This is the first of a multi-part series on how drivers and the maintenance department work together to increase uptime.
High-quality pre- and post-trip inspections can be the difference in addressing major violations before they put a truck out of service, but the manner in which fleets train drivers on the practice and evaluate their performance varies widely.
Little Rock, Ark.-based Maverick Transportation deploys a computer-based platform to train new-hires with prior driving experience on properly performing pre- and post-trip inspections. Student drivers get more formal hands-on training, which is built into the company’s onboarding program.
Transervice Vice President of Maintenance Taki Darakos says hands-on pre- and post-trip training – “physically walking through the different areas [drivers] should be looking at and talking about what it really means,” he adds – is always best when possible.
“What happens sometimes is we assume that everybody knows what the expectation is on a specific item and that isn’t always clear,” Darakos says. “Everybody comes from different backgrounds.”
Drivers for Alabama-based WTI Transport are provided with a classroom curriculum for inspections, which is supplemented with a practical exam requiring the driver to actually conduct a vehicle inspection under the supervision of a safety manager.
“The classroom is fine but nothing will be as sufficient as actually getting out there under the sun and moon and going over each and every area of the truck and trailer – and load – that you are required to inspect,” says Jem Blair, WTI’s vice president of safety.
Applicants at Excelsior Springs, Mo.-based Waller Trucking must have a minimum of two-years on-highway experience, so the company doesn’t start its training program from square one.
“Since we hire veteran drivers, we expect them to have to some basic knowledge,” says Amanda Schuier, Waller Trucking’s director of marketing and recruiting, “but as part of the orientation process, drivers do a complete vehicle walkaround with our technicians one-on-one.”
At WTI terminal locations, it’s not uncommon for a safety manager to pre-trip a truck behind a driver, but in most other cases management has to rely on the driver’s willingness to do the work.
“After the orientation period, I’m confident the driver has the knowledge to do what he or she is supposed to be checking for,” Blair says, “but once they get out on the road you have to rely on the driver to actually do the job he or she has been trained to do.”
Memphis, Tenn-.based Ozark Motor Lines gives all drivers hands-on training with a live truck and trailer. That is supplemented with monthly online training, which includes pre- and post-trip education.
“All drivers go through that orientation and get that same training, regardless of experience,” says Ozark Director of Maintenance Glen McDonald.
Giving all drivers the same foundational training, Blair says, establishes a universal standard within the fleet.
“Sometimes you have drivers that have been in the industry for several years that have developed less than desirable habits with vehicle inspections,” he says. “We explain the reasons why we inspect the equipment, then we show them how we would like to have it done.”
Maverick Transportation’s Director of Training Curt Valkovic says the amount of time the company dedicates to pre-trip inspections will vary depending on the needs of the individual driver.
“Students [with less than six month experience] will receive 1.5 to 3 hours of academics and approximately 15 hours of practical hands on experience by the time they complete trainer truck, truck skills and the finals before being turned over to operations,” he says. “For regulars [with more the 6 months experience], 1.5 hours of academics and 1 to 2 hours of practical before being turned over to operations after finals.”
All student drivers will spend time out on the road with one of Maverick’s 150 trainers, performing pre- and post-trips as part of their day.
“Not only are they learning how to drive still, they’re learning how to do pre-trips, logs [and] they’re learning how to secure freight,” says Maverick’s Director of Maintenance Brent Hilton.
Once drivers hit the road, Darakos suggests refamiliarization training twice a year, regardless of their level of experience and the frequency in which they find issues.
WTI offers annual retraining as well as remedial vehicle inspection training for any driver cited with a CSA violation for “maintenance that we deem he or she should have been able to catch during the inspection,” Blair says.
Those drivers get half a day of retraining and are required to perform a pre-trip to WTI’s satisfaction before being returned to regular duty.
Once the driver is properly trained on inspections, Darakos says the next step is making sure they’re actually doing them.
“A lot of fleets don’t have good visibility into whether or not every driver is onboard with doing a pre-trip and post-trip every day,” he says. “The first challenge is making sure everyone is doing it, then making sure they’re making the time to do a thorough pre-trip.”
Trucks that regularly return to the yard with a maintenance issue often serve as an indicator that a driver’s pre- and post-trip inspections leave something to be desired.
“Normally, if a driver’s not doing a pre-trip inspection, it’s going to show up when that DOT inspection happens,” Hilton says. “You can normally tell that this should have been leaking or something should have been visible before he left and he should have noticed it.”
Waller Trucking policy requires a full truck inspection every time a truck returns to the yard, or a minimum of once a month.
“Our technicians go over the truck front to back,” Schuier says, “regardless if the driver has reported a problem or not.”
Darakos says road calls and repair data are also good tools to evaluate how good a driver’s inspections are, but adds it’s critical to relay those findings back to the driver for a positive outcome.
“I think most people want feedback and they want to understand whether they’re doing a good job or a bad job,” he says.