Brad Pistotnik Law
Abogado El Toro

Staying sharp: a great driver won’t stay that way if he stops learning or honing his skills

Large Truck Accidents | Featured Articles

August 01 2003 - Staying sharp: a great driver won’t stay that way if he stops learning or honing his skills

With a strong customer base among grocers, Carlisle Carrier Corp.‘s accidents occur most often during backing into tight spaces or at busy loading and unloading facilities. Even so, the Mechanicsburg, Pa.-based carrier discovered one day that its backing accidents for the previous quarter were unusually high.

Karol Kabroth-Lehman refused to accept that performance as either an abnormality or a regrettable cost of doing business. “We just went on a campaign,” says Kabroth-Lehman, director of safety claims administration for Carlisle, which Operates about 150 power units. The driver awareness campaign involved buttons, Decals, in-cab messaging, driver meetings, paycheck flyers and various other media, she says. The campaign’s simple theme was GOAL—“Get out and look.”

The effort paid off. Backing accidents dropped sharply in the next quarter and have remained under control. But as the old saying goes, safety doesn’t just happen. “I think it’s just keeping them aware,” Kabroth-Lehman says. “It’s sharing information with them. It’s a constant effort giving of your time.”

Your life would be much easier, of course, if you could simply hire top-notch drivers and count on them to do the job well at all times. But managers and executives in all industries accept that even the best, most conscientious workers need recurrent training. Even if there are no changes in best practices, complacency and inattention can lead to costly mistakes—even by veterans. Indeed, fleet managers often report upticks in accidents among drivers that have been with their operations for several years.

To manage risk well, trucking operations should think of training as an ongoing endeavor—not one that stops at orientation, post-accident refresher courses or even periodic safety meetings.


In some respects, it’s difficult to separate training from hiring. If a driver’s initial commercial driver’s license training or follow-on training at another carrier was inadequate, a driver who comes to you with a clean record may not be as skilled as you think. He might just be lucky. And current motor carrier safety regulations do not require any particular training at all, although that may soon change. The White House is reviewing a proposed Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulation that would establish minimum training requirements for entry-level commercial motor vehicle operators.

Although a set of government standards for training doesn’t yet exist, the Professional Truck Driver Institute, in consultation with the industry, schools and safety professionals, developed private-sector standards for truck driver training courses. The standards cover the personnel, curriculum and equipment used for training as well as the skills graduates should possess.

Today, 65 schools in 27 states and Canada offer courses certified to PTDI standards. Keep in mind, however, that PTDI certifies particular courses, not schools. A driver who graduates from a particular school may not have taken that school’s PTDI-certified course, so you must look at the driver’s history carefully.

Trucking operations that train their own entry-level driver can purchase PTDI standards even if they don’t seek certification. PTDI also developed standards for carrier finishing programs. Sending drivers through such programs—or hiring drivers who have been through them at other carriers—likely will be viewed favorably by insurance and risk management professionals, says Jim York, manager of the transportation team for Zurich Services Risk Engineering. Although Zurich reviews safety management programs from a holistic perspective, it is very much reassured when carriers use drivers that have been through programs applying PTDI finishing standards, York says.


Nobody ever intentionally accepts a certain degree of loss, but the escalating deductibles and declining coverage levels of recent years have forced carriers into a zero tolerance mindset that perhaps didn’t always reign during the soft insurance market of the late 1990s. It’s not enough to send a driver through a refresher following a minor accident. It’s vitally important to avoid that accident in the first place.

This shift in priorities may be one reason behind an apparent increase in the popularity of driver awareness or defensive driving programs—offered during orientation or at other times—aimed at keeping drivers out of accident-inducing situations. These programs, which vary in duration and scope, include, among others, Smith System’s “Five Keys to Space Cushion Driving,” Zurich Services’ Zurich 10-4 Defense, Liberty Mutual’s Decision Driving, J.J. Keller’s Speed & Space Management and the National Safety Council’s defensive driving courses.

