FROM OOIDA'S DC OFFICE: Small business trucking's top safety resolution for 2014 - action on driver training

By Ryan S. Bowley, OOIDA director of government affairs | 1/3/2014

As 1991 began, the United States was taking steps to start military action against Iraq in response to the invasion of Kuwait. Two movies, “Terminator 2” and “Robin Hood” (the Kevin Costner version), were getting ready to battle it out for the top box office movie of the year (Arnold would win). It was the year that the Super Nintendo was first released. 

It was also the year that Congress first instructed the Department of Transportation to develop training standards and requirements for entry-level truck drivers.  While Desert Storm is now a memory, Arnold went on to serve two terms as governor of California, and Microsoft and Sony are the video game leaders – we are still waiting for the DOT to put in place something resembling a true entry-level driver training standard. 

While legions of technology vendors are looking at the new highway bill as an opportunity to advance their silver bullet “safety” solution, 2014 needs to be the year that Congress, DOT, and the entire trucking industry embrace the necessity of entry-level driver training and work together to put in place a final set of basic standards and requirements. This shouldn’t simply be another item on a long to-do list. It needs to be the top safety priority for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Small-business truckers – entrepreneurs who are working every day to support their families – recognize the value of safe driving knowledge and experience.  The average OOIDA member has more than 2 million miles of accident-free driving with more than 25 years of trucking experience.  Small-business truckers are the leaders in highway safety, with experienced drivers who show their commitment to safety every day. 

This is in strict contrast to some motor carriers, who despite spending a lot of money highlighting their “progressive” stance and their “commitment to safety,” are at the wrong side of the coin in key areas like crash frequency, driver turnover, and a commitment to real-world entry-level driver training. As research from the OOIDA Foundation has shown, many of the carriers that depend upon technology instead of ensuring that every truck has a trained and knowledgeable driver behind the wheel drive half as many miles between crashes as major carriers that use owner-operators and experienced drivers. These carriers are also the reason that trucking has a driver turnover rate of more than 100 percent, view a driver with six months in the industry as “experienced,” and perpetuate the continued use of “CDL mill” programs that give a new driver the ability to pass the road test and little else.

The highway bill passed in 2012 included another call from Congress to DOT to finalize an entry-level driver training standard.  OOIDA, through its “Truckers for Safety” agenda, has developed a comprehensive driver training program, called the SMART Future Truck Drivers Act, and some – but not enough – major carriers are getting on board with safety benefits of driver training. 

Yet getting something done is not guaranteed, as some in the industry will push for as meager a training requirement as possible while others will advance a “one size fits all” approach that does not match training requirements to the demands placed on new drivers, leading to higher costs and more reasons for progress on a standard to continue to be painfully slow.

OOIDA is committed to being the strongest advocate for driver training in the nation’s capital, working to put this critical issue on the must-do resolution list for Congress and for FMCSA.  But we need your help.  We need you, the professional drivers who know more about highway safety than anyone, to help us educate lawmakers, their staff, and other policymakers about the importance of driver training – especially in place of the unproven and anti-competitive regulatory mandates that are using the safety argument to become law. We are resolved to make training happen, and it needs to be on your resolution list as well!