“I started driving my dad’s truck 30 years ago and I was only 18.” How many times have you heard this said? Some drivers say they started driving “Dad’s truck” at age 16. So what’s the beef with putting younger truckdrivers on the road? I have some observations on that line of thinking.
First of all, 30 years ago it was a different world. We didn’t have half the traffic we have today. There were times on the highways that we didn’t see another vehicle for a half-hour at a time. Try that today.
Learning to drive back then was a different kind of learning experience. You didn’t do it at the school where you had to learn it in order to pass a test. When your dad taught you in his truck, you were given as much time as needed. You probably had already spent 10 years around a truck or machinery. You may have started by moving the truck to help load, or maybe in a field where you couldn’t hurt anything. It’s likely that you had already spent years helping fix the equipment. You knew more about the equipment than most driving school graduates, and you probably had more than 100,000 miles in the jump seat.
Back then you had a teacher that could spend as many hours as you needed to learn, and if you did something wrong, you probably got batted up along side the head. You could bet every time you racked a gear you knew you would get a knock behind the ear. After all, this was Dad’s truck. When it came time to learn to back up, you may have already spent years backing up a four-wheel hay wagon. Backing up a semi-trailer was pretty easy compared to that hay wagon.
Let’s think about the way we learned. If you cut the hay wagon too sharp and the hay fell off, guess who had to pick it up? If you messed up something on Dad’s truck, guess who had to fix it and worse yet, who had to answer to Dad? Today, a young candidate goes to school for two to three weeks, spending half the time in a classroom and probably 40 hours driving, if he or she is lucky. This young driver has a trainer he/she answers to, and both of them are riding in someone else’s truck. This future trucker has been taught to pass a test, but has he/she been taught responsibility? What about learning how to care about what you do or really care about your equipment? Can these teenage students learn this as well as someone who has spent countless hours living in the truck or countless hours under the truck working on it with Dad?
Let’s not forget that awesome feeling of power you got the first time you drove an 18-wheeler. Does the word “hot dog” remind you of anyone? Do you think that feeling will be any less in teenagers of today? Then we are going to turn this 18 year old loose on our highways amidst the incredible traffic and road rage.
Let’s talk more about the trainers. Today, we have companies that consider trainers to be someone with six months experience. That really makes me feel comfortable. We’ve got a 23 year old with six months experience teaching an 18 year old. Perhaps the reason companies have young trainers with limited experience is that they are the only ones foolhardy enough to go out on the road with a brand new truckdriver and actually climb in the bunk and grab a nap while the kid rolls down a totally unfamiliar highway.
Now, let’s compare today’s 18 year old with one of 30 years ago. I don’t remember any young person back then going to school and murdering a teacher or fellow classmate. If you didn’t like someone, you threw eggs at their house. You didn’t drive by and shoot them. And 30 years ago, if a youngster did wrong, he had to answer to family, usually Dad, and he might even get the paddle. Today, any kid getting the paddle can make his parent answer to social services. Dads are very important guys. They provide guidance, someone to look up to, and yes, even discipline. Without discipline, anything goes. And when anything goes, we’re all in trouble.
In conclusion, I don’t think a driving school can provide all of those things to make an 18-year-old driver in today’s trucking world. These companies and driving schools just can’t do what Dad did 30 years ago. Maybe we need more dads.