The last word: Raising our standards

by Al Goodhall

I recently read a letter to the editor in an industry publication, in which the writer was expressing his disappointment in the quality of driving he was witnessing on the road around the Greater Toronto Area and the loss of life that he felt was becoming commonplace.

The letter writer expressed what he felt was the root of the problem: “We switch from professional drivers to guys getting licences in a truck with an automatic transmission. They don’t understand, when hauling more than 50,000 lbs, that this isn’t like a car.”

So my first reaction to this was, ‘Wait a minute, I’ve been driving an automatic for several years now.’ Recently, I was rolling down a long steep grade on Hwy. 17 through Superior Provincial Park. It was late evening when a young moose ran out in front of me.

I was grossing 82,500 lbs and my engine brakes were already controlling my descent, so all I had to do was brake and steer. That automatic transmission downshifted with the engine brakes fully engaged at a rate that I could never match with a standard transmission.

The antilock braking system, the disc brakes, as well as the LED lighting all assisted in avoiding a collision. I didn’t even register a “hard brake” on the telematics system.

So, what’s not to like about these new automatics? Then I paused in my thoughts and re-read the above quote from the writer. The difference is that I am a professional driver. I learned on a stick and drove one for many years. Is that the solution to the problem?

What the writer honed in on is the minimal amount of training and then mentoring that new drivers receive.

Training new drivers on a standard transmission requires a greater investment in time. The result is not just a basic proficiency in a wider skill set, but all of the related training that goes along with it. How a trainer or mentor shares his or her experience is incredibly important to the new driver.

I fully understand and agree with the author on this point. So, it’s not the equipment we drive that is the problem, it is the quality of training we receive. What the writer is really saying, is that automatics equal a lack of adequate investment in time required to truly understand the physics involved in driving heavy equipment.

Way back in 1995, the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council (CTHRC) first launched an entry-level training program called Earning Your Wheels. It is an intensive program and nationally recognized.

The program has been revised several times as the CTHRC worked with trucking schools, carriers, insurance providers, and other stakeholders in the trucking industry. So why do we accept this fallacy that technology has leveled the playing field when it comes to driving a truck?

It simply is not true. The data from any reputable carrier will show that equipment, all spec’d the same, produces different results with different drivers. Training and mentorship matters.

The problem isn’t drivers. The problem is money and the investment mega-carriers have placed in technology over training. We need both. It’s long past time that we stop looking at drivers as an expense rather than an asset.

Professional drivers amplify the return on investment that is made in technology when they receive not only the required entry-level training, but the ongoing training to keep up with technological changes that continue to grow exponentially.

I want to assure all readers that there is a percentage of professional truck drivers that care deeply about road safety and share in the feeling that our overall performance is in decline. But what do we do about it as individual drivers?

Can we do anything about it? Safety professionals, enforcement agencies, governments, truck driving schools, carrier associations and insurance companies have left drivers hanging in the wind by not acting on programs they have participated in developing over a 25-year period and then leaving them on the shelf to gather dust in anonymity.

My solution, fellow drivers, is to reach into your pockets and cough up the $50 to $100 annually to join a professional organization for drivers, such as the Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada, or Owner-Operators Business Association of Canada, or the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, or all three.

Make it a five-year commitment, because we can’t change things overnight. We’ll never change anything by clicking Like on a Facebook page. We need a collective voice to make a difference on our roads and within our industry.

Drivers need their own lobby group. We’re professionals. We have a vast collective knowledge that is grossly underutilized. Let’s make sure everyone knows that.

Al Goodhall has been a professional longhaul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his blog at You can follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall

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  • Sounds to me like MELT program in Ontario missed the mark based on this article? Why not train new drivers on standard transmissions to better understand the vehicle dynamics and variables involved in driving a large truck as part of this program!? I don’t understand why a new driver MUST go through the MELT program (which is not cheap, and therefore does not create incentive to join our industry as a new AZ driver). I often question the intentions and purpose of some of these programs if they are not being implemented, monitored and adjusted accordingly to maximize overall benefits to the industry.

  • Interesting read. However not entirely true.
    As someone who was behind the wheel in the late 1970’s and a member of various trucking groups (Owner/Operator) I can strongly attest that we often wrote and basically begged the various Ministries of Transportation to set up new dynamics for driver training.Many said it was too costly and they needed to “move that freight” and our various Federal Governments gave subsidies to large companies to employ and train drivers while we little companies received nothing. That’s when things began to go horribly wrong!
    I am a member of Women in Trucking ( Charter) OOBAC ( Senior) and a Senior Retired member of The OOIDA to which I presented a speech to the Ontario Speedlimiter group in the Legislature ( I still feel that was a dreadful misstep).
    It is a well documented (HofC Ottawa) fact that the Immigration Dept. along with the Transportation Ministry set forth regulations to aid the employment of immigrants to Canada as Professional truck drivers.
    Yes, there is a serious problem but one that has been years in the making and like the Shingles has no intention of going away anytime soon.

  • Humboldt gave the political will to change things and the governments missed the chance. The industry has been asking for change for 25 years and did not get what is needed. First it should be a federal umbrella that sets the minimum standards for all of Canada, not just the provinces. Melt is too focused on just hours of instruction, whereas proper mentoring is the solution. We all learned by being mentored and that worked, but today the mentors need to be licensed so we have some consistency.

  • The only one remark on switching from manual transmission to automatic is there is no introduction on how to cope with the auto gears and what and how do you manage to control that speed going into the mountains like in the winter and so with no training you got to use the experience and go down the safest way you know how.I experienced this situation and made it true with a lot of doubt I must say there is the manual shifting and using it is perhaps the best answer I like the volvo transmission i shift it is the best one and i did drove a lot of trucks with different transmission.A need for a pre instruction via video training.

  • The autoshift is not just a way to fill seats. Our last ‘hire’ didn’t make the grade, even though he had 8 years experience running mountains and 2 lane roadways – largely because he admitted finally – that he took minimal training in the GTA and never seen a highway or a hill. What he learned was what he saw. Unfortunately for him, racing down an 8% grade at full posted speed wasn’t quite what was expected of him. His inability to comprehend that just because he ‘always did that’ and ‘never had an accident’ didn’t qualify him to fill one of our seats.
    The auto shift just makes this scenario worse. While training on a Volvo i shift, the ECM will jump gears once the RPM gets over 1800.
    The firstvtime we expereienced this was again on an 8% grade, engine in ‘braking’ and suddenly the unit decides to skip shift 2 gears up, to reduce the engine speed. THAT was when I realized there is as much to learning to run an autoshift as there is a standard. The saving grace is, that with my knowledge of standard style gearing, I was able to determine what was happening and to get things back under control. A call to our dealer ‘troubleshooter’ helped me understand the program that was in the ECM – didn’t make any real sense but at least we now know how to train drivers to use it safely.

  • I have seen in the 90’s while being loaded at a warehouse in Lethbridge AB the unit next to mine was also getting the load but this time they had two drivers and there was a trucking school logo on the doors so my question to one of the gentleman was do you guys do commercial work while teaching to a new driver and the answer was YES I was surprised and glad to see that the future driver would pick up experience while being with a teacher in the cab and feeling the way the truck is performing while under a real load and a real traffic and navigation to take care of.

  • O.MG. Classify Commercial driver as a “TRADE” and accommodate monetarily equal to other trades ! – 60 years in this industry and basically ‘NO UPGRADING”. THE GOVERNMENT IS GUILTY due to “LOBBYING” by companies all these years.