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Want to Understand Truck Drivers? Go to Driving School

This article previously appeared in the 4th Quarter 2016 Edition of CVSA’s Guardian Magazine.

 

Want to Understand Truck Drivers? Go to Driving School

By Kevin Burch, President, Jet Express Inc., Chairman, American Trucking Associations

My cover was blown. It took a little more than two weeks for me to learn two important lessons: I’m not cut out for a career as an undercover law enforcement officer and I had a lot to learn about driving a truck.

Two weeks into the six-week CDL training program I took at Clark County Community College, the instructor told the class that the day’s lesson would be about getting hired as a truck driver. Like the moment in a movie when the undercover officer knows he or she’s been sold out, I knew I would be exposed at any minute. Sure enough, the slideshow scrolled through a list of nearby trucking companies and my pictured popped up on the screen along with my title and place of business: Kevin Burch, president, Jet Express Inc., Dayton, Ohio.

Now, I didn’t go to driving school to find the best local talent and hire them to our company; I wanted to learn how to drive a truck. And, let me be the first to say, driving a truck takes training, skill and constant focus. But, being a truck driver is about more than simply driving a truck. I learned there are a whole range of other responsibilities that I’d argue are equally important. My first road test ended in defeat. I went back to school, used my drive and passion for trucking, and passed the second time around.  

In August, I attended the National Truck Driving and National Step Van Driving Championships and what I saw at the championships reaffirmed what I learned a few years ago as a student at truck driving school: the pre-trip inspection is one of the most important parts of any trip. Competitors are scored for their ability to recognize hidden defects and DOT violations on the class of truck they’ll use to drive the obstacle course – but they only have 10 minutes to complete the inspection. To me, this mimics the intense concentration that it takes for America’s 3.5 million professional truck drivers to complete their pre-trip inspections every day. A thorough pre-trip inspection prevents unsafe conditions when we’re out on the road.

At driving school, that point is emphasized, and when a driver gets hired and trained by his or her company, that point is re-emphasized. A pre-trip inspection can be life-saving. A good pre-trip inspection is expected from start to finish. We want our equipment on the highway to be in top condition and safety is first and foremost. However, a breakdown on the road can also be costly and the freight is delayed for the customer.

So, I was not surprised to see that a 24-year-old driver was named Rookie of the Year at the National Truck Driving Championships. Young drivers, especially those who were recently trained at a driving school or company training program, can be valuable spokespeople for the importance of a pre-trip inspection within a company’s terminal. This year’s Rookie of the Year could have achieved the highest score possible on the driving course and still finished with a disappointing overall score if he had done poorly on the pre-trip inspection or written examination. Every part of a driver’s day matters and every decision can have a major impact on safety.

As the president of a trucking company and as a licensed class 8 truck driver, it’s important that I understand the role that a pre-trip inspection can play on highway safety. Fostering an environment at my terminals that promotes thorough inspections and commitment to detail is an essential part of my management responsibilities. During my tenure as chairman of the American Trucking Associations, I hope to continue to spread that message to my colleagues and associates throughout the industry.

Looking back, it’s sometimes hard to fathom how many lives have been saved by making sure a tire is properly inflated or checking to see if the brakes are properly functioning before a driver set out for his or her delivery. Pre-trip inspections have saved countless lives and they will continue to keep us all safe on the roads.