulators, but nothing beats the real thing. Make a track and do some obstacle training.

Mental health strategies should be designed to help drivers cope with stress and recognize psychological triggers to keep them in a better frame of mind. This should also be taught to office staff.

We need this with regular motorists as well. The driving instruction is pitiful in Canada. Any driver who gets a major ticket should be sent back for retraining – at their cost.

Hire truck drivers who want to get off the highway to do the training, and pay them well. No matter what we do, we need to get it into drivers’ heads that the mental part of driving is more important than anything else.

We can be driving on the best-designed roadway or on a mud track. What keeps us safe is our attitude.

Our team? I’m proud of them. Kate and Len did well as rookies. I wasn’t my usual self, but I did get third in Super-B.

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David Henry is a longhaul driver, Bell Let's Talk representative and creator/cohost of the Crazy Canuck Truckin podcast. His passion is mental health and presenting a better image for trucking to the public.

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  • No the bigger problem is dispatch and treatment by receiving including excessive late fees and lack of safe parking and medical care for sick or injured bus and truck drivers 8n Canada. Then in a distance 3rd is a number of drivers with the me first idea
    We need to do a test every year on all drivers and get rid of some current lease and driver inc models that do not provide medical care and tempary safe housing if sick or injured and in ont make sure all drivers that have worked over 1000 hours in the past 15 months get all medical care covered that has been cut by the Ford government and access to a nurse or PSWs as well and mental help and hydro for oxygen generators and c pap machine

  • Well said David and could not agree more with training standards and raising the bar. I have been in this business my entire life, 35 plus years professionally. As an owner, driver, trainer and instructor. But we must also train the public as well on how to interact with trucks and enhance public awareness. Licensing is a privilege and commercial licensing should be held at even a higher standard. If driver attitudes can not be altered/corrected no matter the vehicle being driven that privilege should be removed

  • When I got my CDL in the 70s from George Brown College I didn’t know how much I didn’t know! after 30+ years of driving and coaching, I kept seeing the same thing among new drivers, many schools do not use the proper equipment to really teach a new driver with,,,,, who thought it was/is a good idea to charge a new student $5,000 or more to get trained for a DZ license which would allow them to drive dump trucks and work in construction, only to find they are put in a “bobtail” tractor that weighs bout 20,000 lbs and they drive around with no weight and only front brakes? When they “graduate” and go looking for a job they are put into a fully loaded dump truck of about 60,000 lbs or more and many are not hired because they were never trained properly! I have questioned this practice for years, having driven both fully loaded dump trucks and TTs as well as training for a school and OTR coaching, I can’t believe that MELT and the MTO still allow this!
    Just goes to show that in some eyes Trucking is NOT the most important industry in the world!