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Trucking industry trends opening doors for inexperienced drivers

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — An extra 3 cents for a bag of potato chips may not seem like a big deal. But Steve Gold, owner of 160 Driving Academy, the largest commercial driving school in the nation, says that extra cost can give trucking companies more money to spend on safety training and therefore, can save lives.

“That’s why brokers are so prevalent in the [trucking] industry, everybody wants the lowest cost, nobody wants to pay for those things. Until you’re, you know, you kill family of four,” Gold said.

Just two weeks ago, police say Victor Santos was drunk when he crashed his semitruck into a school bus in northern Indiana. The crash left 16 people injured, many of whom were teenagers. Documents show Santos worked under his own company with just one truck.

“Yes, that individual has a commercial driver’s license, but it’s like giving your 16-year-old the keys to Ferrari, you know, there’s no way they’re going to operate that vehicle safely,” Gold said. “You saw a massive supply demand imbalance for truck drivers (and) there weren’t enough, and the impact was our toilet paper wasn’t getting to the shelf store in time.”

Federal data from FTR Transportation Intelligence shows from July 2020 to October of this year that more than 233,000 new trucking carriers have entered the market, a response to soaring demands. Seventy percent of the new carriers were just one truck, including Victor Santos.

However, Vice President of FTR, Avery Vise, says “almost all new trucking operations – even those with one truck – have years of experience driving a truck on behalf of other trucking companies before taking the step of getting their own authority as a trucking company.”

Gold says while many have meet the industry demands with correct training and experience, there are newer drivers out there where safety training isn’t always being put first.

There were “5,000 fatalities on the highway last year. These were new drivers, experienced drivers, and these are all avoidable,” Gold said.

At 160 Driving Academy, Gold says, students are required to complete a minimum of 160 hours of driving during a 4½-week program. He says students are then greatly encouraged to work for a major company, such as Pepsi or Amazon. Gold says larger companies will provide additional safety training and mentorship.

“We tell them all not to start their own company for at least two years. Go work for a larger employer,” Gold said. “Then if you’re a safe driver and you’ve got enough money and you want to go out on your own, then go for it. But until then, don’t try and do it on your own.”

I-Team 8 found many small companies are dependent on getting jobs through brokers.

Brad Cosgrove, a partner at Clifford Law Firm based in Chicago, said, “As long as you meet the minimum criteria for the broker and that you’re on their approved motor carrier list, you can go on an app and find any load and and sign up to pick it up and bring it anywhere you want with no additional oversight.”

Gold says he works with companies that have started things such as scoring for drivers, helping them get their commercial driver’s licenses and adding 50 hours of one-on-one training to heighten safety training standards. However, he says, in recent years, drivers are switching from company to company. In some cases, they make the switch after only working six months for a company. He says this can make it hard for companies to track driving records and levels of experience, which adds to the concern that safety isn’t always put first.

“All these things are avoidable,” Gold said, referring to the crash involving Santos. “That’s what kills me is like, it’s they’re all avoidable.”