|Me with Mobile Nuclear Imaging trailer in Oberlin, Kansas in 2001|
Professional truck drivers are in higher demand today more than any other time. One of the challenges that the trucking industry is currently facing is replacing an ageing workforce as the Baby Boomer generation that formed the backbone of the transportation industry are slowly beginning to retire. That fact, and the difficulty of hiring young, committed, and certified truck drivers; willing and capable of working long hours and being away from their families, plus the challenge of driver retention adds to the need for more professional drivers nationwide.
Today’s fast paced “I want it now” thinking has added many demands on shippers to satisfy their customer’s needs. When Joe in Boston wants 200 bags of flour delivered on Saturday for baking bread and rolls for a wedding on Sunday, he relies on the shipper to deliver as promised. Those bags of flour find their way to Joe on a truck driven by a professional truck driver. That driver uses all of their skills to maneuver the vehicle to its destination, dedicating themselves to the goal of making that on time delivery, keeping themselves in check by following all safety regulations and guidelines, plus their sense of integrity and commitment to their task-many times sacrificing being in their homes with their families in the process. It is generally agreed by numerous entities that 60-70 % of America's commodities move by truck, which highlights the importance of a well-trained and dedicated fleet of professional drivers to provide those services that many people sometimes take for granted.
SPECIALIZED SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE
Candidates that want to become a professional truck driver are required to go through extensive training and studies to acquire their Commercial Drivers License. They must pass a DOT (Department of Transportation) medical exam to make sure they are physically fit to take on the responsibility of driving large commercial vehicles. After that step, they need to take numerous written tests at their local DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) to obtain a CDL permit, which allows them to drive a truck with a licensed and qualified CDL driver. There are also Endorsements that can be added to the permit: Doubles and Triples for those interested in hauling multiple trailers, a Tanker Endorsement, or Hazardous Materials are some examples. These are all written tests that can be taken by a CDL candidate and then are added to their license when they pass their CDL test. Adding endorsements can enhance one's ability to find a job in the competitive world of truck driving.
Then, the candidate is ready for hands on training in the type of vehicle that they are interested in driving. Hands on training will include learning how to do a thorough Vehicle Inspection. A commercial driver is legally responsible to do Pre and Post trip inspections of any vehicle that they drive per FMCSR (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations) rules. A CDL driver needs to have a good understanding of the components involved with the safe operation of their vehicle. Besides being the first part of the CDL test, this knowledge should be used and practiced everyday in the life of a professional driver to ensure that the vehicle they are driving meets all safety requirements.
The CDL candidate also needs to learn how to maneuver the vehicle in a measured and defined area. These are the Basic Control Skills part of the test. Drivers of larger vehicles face many unique challenges while maneuvering in close quarters. There are many blind spot areas that need to be considered when moving large trucks. These are basic skills that are learned and used every day. There are so many different places where large vehicles need to be driven to: tight cramped lots, moving vehicles, forklifts, and people- these are just some of the numerous challenges in backing and maneuvering and each driver is responsible to do this safely and efficiently. These skills are necessary to pass the CDL test, and more importantly, used and enhanced daily to be a safe and competent truck driver.
Then, of course, there is the on the road training and Road Test. Many streets are designed to accommodate larger sized commercial vehicles, but there are also many that are not. A professional driver needs to be able to drive their vehicle safely under all circumstances. Blaming a narrow lane or a tight turn doesn't absolve you if there is property damage or an accident. Good decisions and constant assessment of both the driver and vehicle capabilities and limitations are necessary to be able to safely and successfully arrive at any destination.
If a driver candidate passes their CDL test they are issued a CDL license for the class of vehicle they have proven to be qualified to drive. This is an exciting moment in most people's lives! I have been a CDL tester, and the joy and relief when the test is over and the individual has passed is a great thing to witness! Now comes the learning. Now you say? Haven't I just passed all these written and practical tests? Doesn't the learning process ever end? The answer that is universally given by experienced professional drivers is NO! Every day a truck driver leaves the lot, they are facing different challenges, and every day they should be open to learning more. Different trucks, gear patterns, horsepower, RPM's, clutch depth and control, turning radiuses; many of these things can be unique to each vehicle that is driven, and a professional driver must be able to adapt quickly to a wide variety of equipment that they may be required to operate.
