Do Truckers Need More Training?

Big truck speeding on highway

American roadways face a dangerous problem. Each year, there are 450,000 truck crashes between America’s 3.5 million truckers. That means each truck driver has a 1-in-8 chance of being involved in a serious wreck each year. Many of these crashes could be prevented if truck drivers had more experience. The fact is that truckers need more training.

Turnover and Shortages

A report from the American Trucking Association found an annual 95% truck driver turnover rate in 2019. This doesn’t necessarily mean that 95% of drivers left the industry, it also accounts for drivers who changed employers. However, a significant share of new truck drivers are quitting just months after earning their commercial driver’s license (CDL).

These drops represent a crisis for the trucking industry. In 2018, companies needed an additional 60,000 drivers to meet their orders. Now, two years later, that number is closer to 88,000 positions. That means the industry, as a whole, is rushing to get as many CDL-certified drivers on the road as possible, especially before the lucrative holiday season.

Rules and Regulations

In an effort to fill a huge number of empty drivers seats, the trucking industry successfully lobbied the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to fundamentally change the requirements needed to test for a CDL. This has been ongoing for years, but the changes in February 2020 represent extremely lax training requirements to earn an entry-level commercial license.

The current minimum training requirements do away with theory hours (also called classroom hours) entirely. So long as a CDL applicant correctly answers 80% of the written test questions, they earn a trucking permit.

Semi-trucks, especially those linked to a trailer, control fundamentally differently than other vehicles; they make wider turns, have much lower visibility, have difficulties in accelerating and maintaining speed, and require micromanagement on steep (high grade) slopes. By not requiring theory hours, the FMCSA’s requirements may not be adequately preparing new truckers for the real world.

Once someone earns a CDL permit, they need 15 hours of behind the wheel (BTW) training for a Class B license (for long vehicles like dump-trucks and buses) and 30 hours of BTW training for a Class A license (semi-trucks and tractor-trailers) before they can take their driver’s test.

This is further limited by the FMCSA accepting 50-minute “classroom hours” as full hours. That means (assuming a classroom hour starts when a driver is behind the wheel), drivers who need 30 hours of behind the wheel training could test with as few as 25 hours of actual BTW experience. For a cross-country truck driver, that’s the equivalent of 2-days of work experience before they’re allowed to test.

Trials and Challenges

A DMV skills test is only a snapshot of a bigger picture. It doesn’t account for night driving, poor road conditions, heavy traffic, or any of the major factors in trucking accidents. As designed, the Class A skills test primarily examines a driver’s ability to turn, merge, stay in lane, follow signals, and reverse. The difficulty of these maneuvers greatly depends on whether the DMV is in a city or a rural area and the amount of traffic during the test.

According to causation reports by the FMCSA, driver error and inexperience play a significant factor in America’s annual 450,000 trucking crashes. Of crashes caused by the truck driver, about 70% were the result of poor driving technique (not staying in lane) or driver error (going too fast / turning errors). These crashes have a devastating impact on all involved. Almost all trucking wrecks result in serious injuries or worse. Truckers need proper training to avoid these crashes. It’s a matter of life and death.

If you or someone you love suffered severe injuries or even wrongful death in a trucking accident, we can help you get serious. If you’d like an experienced Gulfport auto accident attorney from Gulf South Law Firm to evaluate your case, please send us an email or call (228) 231-3989.

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