What training do novice truck drivers need in order to stay safe on the roads? Is the length, type and methodology of training a major factor in accident avoidance?

These questions were explored by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), which has released the findings of its research on the relationship between entry-level driver training and the safety of newly hired drivers.

The study measured involvement by new entrant drivers in U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT) reportable accidents, separate property damage only (PDO) accidents and traffic convictions related to the type and length of driver training they received. New entrant drivers were defined as having no prior driving experience and working for their current carrier for between three weeks and 18 months.

“Surprisingly little academic or technical research has been conducted on driver training,” the report said. “In fact, research on CMV driver training is so sparse that baseline driver training data is essentially non-existent.”

“Fifteen years after the implementation of the CDL [Commercial Drivers Licensing] program, the debate continues over the criteria that should be used to verify a driver’s qualifications to operate large commercial vehicles,” the report continued. “While proponents of mandatory driver training believe that uniform training requirements are necessary, opponents of mandatory training argue that the emphasis should be on driver competency rather than on learning hours.”

The study analyzed three types of training programs—company-owned or sponsored; private training programs and training programs within public education, and how they related to safety events.

ATRI’s research compiled data of 16,659 drivers, representing 29% of the annual new entrant driver population, through data from six motor carriers-- three large truckload carriers, one large LTL carrier; one large specialized fleet; and one mid-size household goods carrier. Each carrier completed a survey on the scope of its training programs, including the time spent in training and the experience of the trainers.

“The duration of training that was submitted and tested, in terms of total entry-level driver training program contact hours, ranged from 88 to 272. Across that continuum, no relationship is evident between total training program contact hours and driver safety events when other factors such as age and length of employment are held constant.”

Over the course of the study, drivers were involved in 416 DOT-reportable accidents, 5603 PDO accidents, and 959 traffic convictions. 71% of drivers were involved in no safety incidents, while another 20% had only one.

According to the report, the training environment—whether it is in the classroom, in-truck, behind the wheel, or simulator—did not predict safety outcome. Neither the credentials of the training staff or the carrier the driver was hired by were statistically significant either.

“Controlling for age and days of employment, the analysis determined that just one of the topic areas—accident procedures instruction—significantly influenced the probability that a driver does not have an event,” the report said. “Specifically, examining the odds ratio for the model, for every one hour increase in accident procedures instruction, the odds of not having an event increased by a factor of 1.409.

“The researchers have proffered one likely hypothesis for this unique finding,” it continued. “Initially new entrant drivers have little experience or empathy with large truck crashes, but accident procedures training increases the cognitive awareness and seriousness of crashes for new entrant drivers in a way that increases their understanding and appreciation for mitigating crashes.

“The fact that one training topic within the tested duration had a statistically significant effect on driver safety may indicate that one topic area (and others not included in the test) could be under-utilized,” the report added. “Conversely, more strategic use of significant components could, theoretically, reduce the overall number of training hours needed.”

“As a fleet, we have long believed that the litmus test for commercial driver training should be performance-based and not a derivative of hours spent in training; this research bears out our hypothesis,” said Chad England, vp of recruiting, training & safe driving for C.R. England, who served as a member of the study’s technical advisory committee.

ATRI’s research also showed troubling statistics on driver turnover. “Among the new entrants included in the study, slightly more than 25% were no longer employed by the carrier that initially hired by the 60th day of employment,” the report said. “At 100 days, more than 50% of the new entrants had left and less than 3% worked for the original employer on the one year anniversary of the date of hire.”