Higher education

Linda Longton

Veteran truckers have long complained about the younger generation of drivers. Poor work ethic, unprofessional image, and lack of courtesy are just some of their typical gripes. But perhaps their main beef is that too many newbies just don’t know how to drive.

It wasn’t always this way. In days gone by, many truckers learned to drive truck on the family farm under the watchful eye of a father or another trucking relative. Back roads and open fields were readily accessible and relatively safe training grounds for those new to the rigors of double-clutching and backing a trailer.

Unfortunately, fewer and fewer of today’s young drivers enjoy such a start. Too many get their commercial driver’s licenses after completing less-than-comprehensive driver training courses – some lasting only days – with limited or no time spent behind the wheel.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration wants to change that. Under a rule proposed in December, entry level drivers would have to complete a minimum of 120 hours of training at an accredited institution: 76 hours in the classroom and 44 hours behind the wheel. The curriculum would include basic operation, safe operating practices and vehicle maintenance. Upon completion, they would receive a certificate, which graduates would have to show prospective employers in order to get a driving job.

“This rule should have been put in place years ago,” trucker William Smith said in his comments to FMCSA. “I have been driving for 30 years, and I have seen lots of people with a CDL that could not actually drive a truck.”

“Within the past two years especially, I have been shocked at the drivers (right out of school) that have come to work for us,” commented Larry Tompkins, a driver trainer and 25-year trucking veteran. “Some didn’t even know how to hook and unhook a trailer. If this proposal is passed it will improve the skill level and safety of the drivers on the road.”

FMCSA does not estimate the number of accidents the rule would prevent because no data addresses the impact of training on accident reduction. But common sense says more thoroughly trained drivers should be inherently safer.

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If there is a downside to the proposed rule, it’s cost. Training at an accredited school does not come cheap, and few enter this industry armed with plenty of cash. But perhaps putting a value on a trucking career will help give the job the respect it deserves, which could go a long way toward improving trucking’s image. And, hey, that might even help us attract more quality young drivers.

Will all this lead older drivers to stop complaining about the younger generation? Not likely. But at least maybe they’ll gripe about something other than “He doesn’t have a clue how to drive