Issues in Truck Driver Training


Several pileups involving 44 vehicles occurred Sunday afternoon on I-94 in Michigan. Poor visibility combined with drivers who were going too fast for conditions and following too closely, resulted in the pileups, including one with six tractor-trailers and one fatality.

Poor driving habits lead to errors and mistakes. Studies suggest driver errors and/or mistakes can result from learned habits, which in turn can be corrected by training.

Training is on the minds of leading motor carriers. Carriers are either expanding their in-house training or breaking into training by investing in truck-driver training schools.

Training Issues

Issue # 1. Good truck driver training is not cheap; cheap truck driver training is not good.

Cheap training is any training that does not offer real value. Without quality, there is no value. Without safety there is no quality.

Cheap truck driver training schools are euphemistically known as “CDL Mills.”

California style: driver training tractor with no fifth wheel hitch.

California style: tractor with no fifth wheel hitch.

Issue # 2. Funding for Workforce Training is Political.

Truck driver training runs from $1800 to multiples times that amount. Workforce training funds are generally based on federal money, doled out by the state, sometimes tied into quasi-governmental entities that administer the funding. Union members may have special or additional training funding programs. Veterans have another program. In my experience, these programs are bureaucratic, even nightmarish at times when they are corrupt and drivers have their CDLs cancelled.

Usually the driver is expected to invest in his own career. For some lacking those funds, this may be an impassable hurdle. For others, the bureaucratic hoops for federal/state funds are another kind of hurdle. Who should pay for the training? What’s a fair solution?

Issue # 3. Demographics and Social Engineering

Fact: The workforce is getting older. Young people feel compelled to go to college by their friends and family, even if they won’t be happy there (or later from the millstone of student debt). At the same time there is a pool of unemployed who are not attached to the labor market. This is affecting almost every industry from agriculture to construction to manufacturing. Some say this is because a number of states offer alternatives to work in the form of welfare payments equivalent to $15 to $25 /Hr. Attracting those folks back into the labor market is seen as a major challenge.

Issue # 4. Training Follows a Circular Pattern

Trucking is a service. One cannot build up an inventory of unused capacity in trucking like a manufacturing plant can. When the economy slows, training is the first area to be cut. When training or safety is cut, few may notice any difference in operations or may attribute losses to other considerations. Safety culture works like that. Nothing happens until something happens. Sometimes a wake-up call is a major crash. Other times it’s a visit from a DOT auditor and a shutdown notice. Corrections and change may take years to get things right again.

Issue # 5. There are few Training Standards

Competency is defined as the ability to apply knowledge and skills to produce a required outcome. Competency is expected to develop from  education, training and experience. Competency is generally based on a prescribed level of training.

The Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) promotes truck-driver training and driver finishing standards. PTDI-certified courses are currently offered at 58 schools in 19 states and one Canadian province, according to their website. 

Until standards are universal, training and competency will suffer. Training and competency are suffering. Drivers are set-up to fail. Some carriers employ questionable training practices. They invest little or no money in training and shift 100% of the risk and consequences to subcontractors, some who have been killed, along with their trainees.

There is no agreement on what a competent truck driver should look like. That decision, and the unintended consequences that inevitably follow, will be made by some DOT bureaucrat in Washington D.C., based on the report of the  Entry-Level Driver Training Advisory Committee.

Training should not end when a driver gets a CDL. Safety training should be a core part of every driver’s career from beginning to end. Better motor carriers acknowledge this.

Action expresses priorities. Gandhi


Workforce training is an essential investment for safety and productivity. Since the recession started in 2007, there has been an overall under-investment in training, apart from a few exceptional motor carriers. This lack of investment has resulted in a loss of productivity and repeated safety issues.

The good news is that corrections are being made. It is one of the goals of this safety blog to contribute to effective training solutions and safety indoctrination.

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J TaratutaJohn Taratuta is a trucking safety advocate and Risk Engineer. (989) 474-9599