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Shifting Gears

New Pro Driver Safety Class Aims to Make Vermont’s Roads Safer

BY AMANDA IBEY

Every week, for almost a year, Aimee Ziter, director of AGC of Vermont’s Project RoadSafe, read the weekly Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Report, issued by the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles and grew increasingly concerned as she scanned the number of vehicle citations issued.

“I would scan the number of citations issued by the Department of Motor Vehicle Enforcement Unit Inspectors (DOT Officers) and the reasons for those violations, and I couldn’t understand them,” explains Ziter. It was a concern of AGC of Vermont Executive Vice President Richard Wobby’s too. “Richard and I couldn’t figure out if drivers just didn’t know better, if they were too pressured for time to do the proper pre-trip safety checks — which is still no excuse — or if these drivers just didn’t realize the seriousness and absolute necessity for ensuring the safety of their vehicles.”

Ziter researched how inspectors stopped, cited and placed commercial vehicles out of service for violations that were completely preventable such as having loose chains or improperly securing their loads, or not conducting the air brake pressure check, for speeding, for being over the 14-hour on-duty limit, for not properly doing their log forms or having an Electronic Logging Device (ELD) where required, or for having tires with incorrect tread depth.

Ziter and Wobby knew the association had to step up and try to help solve and correct this problem, so they partnered with Terry Reil, owner of ProFleet, LLC, and a 20-year veteran truck driver, to create the Professional Truck Driver Guidebook. The Guidebook details the state and federal rules and regulations that truck drivers must know to safely operate their vehicles.

A HIGH-SAFETY STANDARD

As Ziter explains, professional drivers and company owners are held to a higher standard than many in the industry. They’re required to maintain a safe vehicle, have a Company Fleet Safety Policy, conduct pre-and post-trip inspections, have knowledge of state and federal regulations, load securement, understand DOT inspections and how to handle them, CSA scores, how to handle accidents, employer liability and much more.

“Is the safety level high? Absolutely,” says Ziter. “Are drivers held to high standards? Absolutely. And there’s a reason for that. All it takes is one unsecured load that falls from the truck bed and we’re talking about the possibility of a very serious accident, potentially fatal.”

“Many drivers will say, ‘But I know my truck’ or, ‘But nothing has ever happened before’ or, ‘But, I have to deliver this load by a certain time and I don’t have an extra 15-20 minutes in the morning to do the pre-trip inspection.’ While we’re sympathetic to the numerous pressures that drivers and owners face, there’s also no ‘buts’ in this world. For the officers, you’re either in compliance or in violation; it’s that simple.”

“The stigma of the gear-jammin’, wallet-on-the-chain truck driver is a thing of the past,” says Jeff Newton, president of Du-Bois Construction Inc., an AGC of Vermont member. “Today’s driver is the ambassador of your company to the motoring public and your customer base.”

Many AGC members take the same philosophy as Newton. Ziter and Wobby realized the industry needed more help, so they created a new, four-hour training known as Professional Truck Drivers Awareness Training, which was rolled out in the spring of 2019.

This isn’t a CDL prep class, but one geared entirely toward safety and educating drivers on how to maintain their vehicles to meet state and federal regulations. “Training drivers to improve best practices will help their CSA score, eliminate unnecessary fines, help pass audits/inspections, along with help HR staff understand their part in compliance regarding Driver Qualification files, Fleet Safety policy’s, and more,” says Ziter.

So far, the reception has been positive, and all the classes have sold out. “The extinction of the driver has forced the industry to pay more for the driver, and the responsibilities of that individual are much more than years ago,” explains Newton, who required his entire driver fleet to take the class. “The course provided a refresher to my drivers of all the forgotten, and/or misinterpreted rules and regulations that we as an industry need both on-highway and roadside. ‘I’ve done it that way for years’ may be the incorrect way, or the rules and regulations have changed, and drivers need to know this information.”

“When you can get a group of drivers to sit in a classroom and engage with the course and actually ask questions,” Newton continues, “then you as an owner feel good that they care and are paying attention to how critically important safety is to fulfilling their responsibilities on the road.”

The Vermont State Police have even taken notice of the course. Numerous officers have taken the class to better understand the air brake training — not so they can issue citations, but so they can keep their own vehicle fleets safe and operational.

“We hope to see a decrease in the number of easily preventable citations over the coming months and years as we get this information in front of more drivers,” says Ziter. “There’s a lot of interest in this class and just about everyone who has taken it has told us how helpful and useful the information has been. We’re optimistic that we can help to lower the number of citations and improve safety on our roadways and decreasing members’ insurance liabilities.”

Ziter also states, “This course is very diverse and is geared toward a small owner/operator with one or two fleets to larger companies of 50. That is the benefit of this training; the ‘small guys’ find it insightful and helpful to their company.”

The Professional Truck Drivers Awareness Training is a part of AGC of Vermont’s regular course curriculum. For more information, contact Aimee Ziter at Aimee@agcvt.org or at 802-223-2374, or visit www.agcvt.org.

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