James F. Mahoney, Attorney

March 2012

The Key to Safety Performance: Hire Good Drivers

There are three major factors which make up the best psychological qualities
of a truck driver: intelligence, factual knowledge and trucker personality

 Subscribe  •  Return to Trucking News Index

A recent report sponsored by the FMCSA synthesizes current information on safety management in small motor carriers. The report provides information to assist small motor carriers in improving their safety performance. The goals of the study were: (1) to identify useful practices for safety management in small companies, and (2) to outline a logical and practical progression to more active and comprehensive safety management for small companies as they grow.

Small trucking companies were defined as those with too few drivers and vehicles to allow the company the luxury of designating a manager with the primary title and function of Safety Manager; that is, generally companies with between 5 and 20 power units.

On a sliding scale of important safety management problems identified by these small company managers topping the list was their difficulty in recruiting and hiring good drivers. Second was unsafe driving behavior, which is obviously a subset of being unable to hire good drivers.

These correlated to the “most challenging” CSA BASICs of “fatigued driving” (HOS issues) and “unsafe driving” followed by maintenance issues. Small company problems don’t seem to be too different from the larger carriers, but once a driver is on-board a smaller company, they usually stick around longer. This can be a good thing; or a bad thing.

Dealing with the problem: You may be familiar with the “broken windows” theory of police work in which minor offenses are enforced by beat cops so as to give the entire community a sense of control and security. The theory is, “If a cop enforces a minor offense, they must certainly be controlling the big problems, so the bad guys ‘watch their steps.’”

This can be translated to truck driver behavior control. If you have an anti-social driver who mouths off to the dock employees of your customer, he’s going to be the last one loaded or shorted on his load, or the cargo will be stowed as if loaded by drunken bears. Then your driver is going to be (a) late to deliver; or (b) shorted at delivery; or (c) subject to an overturn because of unsafe loading.

Likewise, that driver will have problems at ports of entry, weigh stations or roadside stops. You will suffer on a regulatory and financial basis.

But there’s a fix: There are three major factors which make up the best psychological qualities of a truck driver: intelligence, factual knowledge and trucker personality. Each factor indicates separate psychological traits.

  • Average or higher intelligence is desirable in drivers who must have greater technical knowledge and function more independently, for example those in long haul, flat bedding, household goods movers, tanker trucking and haz-mat transport.

  • Factual knowledge of trucking is the information required to pass CDL licensing exams and what is contained in your driver handbook. This information should include rudimentary knowledge of truck mechanics and a functional level of trucking operations, plus rules of the road, log book and a working knowledge of safety regulations. It is also should include knowledge specific to areas of your specialization within the industry such as flatbed load handling, moving van load handling and handling of hazardous materials.

  • The third factor can be called "driver personality," which is a variety of personal attitudes and habits, including a person’s work ethic (enjoying hard physical labor and ability to use time efficiently); communication skills ( a driver who can be polite and talk his way into being helped; that will save him and you time and money), personal life (a stable, happy lifestyle, with good mental and physical health, enables your driver to enjoys his trucking career and avoid drug alcohol and food abuse); thoughts on safety (it’s difficult to instill this, but consider that a safer driver will be more cautious when feeling tired or when visibility is poor); and company loyalty(a loyal driver takes direction well and respects both employer rules and policies as well as the FMCSRs, which reveals honesty and dedication to company goals).

You can hire and retain these valuable drivers regardless of the economic climate:

Rent or buy an online psychological professional driver testing program. If you utilize it and stick to it – avoiding the “iffy” applicants - you’ll make more money, have fewer insurance claims (think about workers’ comp and the disgruntled driver), have fewer customer complaints, driver headaches and less regulatory interaction. I can recommend a few, but they are plentiful out there. It’s worth it.