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FEATURE OF THE WEEK: Hit the road – Road tests can be wonderful screening tools — if they’re properly structured

Application forms, job interviews and reference checks all play key roles in the hiring of professional driver...

Application forms, job interviews and reference checks all play key roles in the hiring of professional drivers, but it’s the accompanying road tests that can offer some of the best indications of skills at the wheel.

To be effective, however, these tests need to involve more than a simple spin around the block, and should be structured to reflect the daily realities of your business.

“I like a long road test,” says FedEx Ground regional maintenance and safety manager Ted Dezsenyi, who spends 1-1/2 to two hours with each of his candidates. In the first 45 minutes, the applicant may not even leave the yard, moving through tasks ranging from circle checks to the coupling and uncoupling of trailers.
Applicants need to be on the road for at least 20 minutes until they slip back into “automatic mode” and fall into their usual habits, he says.

Meanwhile, the route should incorporate every possible terrain — from highway ramps to local roads, railway crossings, loading docks and industrial parks — and require candidates to start vehicles on inclines, and back into loading docks.

“Anybody can drive a straight line,” Dezsenyi says, suggesting the highway driving doesn’t offer the greatest indication of skills.

When planning your own road tests:

Take the time to know your candidate: Take a look at the driver’s work history, studying abstracts for signs of repeated offences that should be a particular focus of the test. And since tests can be nerve-wracking experiences at the best of times, take about five minutes to meet with candidates to calm their nerves.

“I tell them not to consider it a test,” Dezsenyi says. “Consider it an opportunity to show off for me. Show me what you do well.”

Don’t plan tests during rush hour: Time is of the essence, and you aren’t learning that much about the candidate if you’re parked in the middle of a traffic jam.

Begin the test in the yard: Ask the driver to conduct the circle check in a manner that they would repeat on a typical day. “If they’re walking back and forth, from front to back three times, they’re probably doing a Saturday-morning circle check,” he says, noting that these candidates will tend to gloss over inspections during typical workdays.

But Dezsenyi won’t automatically fail a driver for missing one or two steps in what appears to be a logical circle check. He simply makes a note of the missed item for the purpose of future training.

Know that the eyes tell a story: When on the road, drivers should be scanning everything from gauges to mirrors, and you can tell if they’re paying attention by dropping the occasional question about the color of a car that just passed the truck. And instead of asking a driver to make a turn three traffic lights ahead, tell them to watch for a specific street sign.

Focus on the way candidates handle mistakes: Nobody’s perfect, but a road test will give you the opportunity to gauge how a driver handles problems. If someone “high-pins” a trailer while attempting to couple the tractor and trailer, see if they take the time to step out of the cab and lower the landing gear a little, rather than repeatedly slamming into the king pin, Dezsenyi says as an example.

As an added benefit, a coupling procedure will offer you an accurate look at a driver’s physical ability to do a job.

Ultimately, Dezsenyi says that a mere 30 to 40% of candidates pass his look at the severity and frequency of their errors. Some drivers don’t even make it out of the parking lot, since they jump into the cab without any thought of a circle check. (On another note, he suggests it’s important to do a circle check of your own earlier in the day, to ensure the vehicle is actually ready for the road.)

“I ask myself, ‘Did the person do anything where they were going to injure themselves or somebody else,'” he says. “And if I owned this truck, would I want the person to drive it?”

The Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council (CTHRC) is an incorporated non-profit organization with a volunteer Board of Directors that is representative of stakeholders from the Canadian trucking industry. With the conviction that the best human resources skills and practices are essential to the attainment of excellence by the Canadian trucking industry, the mission of the Council is “to assist the Canadian trucking industry to recruit, train and retain the human resources needed to meet current and long-term requirements”. For more information, go to

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