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 https://truckingacrosscanada.blogspot.com/ You can follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall