By Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4) – Another October snowstorm is lined up to hit Colorado this weekend and it’s likely to make roads more dangerous. Snow added to steep hills would likely make things tough for drivers, especially semitruck drivers trying to navigate the high country.

“Of course you factor in the weather. If you’re not experienced and you don’t know what you’re doing then you set yourself up for failure,” said Harold Trent, school director at United States Truck Driving School in Wheat Ridge. “Winter conditions, you’re not going to come off of that mountain, 30, 35 miles an hour.”

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There’s another aspect of it as well — more people and cars.

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“The volume of traffic especially with the ski resorts and all that up there, and then of course experience.”

COVID-19 caused all kinds of tangles for the trucking industry. Shortages of products pushed more urgent attempts at finding companies to deliver, while more experienced truckers left driving as a career.

Then delivery backups slowed things. Truckers have to wait for loading and unloading at places where there are delays. That work time adds to their day, shortening their driving time.

“You’re still looking at drivers behind the wheel of commercial vehicles with three months of experience which is pretty typical of today’s world,” Trent said. “I’m getting calls weekly from trucking companies I didn’t even know existing (saying) ‘When are students graduating? How much training do they get?'”

At his school there is 160 hours of training for a commercial driver’s license. Later, after drivers are hired, they get additional training from their companies, and truckers should be getting the support they need to drive safely.

“Now does it mean that some trucking companies may cut corners to get the job done? I would be a liar if I didn’t say yes that’s absolutely true,” said Trent.

Dillon Towing operations manager Dan Kalland has seen it.

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“It’s lack of training and experience is what it is.”

Three trucks in his yard has lost control.

“At 35 miles an hour they’re thinking well this is really slow, I can probably go a little bit faster than this. So they’ll zoom up to 45, 50 and the next thing you know they’re halfway down the hill losing brakes because they’ve had to keep pumping their brakes now, and they’re heating their brakes up and it’s a little too late.”

(credit: CBS)

Trent noted, “There’s no such thing as a bad student, just bad training.”

Some who come from out of state may simply be unprepared.

“A driver from Alabama for example, probably a good driver, in summer weather conditions, but then he comes to Colorado and he’s faced with uphill and downhill grades he might now be used to. Then you’ve got snow and ice and fog and wind and all that factors into it.”

Training regulations are going to get tougher in February when on-the-road training will be mandated, but it’s part of what Trent’s school does already. What the companies do once they get the drivers can vary.

“I’m seeing companies like I said that normally had a two year hiring criteria. Now, you know three months, six months, ‘hey we’ll take them right out of school now.’”

That means they can be on the roads more quickly. One thing he does note, all have received more training than the typical automobile driver. Even those with years behind the wheel.

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“Just because I’ve been driving an automobile for 50 years doesn’t mean that I’m experienced or trained.”

Alan Gionet