The Week's Features
Towman hit on I-41 in Ashwaubenon, Wisconsin, Jan. 11.
Homemade wrecker promotes pride of ownership
Dual operating box, other features standout on new carrier
Author of book on towman highway memorials up for Viola Award
Tractor-trailer with an 80,000-lbs. concrete beam rolled-over
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Behind the Wheel Training

Transportation CDL cf25aBy Brian J. Riker

Driver training (not tow operator training) is among the many things I do for a living. When was the last time you or your operators took a defensive driving course or brushed up on your general driving skill set?

Risk-minded companies will usually conduct a road test to evaluate a potential new hire's ability to safely operate the specific piece of equipment they are being hired for. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations encourage this pre-hire road test; although they do make room for some waivers, mostly for experienced operators. I would never recommend hiring someone until their competency at basic driving skills has been clearly demonstrated.

What about when it is time to promote a driver? Or when you are short staffed and, although they were hired for light-duty, they have the required class of license to take the medium-duty out "just this one time?"

The answer is still the same: always perform a skill evaluation before allowing an employee to start operating a new piece of equipment. OSHA generally requires model-specific equipment training on forklifts and similar equipment, and so should you with your on-highway equipment.

I investigated a terrible accident for a client several years ago. This company had hired a driver with 25-plus years of experience and a clean record. They chose to use the road test waiver as permitted by the FMCSA and sent them out on the road.

Several weeks later, in an attempt to reward the driver for excellent performance, they assigned them a brand-new truck. The driver was uncomfortable with this as he had never driven anything new, nor was he familiar with this particular engine and transmission combination. (Anyone that drives large trucks knows the newer engines shift vastly different than the older ones, and it takes some time to become comfortable with the different RPM range and general performance.)

The supervisor insisted the driver would be alright and, without time to familiarize themselves with the new truck, the driver left for a trip.

During this trip the driver was descending a steep grade, approximately 8-percent on a gravel access road in a mountain forest, and missed a gear causing the truck to run away. The driver rear-ended another truck, causing both to go over the mountainside and resulting in severe injury to the other driver. My client's driver walked away with minor injury.

Ultimately, my client paid a multi-million-dollar settlement and nearly lost their ability to be insured because they failed to confirm their driver was competent to control the equipment they were employed to operate.

As a business owner you must be certain that your team has the current skill set required to perform all of their job functions, regardless of the experience level.

It doesn't need to be complicated. Dedicate one or two safety meetings a year (I prefer two so you can cover seasonal topics) and review basic rules of the road. The sample test questions from your state commercial driver license manual are excellent for this, and are readily available without charge.

Then have lunch and set up some traffic cones in the yard as an obstacle course. Provide instruction on proper mirror adjustment and usage, basic vehicle controls and then let them demonstrate their skills.

Include safety topics such as GOAL, which stands for Get Out And Look. Introduce the Circle Check, which once a habit will compel them to walk 360 degrees around their truck every time they approach it. Maybe even make a competition out of it with little prizes for best overall performance, like a truck rodeo.

Most importantly, make sure the person selected to be the trainer has good driving habits and skills. It will not do you any good to teach bad habits or incorrect information. Stick to the facts and figures as presented by your state driver-licensing program or a nationally recognized driver coaching school. If you have many drivers, usually 15 or more to be cost effective, you can hire a national driving coach to come present defensive driving and driver coaching to your team.

Many insurance companies will offer a premium discount for properly trained drivers, and better yet, many have driver-training resources they offer to their insured for free. Check with your insurance carrier to see if you can take advantage of these programs.

Brian J. Riker is a third generation towman and President of Fleet Compliance Solutions, LLC. He specializes in helping non-traditional fleets such as towing, repossession, and construction companies navigate the complex world of Federal and State transportation regulatory compliance. With 25 years of experience in the ditch as a tow operator Brian truly understands the unique needs and challenges faced by towing companies today. He can be reached at

Event Data Recorders

event-data-recorder edr-03 174aaBy Brian J. Riker

Event data recorders are becoming standard equipment in many large fleets, yet they should have a place in every fleet. It isn't that we can't trust our drivers—we can—but we need to be able to defend their actions. Good drivers are valuable assets; as progressive employers, we must do everything we can to mentor, support and keep these folks employed.

Video image is impartial. Video data with reliable GPS location, speed and acceleration data can paint a clear picture of responsibility—a picture that can save you thousands in false liability claims.

How did your driver react? Were they paying attention? Did they do everything they could to avoid the collision? These are all questions that will be raised during an accident investigation. It is better to have concrete evidence on your side to support your position.

What if your driver's performance is not up to par? Event data recorders are excellent coaching devices when paired with a competent, respectful and compassionate mentor.

It costs several thousand dollars to hire and train a new employee, so why wouldn't you want to spend some of that money on retention and coaching? It is far less costly to coach an existing employee than to hire a new one ... who may have the same or even worse behaviors.

Drivers, this technology is not for your boss to spy on you or babysit you. You are a professional; they know that. This technology is intended to make you even better—more professional—and to defend you from wrongful claims. It's "game-day footage:" the professional athletes review film of their actions looking for ways to improve, so should you. I have had a chance to use some of this technology to monitor my own behaviors. It was eye opening and has caused me to make several improvements in my own driving style.

Wouldn't you rather have an employer that has your back rather than one that will fire you on the spot to appease their insurance company or some lawyer that is threatening legal action?

Investing in training and mentoring of your team is a must-do. You will never have the best of the best if you do not coach your team to bring out their strengths. Savings also result from better driving behaviors: fuel use, out-of-route miles and wear items.

Event data recorders and telematic devices can help you recover a stolen truck quickly. A recent news story told a tale of a thief that had all his actions captured on a dash camera as he went from stop to stop selling off tools from a stolen truck. This gave police the evidence they needed to prosecute him and the people that bought the stolen equipment.
How about that customer that falsely accuses you of being rude or worse? What about being pulled over for speeding when you know you were going under the speed limit? A simple review of the video or check of the GPS data can put a stop to those allegations before they even get off the ground.

Technology, when used properly, can save us all money and improve our performance. As we fall into a routine we tend to get sloppy. Event data recorders do not get tired or have a bad day, they are ever vigilant and will quickly remind us to be safe. Many systems have instant coaching capabilities, meaning they will sound an alert in the cab for following distance, cornering, braking or other safety critical events. Often these simple audible cues are all a driver needs to bring them back around to their best driving performance.

Not every driver will be a fit for every company. This technology can help you make that determination long before a crash or series of citations makes the decision for you.

I use this technology in my personal vehicles, both forward facing (out the windshield) and driver facing, complete with audio.

Event data recorders and active driver coaching will give you an advantage over others that chose to keep doing things the old-fashioned way. If you deploy the technology, monitor the results and take action.

Brian J Riker is a third generation towman and President of Fleet Compliance Solutions, LLC. He specializes in helping non-traditional fleets such as towing, repossession, and construction companies navigate the complex world of Federal and State transportation regulatory compliance. With 25 years of experience in the ditch as a tow operator Brian truly understands the unique needs and challenges faced by towing companies today. He can be reached at
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