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Bus and Motor Coach Library

Driver Hiring & Training Practices
Proper Driver Hiring Is Key To Future Success

Author – Bob Crescenzo, Lancer Insurance (2004)

This is the first of a two-part series on driver hiring, training and retention practices, authored by Bob Crescenzo, Vice-President of Safety for Lancer Insurance Company

            Driver selection and hiring are the most critical management functions in maintaining a safe bus or motorcoach operation.  When management fails to select and hire properly, the result is always unsafe acts committed by unqualified drivers.  When driver selection and hiring is done properly and management adheres to established company standards, a better driver force will result.  And, in the event of an accident which leads to an insurance claim, following your company standards will reduce the potential attack on your company by plaintiff attorneys.  Your company is personified by your drivers so why not make the selection, hiring and retention of your most valuable resource your top priority.

It is important that you and your company abide by both the spirit and the letter of the law in all areas of operations.  In the process of recruiting, selecting and hiring drivers this requires operators and managers to be familiar with all aspect of federal, state and local laws and regulations.

Hiring the wrong driver could result in accidents and the associated high cost of a claims settlement.  The driver reflects your company and a poor selection or shoddy hiring practices will cost you in the end.  It is better to have a vacant position than to fill it with the wrong person who does not meet company or DOT standards.  Shortcuts in the hiring process can be deadly to both your business and your customers. 

Where Do You Begin?
In order to select a driver you have to establish job standards including tasks and duties of the job.  These standards must be applied equally to all applicants.  Once you have established the standards, it is important to create a job description.  If you are not clear on what you expect the driver to do, how can the driver ever really know how to do his or her job properly?  A simple list of the job duties and responsibilities during the hiring process will go a long way in solving the dilemmas that occur when a driver is not performing well.  The driver should be provided with a copy of the job description.  Once the standards are established and the job description list is created, then you can create the job application form.  While using standardized forms is acceptable, make sure you add appropriate questions that will provide information that is specific to your type of operation. Finally, your company driver training/orientation program must be in place before you hire the driver so both of you have a road map to follow once a hiring decision has been made.

Once a candidate has been identified and the application reviewed, you must conduct an interview.  Interviews are very important because they give each of you a chance to evaluate the work situation.  Interviews are "planned communications". It is important for you to have a specific set of questions and ask them in an open-ended manner.  Be prepared for the interview and schedule the time and place.  You job is to listen to the answers, so give the candidate all of your attention even if it is a short interview.  Answering the phone or dispatching while you are interviewing will not work.  Be cordial and purposeful and conduct the interview in as private and quiet place as possible.  During the interview, you should evaluate the following: appearance, personality, speech, intelligence, education, experience, abilities, potential for further development, and ambition. Be sure you do not make promises; be truthful and specific. And, if you say you will get back to the candidate, do so.

Once the interview process is complete and the applicant becomes a candidate you still have a lot of work to do.  This process can often become one-sided if either the applicant or the manager has different impressions.  There is a "mating dance" to the hiring process and the stage between the interview and the hiring is critical to both the candidate and the employer. After the manager identifies the candidate as someone who is acceptable for hiring, the following steps have to be completed: driving/road test; complete background check according to DOT rules and regulations; obtain and review the Motor Vehicle Record (MVR); checking with previous jobs and references; obtaining information about previous drug and alcohol tests; medical qualification confirmation and review.

The job of turning the candidate into an employee can only work if the manager has a script and the script is directly related to the initial steps of having a job description and hiring standards.  So, if you didn't start at the beginning, you will get lost in the middle and lose in the end.  In addition, to the traditional methods of background checks, it is important to develop some additional approaches for your company.  Checking the SAFER information for the previous company before the interview might help you ask the right questions.  If the applicants name is on an accident or OOS list, finding out about the situation will be helpful.  Always recognize that the informal information you gather is important but unless it is verified, should not be taken as fact.  SAFER reports can contain errors and comments from former employers that might not be objective.  So, always consider the source and make your own decision.

Evaluating Driving Skills
When considering a candidate's driving skills, be sure to evaluate the following: city driving, highway driving, turning, backing, adaptation to weather and/or road conditions, reaction to driving stress/pressure, ability to navigate/read a map, ability to manage multiple tasks and ability to manage customers/passengers.  Even the most technically proficient drivers will make driving mistakes if they do not have the right personality to manage customers and the stress of driving.  Observing the driver in "people" situations is critical to his or her success as an employee.

Once all of the above has been completed and the candidate and the manager agree to the hiring, the second part of the "mating dance" begins.  Getting from the office to the assignment board is often a challenge that is underestimated.  Remember you must have a negative pre-employment drug test result on the new hire prior to assigning any driving duties.  Once the drug test is completed and all Driver Qualification file paper work is completed the driver must be trained.  This is the time you will be happy you established the company driver training program before you hired the driver!  Driver training is the final step in the hiring process.  It is critical that the driver training efforts be documented and consistent.  Getting the driver into the vehicle is often a slower process than both of you would like but, if done properly, will protect your company, your customers and your employees. Remember: If you are hiring a driver with less than one year of interstate CDL driving experience, you are required to provide the driver with the "New Entrant Driving Training" program as mandated by the DOT. This training is specific and covers four topics: qualifications; wellness; hours of service and whistleblower information.  If you do not complete this training when required the new driver is not qualified to drive.  This situation is no different than a driver not having a negative pre-employment drug test - without it the new employee is not qualified to drive.

Assume Nothing!
In addition to these new requirements, your company-training program is critical to the successful outcome for your new hire.  Don't assume an experienced driver will adapt on his or her own to the unique aspects of your operation or customers.  Don't assume a new driver understands every aspect of each vehicle model. 

Don't assume a new driver knows how to drive to the locations you travel to.  Don't assume a new driver knows how to fill out a logbook or how to manage a roadside inspection.  If the driver is experienced, then review how your company manages these issues. If it's an inexperienced driver, then take the time to teach him or her how to do these things properly.  The payoff of training is driver retention and customer satisfaction, two of the most important operational issues you face each day.

Your job as an operator/manager is to keep on training and managing the driver so that in the instance of a driving error or an unanticipated crash, it is clear that your company is well run and operating legally.  After customer service, what happens after an accident is extremely critical to the health and success of your company.  If you can prove that you do what you say you do (good hiring, meeting DOT driver qualifications and conducting driver training) then settling the claim will be easier.  If you took shortcuts during the hiring process, you will pay for them during the claims settlement process.

The cost of hiring any employee is rising but the cost of not hiring properly is skyrocketing.  The driver is the cornerstone of your company, so every minute of time you spend training before the driver is assigned to a vehicle will pay off in the future.

Remember: Do everything your written company policy and procedures state.  Take your time, get it right, and then train the driver to your standards.  The payoff comes with driver retention, satisfied customers and a safer operation.