As a new driver goes out into the truck driving world, there will be job specific training required for the types of vehicles that they intend to drive. So once again- the training is ongoing, and during the first few months to a couple of years a driver can still be considered a novice by many companies. Now is the time for them to put all of their specialized knowledge and skills to practical use in the real world.
These skills are vital to society and our economy, are needed to drive safely and deliver the commodities in a timely and competent way, and are essential for the driver to obtain and hold on to a good driving position. No one wants a driver who is a liability. In my years of driving, all of my employers were confident in my abilities and skills and my decision making. They knew I could be counted on to do the right thing and to represent them and their interests to the highest level. When I drove out of their lot, no one had to wonder how I was operating the vehicle or how well the job would be done. This is what a professional driver should strive for every day of their career.
Specialized skills are just one of the characteristics of a professional driver. Dedication to the task is another. Pro drivers maintain a high level of pride in their work, and also great determination to accomplish their daily responsibilities. Many drivers work very long hours, spend weeks away from home, sleeping odd hours, traveling thousands of miles operating in extreme conditions; harsh weather, heavy traffic, bad road conditions, and detours. There are many times when truck drivers are on the road and miss a family birthday, a holiday, or other special occasions. Deep commitment and dedication is needed to be able to safely and calmly handle any and all of these conditions keeping safety as the number one priority. For example, driving over a 10,000 foot mountain pass safely requires great concentration, focus, and delicacy to safely negotiate critical ascents and descents on steep and winding mountain roads. I drove over many such places, and this is when great patience and keeping a cool head is essential. Putting on tire chains in the middle of a snow storm to get to your destination or a safe stopping area takes time, practice, and lots of patience. This is just another one of the ongoing challenges and learning situations professional drivers may encounter in their career. This is what makes truck driving challenging, rewarding, and fun!
Specialized skills and knowledge, dedication and commitment, and a high level of personal integrity best describe the professional truck driver. Integrity is doing the right thing at all times. It is taking personal responsibility for all of your actions and behaviors; whether dealing with a customer, buying fuel, presenting permits or log books at a port of entry, or simply sitting in a restaurant having a meal. How we act towards others is a direct reflection on ourselves, but it also reflects on our company and the truck driving industry as a whole. Courtesy and respect to others, driving to protect yourself and the public, taking pride in the condition of your vehicle, following all rules and regulations; these are the traits of a professional driver that are not taught in a classroom. They come from each driver taking personal pride in their profession and practicing it every day.
Professional drivers are honest and have the trust of their employers driving large expensive vehicles hauling products for their customers. This is a responsibility that cannot be taken lightly. All safety considerations in making deliveries on time, avoiding liability, potential loss of customers due to accidents or damaged freight, property damage, injury or fatalities are taken seriously by the pro driver. One bad truck driver can give the perception to the public that all drivers are reckless. The acts of one irresponsible driver can have negative effects on the entire industry.
Integrity also involves self monitoring to be sure you are fit for work, well rested, healthy, and capable of doing the job safely and efficiently. I have asked large groups of experienced drivers around the country this question: "Would any of you want your family to be driving around or near an unsafe, fatigued, or unhealthy driver"? The answer is overwhelmingly NO! So it is up to each individual to avoid being that unsafe driver. Striving for excellence and doing the right thing, making those safe decisions and choices: these are a matter of an individual following the rules, coupled with the inner voice that tells you what is right or wrong. Whatever the driver decides or which voice he listens to could be the difference between life and death. And that is a line that no professional driver should ever be willing to cross.
In conclusion, professional truck drivers using their specialized skills and knowledge, dedication, and integrity, are a large part of the backbone of this country's economy. Safety, commitment, and pride in their work are what keep the professional driver in the elite category. Being self directed and having the right attitude at all times while facing the many challenges presented to them are also traits that should be emulated every day. The next time you are sitting in your home take a good look around you and remember that 60-70% of all commodities are delivered by a truck driver. Picture your life without many of those things, and say a thank you to all of the dedicated professionals out there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, bringing everything needed to your favorite stores so that you can live a comfortable and enjoyable lifestyle.