INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — An extra 3 cents on a bag of potato chips might not seem like a big deal. But Steve Gold, owner of 160 Driving Academy, the nation’s largest commercial driving school, says the extra cost could give trucking companies more money for safety training, and therefore could save lives.
“This is why brokers are so prevalent in [trucking] industry, everybody wants the lowest price, nobody wants to pay for these things. While, you know, killing a family of four,” Gold said.
Just two weeks ago, police said Victor Santos was drunk when he crashed his semi into a school bus in northern Indiana. 16 people were injured in the crash, many of them teenagers. Documents show that Santos operated his own company with only one truck. The I-Team 8 found it represents a troubling, larger trend in the transportation industry.
“Yes, this person has a commercial driver’s license, but that’s like giving your 16-year-old the keys to a Ferrari, you know there’s no way he’s going to drive that vehicle safely,” Gold said. “You saw a huge supply and demand imbalance for truckers (and) there wasn’t enough, and the impact was that our toilet paper wasn’t getting to the store shelf in time.”
Federal data from FTR Transportation Intelligence shows that from July 2020 to October of this year, more than 233,000 new transportation companies entered the market in response to growing demands. Seventy percent of the new carriers were just one truck, including Victor Santos.
Gold says that while many are trying to meet industry demands, safety training isn’t always a top priority.
There were “5,000 highway deaths last year. It was new drivers, experienced drivers, and they’re all avoidable,” Gold said.
At the 160 Driving Academy, Gold says, students are required to complete a minimum of 160 hours of driving during a 4½-week program. He says students are then strongly encouraged to work for a large company, such as Pepsi or Amazon. Gold says larger companies will provide additional safety training and mentoring.
“We tell them not to start their own company for at least two years. Go work for a bigger employer,” Gold said. “Then if you are a safe driver and have enough money and want to go out on your own, go for it. But until then, don’t try to do it yourself.”
The I-Team 8 found that many small companies depend on finding work through brokers.
Brad Cosgrove, a partner at Chicago-based law firm Clifford, said: “As long as you meet the broker’s minimum criteria and are on their list of approved carriers, you can go to an app and find any load and sign up to pick up and bring anywhere you want without additional supervision.”
Gold says he’s worked with companies that have started things like evaluating drivers, helping them get their commercial driver’s licenses and adding 50 hours of one-on-one training to raise safety training standards. However, according to him, in recent years drivers have been moving from company to company. In some cases, they switch after only six months of working for a company. He says this can make it harder for companies to track driving records and experience levels, adding to concerns that safety is not always top priority.
“All of these things are avoidable,” Gold said, referring to the crash involving Santos. “What kills me is that they are all avoidable.”
“The number of new carriers per month is likely declining due to the same financial factors that are increasing the number of carriers going out of business: a spike in diesel prices, weaker spot market prices, rising financing costs, etc.” The number of new carriers remains much higher than the pre-pandemic norm. The reasons for this resilience are complex, but we believe it is due to a combination of trucking business model changes and technological advances in trucking capacity management. A significant proportion (approximately 29%) of operators who entered the market between July 2020 and October 2022 have already failed – possibly due to the same factors causing the increase in operator failures. Although we have not performed a comprehensive analysis of historical data, we believe this performance is no worse than the pre-pandemic norm and may in fact be better.”
Avery Wiese, vice president of FTR Transportation Intelligence