Carlisle Carrier Corp. adopted the Smith System several years ago after the carrier noticed that new drivers were experiencing more incidents. The three-hour program of classroom and driving, which is delivered by Carlisle trainers certified by Smith System, has reduced losses, Kabroth-Leman says.

Dallas-based Frozen Food Express Industries recently developed its own four-hour defensive driving course that is delivered at orientation, says David Hedgpeth, vice president of corporate compliance and safety. “We are finding that more and more of the industry is focusing on crash avoidance,” Hedgpeth says. FFE has concluded that the program has improved its loss record and help with insurance renewals, he says.


To mange risk well, carriers should incorporate recurrent training into their programs. Carlisle Carrier Corp., makes sure that its experienced new drivers obtain training within their first six months at the company. Each driver completes a two-year course supplied by the company’s insurance carrier, Great West Casualty Co., called Ethics and Technique for the Professional Driver. “Older drivers may have a clean record, but they can get lax,” Kabroth-Lehman says.

The idea that veteran drivers become prone to accidents due to complacency is industry conventional wisdom, but that has been the experience at one of the nation’s largest fleet operations. Jeff Lester, vice president for safety, health and security at Ryder System Inc., tracks the company’s accidents by a number of variables.

Lester has discovered that there is a spike in accidents among drivers that have been with the company for two years. Another spike occurs after five years, Lester says. What’s particularly intriguing is that the spikes appear to be independent of the driver’s overall years of driving experience. In response to these findings, Ryder has been trying out various awareness programs aimed at veteran drivers.


As Ryder System learned, tracking losses closely can yield powerful insights into how you can manage risk through targeted training. But your operation doesn’t have to be a mega-fleet like Ryder to learn from the numbers. Houston-based intermodal carrier Excargo Services Inc., which runs about 30 power units provided by owner-operators, was accident free last year and was recognized earlier this year by the Truckload Carriers Association as the safest carrier of its size.

Although Excargo’s operation is not large, the carrier looks for and finds patterns in the few incidents it does experience,” says President Marcia Faschingbauer. The company looks for patterns based on day of the week, time of day, location and so on. The results help shape the emphasis of Excargo’s training program. “One of the things we are dealing with this year is personal safety—careless things in the yard,” she says.

Faschingbauer notes that Excargo once discovered that it was experiencing an inordinant number of mishaps around lunchtime on Mondays. Perhaps drivers were trying to rush and get something done before lunch, leading to mistakes, Faschingbauer speculates. The company made drivers aware of the problem, and it died away.

Safety professionals know that incidents call for a quick training response. Any time one of Stone Transport’s drivers is involved in an incident, he is subject to an immediate session, says Jim Schultz, director of safety and human resources for the Saginaw, Mich.-based bulk carrier, which operates about 200 power units. Stone Transport uses computer-based training through J.J. Keller and TREAD-1. “If a driver has a problem at a scale, for example, he might have to take the pre-trip inspection training module,” Schultz says.

The secret to safety training is to be relentless, Kabroth-Lehman declares. Three days a week, Carlisle Carrier Corp. sends its drivers a safety message to their in-cab Qualcomm units. A monthly drivers’ newsletter always highlights one or more safety messages. When driver gets a paycheck, there usually is a flyer pushing a safety or loss prevention message. One flyer Carlisle used simply says, “Cargo at rest is cargo at risk.” Carlisle even uses spots on the local television to promote highway safety, although the target audience is four-wheelers, not truck drivers.

Says Stone Transport’s Schultz, “The biggest thing is constant awareness.”

In all large truck cases it is essential that measures be taken promptly to preserve evidence, investigate the accident in question, and to enable physicians or other expert witnesses to thoroughly evaluate any injuries. If you or a loved one is a victim of a large truck accident, call the Truck Accident Lawyers Group, Inc. now at (877) 736-4222 or CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT A SIMPLE CASE FORM. The initial consultation is free of charge, and if we agree to accept your case, we will work on a contingent fee basis, which means we get paid for our services only if there is a monetary award or recovery of funds. Don't delay! You may have a valid claim and be entitled to compensation for your injuries, but a lawsuit must be filed before the statute of limitations expires.