In the state of Texas, long-haul truck drivers and drivers operating large trucks are required to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Anyone operating a combination of vehicles with a total weight rating of 26,001 pounds, provided the towed vehicle has a weight rating of at least 10,000 pounds, is required to have a Class A CDL. If a driver is operating a single vehicle with a weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more, that driver is required to have a Class B commercial driver’s license. Class C licenses are required for drivers of vehicles that transport hazardous materials but don’t otherwise fall into the categories for Classes A and B.
A series of special endorsements are required for operating certain types of vehicles. For example, a T endorsement is required for pulling a double or triple trailer; an N endorsement is required for tankers; an H endorsement is required for hauling hazardous materials; and an X endorsement is required for tankers hauling hazardous materials.
Texas imposes a requirement that drivers of these large vehicles have a CDL because operating a large truck can be much more complicated than driving a light-duty passenger vehicle. Furthermore, when a large truck is involved in a crash, the risk of serious or fatal injuries goes up significantly since large trucks have a maximum weight rating of 80,000 pounds.
Although drivers are required to have a CDL to drive trucks in Texas, often simply having a commercial driver’s license isn’t enough to fully prepare a driver to operate the vehicle safely in all situations and under all road conditions. Driver training is necessary, as well as driver experience, to maximize the chances of a safe trip. This has become a major problem as there is a current shortage of qualified truck drivers in the United States that is only expected to become worse in coming years.
Truck Driver Shortage
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for truck drivers is expected to grow 21 percent by 2020. Although this could be seen as good news for a struggling economy, in fact it presents a major problem, especially for highway safety. The issue: even now there are not enough truck drivers, and there are not enough people going into the field to fill all of the positions that are available.
In July 2012, an article in The New York Times brought attention to this problem. The figures presented in the article indicated that there are currently 300,000 trucking jobs open in the United States that are not being filled. The newspaper also interviewed a district manager for a major trucking company, who reported that there were simply not enough people going into the trucking profession and getting the experience necessary to operate large vehicles safely.
The Need for Truck Driving Experience
Trucking companies cannot hire drivers who do not have a commercial driver’s license. However, a CDL is only the start of the necessary qualifications to be effective at safely operating vehicles weighing as much as 80,000 pounds. Typically, most trucking companies prefer drivers to have at least two years of experience driving some type of commercial vehicle before taking on the role of large truck driver. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that many drivers will obtain this necessary experience by working as delivery drivers.
Unfortunately, if trucking companies are not able to find drivers with CDLs and experience, they may be forced to hire drivers who have the minimum training and qualifications in order to continue operations. Trucking companies that lease, rather than own, their fleets may especially feel pressure to put someone behind the wheel, since the Times article indicates that companies may pay several thousand dollars each month to lease their trucks – and, of course, will have to pay this money whether or not the vehicle is used.
Compounding the problem is the fact that drivers are not necessarily required to have completed any type of accredited driver training course to obtain their CDL and begin driving a commercial truck. Although there are accredited schools that have been recognized by the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI), not all companies require that their drivers be graduates.
Again, with fewer drivers available, trucking companies will be even less likely to impose a requirement of graduation from an accredited school, since this would make it even more difficult to fill positions they need to fill. The U.S. Department of Transportation may soon impose federal mandates specifying that all interstate drivers must complete a truck driving course, but unless or until this happens, trucking companies may rely on in-house training or no training at all just so they can get someone to operate their expensive fleet.
Risks of Inexperienced Truck Drivers
Many truck accidents are already caused by lapses of skill or care on the part of truck drivers. In fact, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration statistics show that 31 percent of all fatal truck crashes involving large trucks were caused by a driver-related factor. As more inexperienced drivers take to the roads, this number is likely to continue to rise, especially as inexperienced drivers may face challenges in:
- Understanding and observing height restrictions
- Correctly assessing their trucks’ turning radius
- Correctly handling their trucks on an incline
- Distributing the weight of their loads properly
- Logging hours in order to comply with federal limitations on maximum hours driven without breaks
- Understanding the increased stop-time trucks require due to their weight
- Operating trucks in adverse weather conditions
- Navigating their trucks through crowded locations and traffic jams
- Responding to and avoiding or dealing with hazards, including road debris.
All of these skills are skills that are specific to truck drivers and that are learned only through obtaining training and experience. Without proper training, truck drivers who lack these skills could present a dangerous menace on the roadways of Texas and throughout the United States.
Victims of truck accidents caused by driver inexperience may have a legal right to sue both the truck driver and the company that employed the inexperienced driver. To learn more, schedule a free consultation with Roberts & Roberts by calling 903-597-6000 or filling out an online contact form.