Darla Smith has been trucking since 1996 and at 60 years old, she considers herself one of the trucking industry’s old-timers. As a company driver for Nussbaum Transportation, she also works as a driver trainer to teach the next wave of truckers the tried-and-true old school ways.
“We’re getting out of this industry in droves and the best thing that we can do for the trucking industry is take these young drivers, like my student driver, and teach her everything you know,” Smith said of older drivers. “Give her every trick in the book and make sure that she has the tools to be able to do her job and to do it safely and to keep herself safe.”
Smith said too many companies approach training from a team driving perspective. Smith prefers Nussbaum’s approach, where she is in the passenger seat while her trainee is driving. She sits next to her trainees, passing on tips and tricks she learned in her years on the road, including personal safety measures like looping your seatbelt through the steering wheel and door at night so no one can break in.
“That stuff isn’t in any book anywhere. The only way they’re going to learn that stuff is from the old-timers like me out here,” said Smith, who hopes they will eventually pass on that knowledge to trainees of their own.
“Twenty years from now, they can do the same thing and carry it on and pass it down. It’s just passed on from one trucking generation to another without getting lost,” said Smith, who has been driving for almost 22 years.
Even when she runs into rookie drivers at truck stops, she makes herself available as an educational resource for them.
“I might run across somebody like my student and she’s been thrown out here to the wolves and she’s got to back down to this building and she doesn’t know how. If I get in that seat and I go down the road to a customer, there might be another woman driver at that customer and she needs to know how to back down into that building,” Smith said. “It gives me an opportunity to teach somebody something every day. I still learn things myself.”
Smith’s advice to new truckers is two-fold: Enjoy what you do and listen to the advice of older drivers when you need help or have a question.
“You listen to them. They won’t steer you wrong,” Smith said.