Big Rig Safety: TCC program teaching safe tractor trailer practices

By: Michael Hudak | WCTV Eyewitness News
November 20, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) – Driving on the highway can be both frustrating and tiring. But, imagine doing it for 12 or 14 hours straight. That’s the reality for many truck drivers.

They’re big, they’re loud and they’re essential for moving goods, large and small.

Like any vehicle, a semi-truck crash can change lives forever.

“The first thing that I saw was the semi jack-knifing, jack-knifing in the road,” said Natalie Colon, a witness to the 45-car pileup that occurred earlier this summer on I-10.

Colon said she saw a semi attempt to avoid a slow-moving vehicle.

“After that, it just seemed like a wave of destruction coming at us,” she recalled.

The crash resulted in eight people being taken to the hospital.

“I always tell everybody look, especially these trucks, they’re 80,000 pounds. In order for them to stop, it takes about two football fields to stop and that’s on dry pavement on good weather,” said Thomas Paul, a CDL Instructor and former truck driver.

Paul teaches future semi-truck drivers at Tallahassee Community College and has logged countless miles with more than a decade behind the wheel. Vital experience he uses while training.

“Our goal as teachers, instructors and everything is to make sure that people understand the safety part of this,” Paul said.

But, that wasn’t always the case.

"Back in early 2005-2010, there was a little bit of training involved and a lot of schools were open but the schools didn't really cover a whole lot," he remembered.

But, these days, programs are intense. Training begins in the classroom long before students get behind the wheel.

“We spend a lot of time in the books, going over all of the safety, all of the DOT regulations,” Paul explained. “Log book training, map training.”

Paul shows how new technology allows students to experience the road before they even hit it.

Just like an airline pilot, drivers in training learn to maneuver through all conditions; day, night, rain and even snow.

But, the most powerful lessons that Paul can teach is one of the simplest; balancing the responsibility of the big rig while sharing the road.

“We have to scan ahead, we have to be on the lookout for people trying to cut us off, we have to be on the lookout for anything in the road, we have to be on the lookout for curves, hills, mountains,” Paul explained. “Most of the days we do sit and we drive but our minds are working 24/7, at all times.”

Hopeful to prevent a crash like Colon and her daughter witnessed.

“I know that it didn’t last a minute, but it felt like it was 10 minutes,” she said.

A life-changing event that could happen to anyone, at any time, traveling down any highway.

The program Paul teaches at TCC is an eight-week course and requires 320 hours of classroom work.