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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingJuly 17 - July 23, 2019

Behind the Wheel Training

Transportation CDL cf25aBy Brian J. Riker

Driver training (not tow operator training) is among the many things I do for a living. When was the last time you or your operators took a defensive driving course or brushed up on your general driving skill set?

Risk-minded companies will usually conduct a road test to evaluate a potential new hire's ability to safely operate the specific piece of equipment they are being hired for. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations encourage this pre-hire road test; although they do make room for some waivers, mostly for experienced operators. I would never recommend hiring someone until their competency at basic driving skills has been clearly demonstrated.

What about when it is time to promote a driver? Or when you are short staffed and, although they were hired for light-duty, they have the required class of license to take the medium-duty out "just this one time?"

The answer is still the same: always perform a skill evaluation before allowing an employee to start operating a new piece of equipment. OSHA generally requires model-specific equipment training on forklifts and similar equipment, and so should you with your on-highway equipment.

I investigated a terrible accident for a client several years ago. This company had hired a driver with 25-plus years of experience and a clean record. They chose to use the road test waiver as permitted by the FMCSA and sent them out on the road.

Several weeks later, in an attempt to reward the driver for excellent performance, they assigned them a brand-new truck. The driver was uncomfortable with this as he had never driven anything new, nor was he familiar with this particular engine and transmission combination. (Anyone that drives large trucks knows the newer engines shift vastly different than the older ones, and it takes some time to become comfortable with the different RPM range and general performance.)

The supervisor insisted the driver would be alright and, without time to familiarize themselves with the new truck, the driver left for a trip.

During this trip the driver was descending a steep grade, approximately 8-percent on a gravel access road in a mountain forest, and missed a gear causing the truck to run away. The driver rear-ended another truck, causing both to go over the mountainside and resulting in severe injury to the other driver. My client's driver walked away with minor injury.

Ultimately, my client paid a multi-million-dollar settlement and nearly lost their ability to be insured because they failed to confirm their driver was competent to control the equipment they were employed to operate.

As a business owner you must be certain that your team has the current skill set required to perform all of their job functions, regardless of the experience level.

It doesn't need to be complicated. Dedicate one or two safety meetings a year (I prefer two so you can cover seasonal topics) and review basic rules of the road. The sample test questions from your state commercial driver license manual are excellent for this, and are readily available without charge.

Then have lunch and set up some traffic cones in the yard as an obstacle course. Provide instruction on proper mirror adjustment and usage, basic vehicle controls and then let them demonstrate their skills.

Include safety topics such as GOAL, which stands for Get Out And Look. Introduce the Circle Check, which once a habit will compel them to walk 360 degrees around their truck every time they approach it. Maybe even make a competition out of it with little prizes for best overall performance, like a truck rodeo.

Most importantly, make sure the person selected to be the trainer has good driving habits and skills. It will not do you any good to teach bad habits or incorrect information. Stick to the facts and figures as presented by your state driver-licensing program or a nationally recognized driver coaching school. If you have many drivers, usually 15 or more to be cost effective, you can hire a national driving coach to come present defensive driving and driver coaching to your team.

Many insurance companies will offer a premium discount for properly trained drivers, and better yet, many have driver-training resources they offer to their insured for free. Check with your insurance carrier to see if you can take advantage of these programs.

Brian J. Riker is a third generation towman and President of Fleet Compliance Solutions, LLC. He specializes in helping non-traditional fleets such as towing, repossession, and construction companies navigate the complex world of Federal and State transportation regulatory compliance. With 25 years of experience in the ditch as a tow operator Brian truly understands the unique needs and challenges faced by towing companies today. He can be reached at
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