Some truck driving schools should pay more attention to road safety than its profit margin. Just ask Eric LaManque. "If you drive so many hours and are inexperienced, trucks are dangerous. I am surprised that more accidents don't happen," he says.
LaManque attended Swift Truck Driving School and decided that trucking is a very dangerous profession. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), about 6,000 truck drivers a year die in highway accidents.
What isn't reported is how many of these accidents are a result of poor truck driver training. Chances are there is another vehicle involved in these truck accidents, usually with fatal results, such as [this] tragic accident ]we recently reported.
With 10 schools throughout the US, Swift is the largest school in the country, pumping out about 100 students per week per school. The company heavily recruits people; for a minimum $2,000 in tuition, students are promised jobs. Conveniently, Swift is also a trucking company. Even with a fleet of 16,000 trucks, there still isn't enough jobs for this many students.
"After six weeks of training, you get your license, " says LaManque. "Then Swift gives you a free bus ride from Wichita, Kansas to Memphis, Tennesse. You have to share a room with four other guys in a hotel owned by Swift, until you go on the road with a driver trainer. Most of these guys [who have taken the course] are desperately looking for work and they have spent their savings or owe their tuition to Swift, with interest," says LaManque.
"After you get your license, they want you to quit [because there aren't enough positions available and Swift cannot meet its obligation]. One driver I trained with told me he had 18 people that he had trained over a period of a few years. Only one person was hired by Swift."
Not only are jobs far and few between, Swift clearly doesn't put safety first.
"You drive in dangerous conditions. Right away I drove 11 hours the first night. They try to avoid paying fees on toll roads so we drive secondary roads. Last year the icy conditions in Oklahoma were terrible. I passed at least four trucks on the road that had gone in the ditch. My diabetic trainer was asleep: he had taken several medications for back pain and he told me to pull over at a specific rest stop down highway.
" I approached the rest stop and it was sheer ice so I drove slowly. At the top of the ramp was another truck, stuck. We were behind and couldn't go anywhere on the incline. My trainer started yelling at me, 'You shouldn't have gone here, get outa my truck.'
"He kicked me out! He was going to leave me at the side of the road and I didn't even have a warm jacket. Right after that, the truck in front of us pulled ahead, so my truck started driving off but he stopped at the last minute and let me back in. He drove me to Edwardsville, Kansas, the regional base of Swift. He didn't apologize; he just said ' I lost it' ".
Talk about road rage! Once at the base, Swift got LaManque another trainer driver. This time he drove across the US, "cross-country driving", but realized in just a few weeks that "this wasn't the job for me."
LaManque had had a childhood accident and had a weak eye. It hadn't affected him until driving long hauls all night long.
Clearly, Swift is more concerned with getting students' tuition than checking on students' medical backgrounds and getting them jobs. "They lie to you," says LaManque. "You make friends in driving school and hear stories. One guy from Cuba was desperate, and Swift promised him all this money, $50,000 per year and more," says LaManque. But he didn't get a job. "Most companies won't hire you without experience and they generally pay $10 per hour."
Back in 1993, [consumerlawpage] reported on false advertising by trucking schools and included a statement by The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warning the public not to believe recruitment ads by certain truck driving schools. Clearly, it is time for another evaluation.
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|. By Jane Mundy|
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