HELENA – About 60 commercial truck drivers from around Montana came to Helena Saturday to showcase their driving skills.
The Motor Carriers of Montana held their annual truck driving championships at the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds. Drivers maneuvered a variety of vehicles – from smaller step-vans to full semi-trucks – around obstacle courses.
Barry “Spook” Stang, executive vice president of Motor Carriers of Montana, said the competition has been going on for several decades.
“One of our current board of directors members was the safety guy at the University of Montana vo-tech, and he started it,” he said. “He said the first year, they had five trucks and they ran around hay bales.”
The competition is now much more formalized. Drivers turned between barrels in a serpentine course and practiced tight 90-degree turns. They were graded on how close they could get to an obstacle without actually hitting it.
Many of the challenges are based on things a driver might actually need to do for work. For example, they tried to park as precisely as they could in within a box simulating a vehicle scale.
There were also other aspects of the competition. Drivers took a written test, and they were asked to inspect a vehicle to determine whether it has any safety issues.
“Every day before these guys get in their trucks, they have to do a full inspection to make sure there’s no defects and that their brakes work, their lights work,” Stang said. “The trucking industry has done an awful lot geared toward safety.”
Safety was a major theme of the event. The American Trucking Associations brought in a “Share the Road” semi-truck display for the public. They positioned cars around the truck in its “blind spots” – the areas the driver’s mirrors don’t cover. Then, people were allowed to get inside the cab, to get a better idea of what drivers can’t see.
The drivers competing at Saturday’s championships represented a variety of companies. None of them had been involved in an accident for at least a year. The winner in each vehicle category will move on to the National Truck Driving Championships this August in Pittsburgh.
“Most of these guys, if you look at their records, have been driving for 20 or 30 years; they’ve driven 4 or 5 million miles without an accident,” said Stang. “So they’re the best of the best. It gives them a chance to show off their skills and a chance to be rewarded by going to a bigger contest.”
Story by Jonathon Ambarian, MTN News