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Robust commercial vehicle training programs help reduce over-the-road incidents

Commercial vehicle crashes often make front page news, but these accidents  — and resulting injuries and fatalities — are actually on the decline. The exact driving force behind this reduction in crashes is difficult to determine, but it can likely be attributed to a number of combined factors, including pandemic-related drops in traffic, improved safety technology on trucks and increased training efforts by carriers.

Nationally, the number of reported large truck crashes dropped from 164,731 in 2019 to 146,384 in 2020, according to FMCSA. Of those crashes, 68,348 involved reported injuries in 2020, down from 81,272 in 2019. Related fatalities were also less common in 2020, dropping from 5,074 to 4,608. While these accidents are becoming less frequent, they can still be deadly. Less than 1% of all motor vehicle crashes involve fatalities, but that number climbs to over 3% when large trucks are involved.

The majority of traffic accidents — including those that involve large trucks — are fueled by distracted driving behaviors. Distracted driving isn’t limited to just cell phone usage. It’s any activity that takes someone’s attention away from driving. Eating, drinking, smoking or even a hands-free phone call can distract a truck driver from the road, but more often, collisions with commercial trucks are caused by public motorists committing these same distracting behaviors while driving.

“Our professional drivers deal with nonprofessional drivers every day who are using their mobile devices, eating, drinking, smoking or reaching for things,” said Paul Vargo, PGT Trucking’s vice president of safety and risk. “There is more distracted driving by nonprofessional drivers than there is by commercial drivers who are trained to be focused on the road.” 

Distraction, however, is not the only driving force behind truck crashes and other job-related injuries in the industry, and not all truck drivers face equal amounts of risk on the job. For example, flatbed drivers face significantly more risks than their peers running dry vans. 

“Our professional drivers do much more than drive. There is a complex cargo securement practice involved, which requires a great deal of expertise and labor for the driver,” PGT chief financial officer Darren Coast said. “They are physically getting up and down on the trailer and securing the cargo, as well as tarping and untarping the loads. There is risk involved from both a physical labor standpoint and ensuring the loads are secured properly.”

Securing flatbed loads is no easy task, and the consequences of getting it wrong can be significant. In the last five months across the country, three flatbed drivers from different companies have been killed as a direct result of securement mishaps. In all three cases, the loads shifted forward during transit and smashed through the cabs of the trucks. 

“The risk of improper training can be life threatening. Professional drivers can put themselves in harm’s way if they don’t properly secure the commodity. The load can shift forward into the cab,” Vargo said. “The other risk is to the public, who can also be seriously injured or killed if something comes off that trailer. The consequences are very severe.”

While loads that shift forward during transit are deadly for the driver, loads that shift sideways or backward during transit can prove tragic for others on the road.

As a leading flatbed carrier, PGT takes these risks very seriously and has created a robust and continuous training program for new and existing drivers, as well as other company staff members, in order to create the safest environment possible for their employees and the motoring public. 

The company’s state-of-the-art training facility is equipped with seven different types of staged loads, giving new drivers the opportunity to secure loads in a real-world environment with the oversight of experienced trainers.

“All of our instructors are CDL holders, and they have all driven flatbed loads before,” Vargo said. “They are experts in commodity securement, commercial driving and flatbed trucking in general, so our new drivers are learning from the best instructors in the industry.”

PGT’s Certified PRO Trainer Program was developed in order to ensure new drivers get the best training possible before hitting the road on their own. To keep trainers up to speed on the latest issues facing drivers, each instructor undergoes additional training and professional development before teaching trainees. From there, these experienced professionals provide mentorship, regular evaluations and consistent feedback to new drivers, helping them reach their full potential. 

In addition to providing top-notch training for new drivers, PGT routinely coaches all of their drivers on safe driving habits with a staff of professional driver coaches. The company also creates biweekly video training refreshers for all drivers, and these short, educational segments often use video footage from company dashcams, allowing viewers to see and learn from real-world examples of either safety mishaps or exceptional safety behaviors.

The training doesn’t stop with the drivers at PGT, though. The company recently launched Flatbed 101, a two-day class aimed at educating other staff members — including those working in operations, sales, compliance and risk management — about the driver experience. The class covers similar topics to the company’s driver training, including hands-on commodity securement, to help all staff members better understand the day-to-day life of a flatbed driver.

“We need our sales staff to know how to secure loads so they know what to listen for when they’re talking to customers. They need to understand what a driver will be asked to do when they get to the pick up location, and they need to price those tasks appropriately,” said Andrew Erin, PGT’s director of safety and risk. “We often get securement pictures from new drivers or drivers moving more challenging loads. The people viewing those pictures need to be trained to spot issues so we can ensure that our loads are properly secured before our drivers go on the road.”

Finally, the company holds a daily meeting in order to bring people together from across the company, from drivers to C-suite executives. These meetings always include a safety segment at the very beginning, keeping safe driving behaviors at the top of everyone’s mind. These meetings are a complement to the company’s myriad of training efforts designed to reduce accidents and on-the-job injuries. 

These initiatives are producing results. Accident rates per mile are down 29% year over year, and claim costs are down 53%. “PGT’s founder, Pat Gallagher, always reminds us that there is no finish line in the transportation business,” Erin said. “For PGT, that means we have a continuous focus on safety improvement.”

Safety is the driving force behind everything at PGT Trucking. Their core value of “Safety is Everyone’s Job – All the Time” is a commitment that starts at the top with their Executive Management team and reaches deep within their corporate culture. PGT is committed to being a responsible community partner and sharing the road with the motoring public in a safe and courteous manner. Because of this commitment, PGT continues to be one of the safest and most profitable flatbed carriers in the industry.

The FREIGHTWAVES TOP 500 For-Hire Carriers list includes PGT Trucking (No. 83).