ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Experts say a shortage of qualified truck drivers could pose a threat to the nation’s supply chain, causing a shortage of food and other products on grocery-store shelves. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased this risk because of the training difficulties presented by social-distancing guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“We need to train more drivers as quickly as possible,” said John Kearney, CEO of Advanced Training Systems (ATS), a designer and manufacturer of virtual simulators for driver training and other applications.
For some years, Kearney said, there has been a national shortage of truckers, particularly for interstate long-haul drivers of whom the agricultural industries depend upon. Over the recent months following the COVID-19 outbreak, the situation has only worsened.
Before taking their place in the transportation workforce prospective new drivers must take and pass a driver’s test to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL). While the specifics of this process may vary from state to state, the driver’s test generally consists of three components – the pre-trip inspection checklist, a basic control skills exam and a road skills test.
Of these three, Kearney said, the most complex in terms of detailed knowledge requirement is the pre-trip inspection checklist, where the prospective new driver must evaluate the condition and roadworthiness of the rig’s engine compartment, driver-door fuel area, coupling area, trailer, light, cab and brakes. The engine-compartment inspection alone covers 28 different items, he noted.
The pre-trip inspection checklist is traditionally taught in a classroom, followed by a closely gathered group around the truck — an approach that is not possible with social-distancing guidelines. In response to this situation, ATS launched the CDL Pre-Trip Inspection App, which can be delivered to students’ smartphones or tablets, enabling them to study the process anywhere.
In light of the national crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, ATS announced April 27 that the company will provide the app for free over the next 90 days to the company’s existing simulator customers as well as the Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA) and the National Association of Publicly Funded Truck Driving Schools (NAPFTDS).
“There is a significant startup cost associated with new applications, but we feel it is critical at this time in history to ensure its widespread availability,” Kearney said. “This will enable students to study at their own pace in solitary locations, online, and safe from the spread of the virus — and give them the knowledge needed to pass the CDL exam and become a thoroughly trained and safety-conscious driver.”