The FMCSA’s new proposals are intended to lower the rate of truck wrecks caused by inexperienced or improperly trained truck drivers.
This has been a divisive issue that has pitted professional truck member organizations such as the Teamsters against the FMCSA for years.
The truck member organizations believe that the government has dragged its feet in implementing stricter training methods, and in fact, a group of them filed suit in 2014 against the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the FMCSA for delaying the passage of these stricter laws.
“The Teamsters and a number of other safety organizations have been pressing the FMCSA for more than 20 years to raise training standards for entry-level truck drivers,” added Witherite. “This is by no means a new issue, but one that has been fought for decades. Responsible truck drivers understand that inexperienced drivers cause more accidents and blemish the reputation of safe drivers who are properly trained to avoid wrecks. So the burden hasn’t been on truck drivers pushing back, but more so on the fact that getting anything pushed through the government is often an arduous process. But the tragedy is that people are dying on the roads as we wait for these proposals to become law.”
And the FMCSA’s own studies bear out the fact that inexperience is a major factor in the number of truck wrecks each year.
The most recent FMCSA large truck crash causation study listed the following as major causes of truck accidents:
- Inadequate surveillance
- Driving too fast
- Illegal maneuver
- Unfamiliarity with road
Even a cursory examination of each of these causation factors shows that they are all either directly related to or tangentially related to driver inexperience.
There are an estimated four million truck drivers in the U.S. who possess a CDL, and in many states an entry-level commercial truck driver must only attend 10 hours of classroom training and pass an exam to obtain a CDL.
Adding to the problem is that there is a large shortage of qualified commercial truck drivers in the U.S.
According to the American Trucking Association, one of the leading truck carrier organizations, there are about 48,000 truck driver openings in the U.S. in 2016, and over the next nine years, there are expected to be about 890,000 openings.
But the bigger problem is that 29 percent of the nation’s commercial truck drivers are in the 45 to 54-age range, and many of them are leaving the industry due to burnout, exhaustion and low pay.
As a result, truck carriers are hiring new drivers who have never driven large vehicles before, and are sending them out on the road with very little practical training.
Worse yet, many truck carriers only pay drivers when their trucks are actually on the road, which forces many inexperienced operators to spend even more hours on highways, which increases the likelihood of a truck wreck.
“One solution that has worked for some truck carriers is raising the starting wages of entry-level truck drivers, which studies have shown attracts better drivers and lowers accidents,” Witherite added. “When truck carriers pay a wage that makes applicants feel as if this is a professional job with the same respect accorded to white collar workers, everything gets better. Training programs are extended, safety is made a priority, and the overall job satisfaction increases. And truck carriers that pay per hour instead of per the amount of time the truck is on the road would probably find their drivers are more relaxed and more likely to emphasize safety over the rush to make a delivery time.”