Keep Step Van Drivers in the NTDC
If trucks had patron saints, step vans would claim Rodney Dangerfield as their own. The late comedian’s trademark quip, “I get no respect,” describes how some in our industry view step vans.
Step van drivers have proven their mettle. Their skill and professionalism are indispensable to the trucking industry. It’s no exaggeration that step-van drivers are an economic linchpin.
It’s safety, however, that places step-van drivers in a class all their own.
Only a skilled and vigilant driver can navigate a route in all weather and road conditions in a vehicle that’s six to eight times larger than a minivan. Maneuvering through the tight spaces of secondary roads and residential neighborhoods, the step-van driver grapples with traffic situations that could be catastrophic in less capable hands.
Imagine a rubber ball bouncing in front of your vehicle, followed by a small child, followed by the family dog. Wrap up this sequence with Mom or Dad backing out of the driveway with only a quick glance at the rear-view mirror. Only a true professional could navigate such a minefield.
I saw the breadth of this professionalism at this year’s National Truck Driving Championships — only the second time the step-van class was included. It drew 32 state champions, each outstanding.
The trucking industry should be proud of these new competitors. Instead, they are debating whether step vans should remain in the competition at all.
Here are the main objections to having an NTDC step-van class:
• It’s not a “real” truck.
Wrong! A step van meets the U.S. Department of Transportation’s definition of a truck. More significantly, it meets the public’s definition of a truck. A driver’s professionalism on the road can influence how the public perceives that carrier and, ultimately, our industry.
• They’re not “real” drivers. Give me a break.
Step van drivers follow the same DOT regulations as Commercial Drivers License (CDL) holders except for CDL requirements and drug/alcohol testing, but many of them do have the CDL because of the cargo they carry.
• It’s a FedEx event.
It’s true that FedEx dominates the step-van class. This year, 27 of the 32 NTDC competitors were from FedEx. The winner, Sean Saxon, is a FedEx Ground contractor. FedEx is prominent in this class because the company supports it. We want other drivers to compete, too. But only a few other carriers support the event. That needs to change.
• Step van driving challenges aren’t the same as for a tractor-trailer.
You got that right: Step Vans face their own challenges, as described above.
• The Step van class will cost more money to include in the NTDC.
Not true. Additional costs have been minimal to nonexistent during the trial period.
Now let’s look at why the Step Van class should remain in the NTDC.
• Career development: Step vans often are the first rung of a driving career.
As an entry-level position, the step van drivers learn the fundamentals of safe driving and professional behavior. Retaining step vans in the NTDC sends the powerful message that all drivers are expected to achieve high standards from the beginning of their careers.
• Good driving habits: Our NTDC champions tell us the competition hones their skills and knowledge and makes them more aware of situations where their actions can prevent an accident.
• A new membership pool: Carriers with step-van fleets are a potential new source of membership for American Trucking Associations, the competition’s sponsor.
For all these reasons, the step-van class should become a permanent class in the NTDC.
Step-van drivers don’t need patron saints, they need the trucking industry to treat them with the respect they’ve earned.
Managing Director, Corporate Safety, Health and Fire Prevention