When it comes to hiring safe drivers, the road test is of the upmost importance. Road testing a potential new driver should never be considered a mere formality. Having the applicant drive around the block and perform a few basic maneuvers is simply not going to provide an adequate evaluation of that potential hire’s driving skills, behaviors and attitude.
A good road test not only indicates whether a driver can safely and efficiently handle the company’s vehicle. It should also give you insight into the driver’s ability to learn and how well the individual will fit with that specific waste company. The road test should do more than evaluate driving skill. It should also help determine long-term fit.
The test should be well defined. The idea is to create a fair and level playing field for potential drivers and a standard driver evaluation process for the company. The specifics of the test should be spelled out in writing. These could include such things as a minimum duration for the test, what driving environments will be included (city streets, highway, residential, etc.) and what activities will be tested (pre-trip inspection, driving forward, backing, picking up or dropping off a container, etc.).
The importance of having the right people conducting the road tests can’t be emphasized enough. Too often, waste companies put testers in place who, after a while, start to go through the motions instead of treating each road test as an integral part of the driver qualification process. Testers should have substantial experience behind the wheel and a thorough knowledge of the company’s operations, goals and values. It is important to look for detail-oriented individuals who are cool under pressure. The ideal tester should be able to put an applicant at ease, as a comfortable applicant is far more likely to reveal his or her true self during the road test, especially to a “fellow driver.” Finally, testers should be observant, noting mannerisms or habits that could signal trouble later.
The road test should start with a brief introduction and exchange of expectations between the tester and the applicant. If a good comfort level can be established early, the applicant will tend to perform and behave during the road test as he or she would on the job. Does he or she just look at each item during a pre-trip inspection, or actually touch them? A driver’s attention to detail says a lot about how that individual approaches other aspects of the job. A sloppy and hurried pre-trip might indicate a disinterested, disorganized or impatient driver.
During the road test, is the driver aggressive? Can the individual shift smoothly? Is he or she hard on the brakes? These behaviors can provide insight into the driver’s character and ability.
After the road test, the tester should review the driver’s performance and note the reaction. Is the applicant receptive to constructive criticism? Does he or she show a willingness to improve? If so, the applicant might be trainable and therefore a keeper.
There is more to be gained from a road test than simply determining whether an applicant can drive a truck. The road test is not only a part of the qualification process, it is also part of a company’s driver retention effort by helping to identify those drivers that might be good long-term fits.
Bruce Hooker works for Mattei Insurance Services, Inc. based in Sacramento, Calif.