Commercial Vehicles: Impact on West Texas, Part 1 - KWES NewsWest 9 / Midland, Odessa, Big Spring, TX: |

Commercial Vehicles: Impact on West Texas, Part 1

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By Alicia Neaves
NewsWest 9

MIDLAND/ODESSA - It's been on the Texas Workforce Commission's High Demand Jobs List for the past 15 years. To better understand what it takes to drive these big rigs, NewsWest 9 took a ride-along with the Odessa College Truck Driving School.

"People will get to see what it's like to actually become a truck driver, but also to be in a big truck and see what happens around the truck while it's on the road," Tracy Austin, Director of Community Education at Odessa College, said.

A regular driver's license requires one driving test. Some of us also go to driving school. A commercial license requires 160 hours of training and up to five driving tests. This doesn't include mandatory background checks by the FBI for drivers who transport hazardous materials. It's a whole different ball game.
"Cars are not necessarily as aware of the trucks as the trucks need to be of the cars, so we emphasize that. We make sure they have the skills and the lesson they need in order to go out and be a safe truck driver," Austin said.

So how long does it take to get used to driving these big rigs? Two weeks. Two weeks, and nine, sometimes 18 gears later.

"It's OK to go slow," Ken Lambert, Professional Truck Driving Instructor at Odessa College Truck Driving School, said.

Lambert knows that when operating a truck, roughly 75,000 pounds heavier than the average car, it hardly means the driver's invincible.

"Go slow. These big trucks cannot go around the corner really fast. They have to do it with the mind set that these 4-wheelers, the cars, don't understand that. They're gonna wanna zip around you. So you're gonna have to constantly be aware of your surroundings and don't be afraid to go slow," Lambert said.

Lambert has a picture of a turtle on wheels with a rocket strapped to it's back. He uses it to give advice to students.

"I'll explain to my students that you're a big truck. You're a slow moving vehicle. You are a turtle. You are not a turtle with a rocket on your back. When you get in a hurry, you got that rocket on your back. Can't get in a hurry. I'm not talking about doing 42 in a 40 mile an hour zone. I'm talking about doing a right turn at 10 miles an hour," Lambert said.
If strapped to the rocket, and a hazard is up ahead, the driver could make contact and take out the fire hydrant or light pole, whatever target's up ahead. Point being, it literally pays to go slow. It's simple science that comes into play.
When stopping in an 18-wheeler, think of it this way, when driving 55 miles an hour, it takes a small car roughly the length from home plate to first base to come to a complete stop. When driving a big rig, it takes the length of a football field from end zone to end zone, about three times as long.

On average, 200 students graduate each year from the Odessa College Truck Driving School. In fact, just last week, they lowered their tuition to help satisfy the demand for qualified truck drivers. In this boom that we're experiencing, to say the need is "dire" for these commercial vehicle drivers would be an understatement. So, if you think the roads are crowded today, listen to this.

"A study that was done at the beginning of last year from Wanted Analytics looked at Help Wanted ads from certain areas. In the Permian Basin, they looked at Help Wanted ads for the first quarter of 2013 and they found that there were over 900 Help Wanted ads for truck driving. The next closest was nursing and that was 300-something," Lambert said.

Since we need to get ready for even more 18-wheelers on the highway, the focus of the second part of this series is to examine the safety records of the drivers of these vehicles. We will also reveal some surprising statistics that might change your opinions of commercial vehicles and their drivers.