Commercial trucks are pervasive nowadays. Big rigs scale millions of miles of U.S. roadways each year, as per the U.S. Department of Transportation. And, California falls on the list of the top three states in terms of the number of miles logged annually by the semi-trucks on the country’s roads.
Commercial trucks, especially the semis are massive and complex vehicles. Intensive training is needed to properly run an 80,000-pound vehicle which often runs at a speed of 70-80 miles per hour. The existing training being imparted to commercial truck drivers is viewed by many experts as being too limited. A truck driver undergoes only around four to five weeks of training on average.
Truck Driver Error a Key Factor in Accidents
A good amount of research has been done into the causes behind the commercial truck accidents in recent years. Some researchers suggest that driver error or mistake is involved in up to 90 percent of serious accidents involving semi-trucks. There are other factors too that compound an operator’s error, but the driver’s mistake is mostly the prime factor in commercial truck accidents.
Most of the drivers receive training from truck driving schools that cover topics including procedures of safe operation, map reading, trip planning, and legal compliance. But, in many cases, shortcuts are adopted during the training process as both the prospective drivers as well as the truck companies are eager to get drivers on roads as early as possible due to financial reasons.
The extent and nature of training of commercial truck drivers come into question whenever an accident happens because of a truck driver’s mistake.
The foremost question in the aftermath of an accident, wherein the driver appears to be at least partly responsible, is about the adherence to the training regime. It must be investigated whether the driver in question had satisfied all the training requirements.
The second question, following an accident, is about the sufficiency of the training itself. A valid question would be if the training required of a driver was sufficient. A driving school mostly follows the Minimum Standards for Training Tractor-Trailer Drivers, proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation. This training regime requires 150 hours of basic semi-truck training, an externship of 150 hours and 80 hours of advanced training.
A post-collision probe following an accident in which the truck driver appears to have caused the accident must include an exploration of their training.
Firstly, the records that are associated with the training process must be examined. Then, the investigation must consider if the training provided meets the federal criteria. Also, the investigation must be started immediately after a commercial rig accident.
In a surprising number of cases, records of a driver’s training are doctored following an accident to paint a favorable picture of the actual training.
Truck Crashes Are Often Fatal
According to a recent study, big rigs are involved in 11% of all fatal crashes. Predictably the majority of deaths are caused to the occupants of passenger vehicles. In multiple vehicle crashes, a whopping 23 percent of deaths of passenger vehicle occupants involved collisions with tractor-trailers.
Shortage of Drivers
Given the gravity of accidents with big rigs, the importance of the training of new drivers cannot be understated. A recent ATA study estimated a shortage of 48,000 truck drivers in the U.S. Trucking companies are even resorting to advertising for drivers on the electronic media.
The general shortage of truck drivers causes two major problems which result in devastating crashes. One, the companies let their existing drivers operate the rigs over and beyond the prescribed hours.
Two, the shortage leads to cutting corners during the training to get the drivers on the roads. The training schools too find it financially more beneficial to certify their existing students without imparting them comprehensive training, and rushing for new admissions.