It has always been difficult to explain to someone outside the industry exactly what truck driving skills are needed to get the job done properly. There is so much about the job which is invisible from the outside.
Some aspects were easier to explain and more obvious to the outside observer some time ago. Just being able to handle an 18-speed is a skill, which is out there on its own and the layman can understand that the level of skill required is quite high, especially when the concept of double de-clutching is introduced into the equation.
Then the casual observer could also see just how much skill would be involved in roping and tarping a mixed load on a flatbed trailer and then keeping that load on a truck for thousands of kilometres without it falling off.
Just watching a B-double being reversed onto a loading bay, which was designed for shorter semis and rigids is another clear example of just how much concentration and skill is involved. Especially when the watcher has difficulty reversing their caravan into large caravan bay on a large flat campsite.
However, in the modern trucking environment those more obvious skills have largely disappeared. The modern truck is more likely to be fitted with an automated manual transmission and a computer controlled engine which mashes the gears to perfection every time with little driver input.
Also the traditional flat top has been largely superseded by the curtain sider and the way goods are packaged these days means the higher level skills of load restraint are not needed nearly so often. Of course those skills haven’t gone away, but are only obvious in situations like heavy haulage.
Yes, drivers still have to reverse onto loading bays, but more and more modern designed facilities are coming on stream and the driver will often have room to pull the truck into the building, unload and drive out the other side.
So, those higher level skills have gone? The modern truck driver is just a steering wheel attendant listening to their country music and fiddling with the phone? No, that is simply not the case. There is so much more to getting the job done correctly, and doing it right.
A skilled driver has to understand a vast array of areas of expertise. The trucking world is so much more complex and unforgiving in the current environment. The ‘she’ll be right’ attitude has had its day.
Apart attending to the steering wheel on the highway, the driver also has a duty of care to ensure all of the other drivers. of cars and motor bikes, are safe. If anything goes wrong, the truckie will get the blame. The drivers around the truck have had no training in how to behave around heavy vehicles and act with very little care for the welfare of others, an option unavailable to the truck driver.
Our driver is also on the clock. The fatigue rules mean they are constantly calculating, and then recalculating, how their driving hours are going and whether the timing of their arrival at a pick up or delivery is going to be right.
Many drivers will also be driving a telematics system which, similarly, requires due care and attention. Everything is recorded and any non-compliance will pop up on a number of screens. It is the drivers job to manage the task so that no red alerts arrive on the boss’s mobile.
At either end of the trip there is often a negotiation to be had. Fork lift drivers do not often know how to get the weight distribution right on a set of trailers. They need to be advised of the truckie’s needs without any conflict arising and often from an area well away from the truck in an zone designated by the safety requirements of the site.
It is not a job anyone can do. Truck driving skills are needed to get your breakfast cereal to the supermarket intact and in a timely manner, without anyone getting killed on the road. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was some real appreciation of the skills involved, by those outside our industry.