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Truck Driver Training a Serious Safety Issue

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Olympia, WAThey drive massive vehicles in and out of traffic for hours on end, sometimes carrying hazardous material, but are truck drivers really receiving enough training time? That question came up once again after a truck accident in Olympia, Washington took the life of a new truck driver.

Truck AccidentAccording to reports, the driver had been on the job for 3.5 weeks and was still in training at the time of the accident. While he was driving, his trainer was allegedly asleep in the back of the truck's cab. The trainer suffered minor injuries in the accident, in which the truck driver lost control and crashed into an overpass and a cement barrier at 12:45 am last week. A police spokesperson said that it appeared as though wet road conditions contributed to the accident.

Although it is tragic that the truck driver lost his life, it is lucky that no one else was seriously injured. But, the question has again been raised: Given the size of the vehicles they drive and the complexities involved in driving semi trucks, are truck drivers given enough training before they are put on the road? The surprising answer is, not always.

According to Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen, training of new drivers is one of the key issues in trucking safety. Claybrook says that Public Citizen has sued the government for new rules on truck driver safety. The new rules are meant to set minimal requirements for driver training and to set rules on book training versus on-the-road training.

And, while a lack of proper training may be a concern for some people, perhaps a bigger concern is licensing fraud that has been found in 24 states between 2002 and 2007. A 2007 article in the Chicago Tribune reported that there are thousands of drivers on US highways whose licenses were obtained under suspicious circumstances. That is, some people received the licenses through driving schools that fraudulently got them those licenses.

The article notes that federal officials discovered licensing fraud in at least 24 states, where examiners are hired by the various states to conduct driver testing. The problem is so wide-spread that one state official told an investigator that there were "too many suspect drivers to list." Up to 15,000 licenses may have been obtained fraudulently, but details on almost 7,000 of those cases have not be found—leaving them on the road and potentially deadly. What this essentially means is that there could be up to 15,000 truck drivers on the road who have not met even minimal licensing standards, and may be unqualified to drive their trucks.

What makes this even more worrisome is that at least 9 people have died in crashes that involved truckers who got their licenses under suspicious circumstances in Illinois. Of course, the number of dead does not include incidents involving suspicious licenses obtained in other states.

The scheme involves bribing third-party examiners to falsify the tests for a number of drivers. This was done in states where the government relies on third-party testers, rather than state employees, to certify truck drivers. Compounding the problem is a reciprocity agreement in which some states will accept an out-of-state truckers' license without further testing. Therefore, a person could get a fraudulent license in one state and then swap it for a license in a different state.

Obviously, not all truck drivers obtain their licenses through such fraudulent means. The problem, though, is that it only takes one accident to tragically alter a person's life and the high number of people with fraudulent licenses puts other vehicles on the road at risk of a potentially fatal run-in with a semi truck.

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