With the tragedy in Saskatchewan, Driver experience and qualifications have come into question. It has been determined that the truck driver was licensed for only one year, and had little time with the company that he was driving for.
This brings the question of experience and knowledge. Was the driver, in fact, experienced enough to do the job he was doing? Was the training he had received sufficient and appropriate. How can we know? Are there other drivers out there in a similar situation, without the knowledge and experience to handle unforeseen situations?
I have been a truck driver for much of my life. I started more than 40 years ago. At that time, there was little available for driving schools. What little training I received was with another driver who was willing to share his experience with me and give me pointers on how to manoeuvre a tractor trailer on the roads and in the yards. With some practise, I was able to pass the test and obtained my license. This gave me a license to learn. However, the only teacher I had was experience. I made a lot of bonehead mistakes, being young and full of testosterone. I was Invincible! Or at least I thought I was. Time has given me a new outlook on this. I am amazed that I did not kill myself or anyone else. No, there were no accidents involved. Driving too fast on an icy road, taking corners faster than I should have, just being an idiot were some of my foolish behaviours.
This brings me to the question. Currently, truck driving is considered by the Federal Government as “semi skilled manual labour”, (see: http://noc.esdc.gc.ca/English/noc/ProfileQuickSearch.aspx?val=7&val1=7411&ver=06 ). Should truck driving become a recognized trade? My feeling is that it should.
Let us consider the many “hats” a truck driver wears. A driver is responsible for the equipment the driver operates. This includes full safety inspections daily. The details of this inspection are outlined in http://ccmta.ca/en/publications/national-safety-code/standards/item/nsc-standard-13 . While not a mechanic level inspection, this guide outlines the failures that will put equipment out of service. Walking around the vehicle does not provide a close enough look to meet compliance. Imagine if auto drivers were required to perform and record this type of inspection daily. Would they? Are they even capable? What if their livelihood were at stake? This is what the truck driver faces every day. There are even fines for faults that develop after the inspection, so the driver must verify the condition several times daily, and make repairs as required. Truck drivers have a requirement to follow the HOS regulations. http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-2005-313/ . These regulations can be quite complex, but
simplified, drivers are restricted to 13 hours driving per day, 14 hours of combined driving and working (remember the inspections) in a 16 hour period, and a minimum of 10 hours “off duty” per day. Drivers are further restricted to no more than 70 hours of combined work and driving time in a 7 day period.
Truck drivers are required to plan their time to make their loading and unloading fit into these hours while still meeting the needs of the shipper and the company that they are employed by. Record keeping is also an important part of the driver’s job. Documents relating to the regulations above, tracking the load documents, providing those load documents to the carrier for proof of delivery and payment while still staying within the rules of the road. (regulations can change when moving through different jurisdictions) Finding a safe place to park for time off can be a challenge, but the HOS regulations are specific and must be followed.
Truck drivers are the representatives of the carrier when they meet with a shipper or receiver. They must be clean and presentable. They must be personable, even when a pick up or delivery goes awry. They must be courteous to other users of the road systems, and be constantly vigilant for aggressive or less knowledgeable drivers to keep the roads safe. Being alert allows a truck driver to prepare for the unexpected. Be this wildlife, other drivers or even people on foot, paying attention to the surroundings is critical.
This all seems to be “common sense”, and in a way it is. Add in variables, such as road conditions and weather and it becomes more complex. Even driving into the sun as evening approaches adds difficulties. These factors must be taken into account before one gets behind the wheel.
Still thinking that “semi skilled manual labour” is an appropriate term? Let me bring equipment configurations and loads into the discussion. Trucks are considered everything from the ½ ton pickup weighing about 4500 Kg to the specialized equipment used to transport massive loads with weights sometimes exceeding 450,000 Kg. Would the person driving the small delivery vehicle need the same experience that the driver hauling the massive load? Of course not, and this brings me to the point of trade certification.
I am going to restrict this to trucks that require a class 1 license. Referring back to my opening, on achieving this license designation, a driver has a license to learn. A recognized program with specified levels of achievement will help to address this. There are many types of truck and trailer combinations, each requiring special skills. Many of these skills are transferrable from one type of truck to another. Many are not.
Basic manoeuvring of equipment is one of those skills that is transferrable. Knowing how the truck and trailer(s) will track in corners, how long it will take to stop safely loaded and empty is another. From this point, the skill set begins to diverge. The commodity being carried and the type of trailer(s) create massive differences. A truck hauling gravel or soil is fairly basic. Keeping the product inside the confines of the trailer is one of the most important aspects of this type of truck. However, this type of equipment can often be found travelling on residential streets. Narrow confines and people or pets dashing into the roadway make for a challenge here.
Van trailers bring a different set of skills into play. Often these trucks are on long distance runs. Driver fatigue can come into play along with many variations of road and weather conditions. A driver who picks up this type of trailer from a yard does not know how the trailer was loaded. Weight distribution can affect handling characteristics significantly.
Flat decks have a different set of challenges. There are no sides to enclose or secure the load. Chains and straps do this job, but knowing how and where to place these takes skills that take time to learn.
I specialize in hauling liquid loads inside tank trailers. Consider that liquid loads are constantly moving inside the trailer. Getting started can be a challenge when the load moves forward and back, changing the momentum of the truck. Stopping safely is also challenging when the load moves forward inside the trailer giving an extra push forward. Liquid loads can be of many different types. Water, oils and often very dangerous chemicals can be found inside a tank.
There is also livestock hauling. This load takes special care to keep the animals safe and healthy. Livestock constantly moves inside the trailer, shifting the weight distribution which affects the handling characteristics of the truck.
By implementing a trades program into the trucking industry, carriers will know, by the endorsements on the license, what skills the driver has. It will give the carrier more ability to hire the appropriate driver, and what skills the driver will need to meet the requirements for keeping the roads safe for all users. Knowledge is one of the best tools we can use. A three year trades program to obtain the basic skills and the designation of truck driver journeyperson is critical. Endorsements to the license allowing drivers to “solo” with specified equipment is one step closer to having safer roads.
Another aspect to designating truck driving as a trade is that it will change truck drivers from commercial drivers into professional drivers. With this we can see more interest in the trade by younger people. Skilled truck drivers are aging, and there are few young people who wish to take up this job. Earnings will increase, standards will be higher and pride will come out more.
Infrastructure and Transit.
These links help aspiring drivers pass the CDL exam by taking the practice test.