Driver/Operator Training: How Important is It?
Directorate of Assessments and Prevention
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama
The Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT) family of vehicles has a gross vehicle weight range from 64,000 to 105,000 pounds. At more than 30 feet long, these eight-wheel-drive vehicles — which are equipped with 500-horsepower, 15.2-liter Caterpillar C15 engines — can tow an 11-ton payload at speeds up to 62 mph. The Army places a lot of trust and confidence in its Soldiers and their abilities, but is this a vehicle we want to put unlicensed or untrained drivers/operators in for their first time behind the wheel? After all, some Soldiers enter the Army with no previous civilian driver’s license or little to no experience operating even a four-door sedan.
In fiscal 2020, the Army lost 12 Soldiers in 10 on-duty ground mishaps involving government motor vehicles (GMV), which include HEMTTs, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs). An additional six Soldiers were injured in these incidents. The fiscal 2020 mishaps included:
- Three Soldiers drowned in a single GMV mishap.
- One Soldier died and four others were injured in a vehicle rollover.
- Two Soldiers were ejected from a vehicle. The driver was killed and the truck commander (TC) was injured when the vehicle overturned.
- One Soldier died after the vehicle struck a tree.
- One Soldier died in a rollover.
- One Soldier died after the vehicle struck a winch cable.
- One Soldier died in a rollover after being ejected and pinned under the vehicle.
- One Soldier died and another was injured in another vehicle rollover.
- One Soldier died and two more were injured in a vehicle collision.
Not all of these mishaps involved a lack of driver training or driver experience; however, of the mishaps that the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center (USACRC) investigated, the cause was often a direct result of inadequate or a lack of driver training at the unit level. An in-depth review of the unit’s driver training program was either a present and contributing factor or a present but not contributing factor in the majority of GMV mishaps investigated.
Let’s breakdown one of these mishaps. It was determined there were two different factors:
Present and contributing
- Present and contributing — these are factors that definitely contributed to the mishap.
- Present but not contributing — these are factors that did not contribute to the mishap but could adversely affect the safety of continued operations if left uncorrected.
While operating an M1120A4 HEMTT Load Handling System (LHS) as the trail vehicle in a convoy on an improved tank trail in the training area at dusk, the driver chose the wrong course of action. He reduced the interval between his vehicle and the LHS ahead due to the limited visibility created by dusty conditions, which significantly increased the probability of a collision. The driver’s actions were in contravention to guidance found in Chapter 1 of Army Techniques Publication (ATP) 4-01.45, Multi-Service Tactics, Techniques and Procedures for Tactical Convoy Operations, and Chapter 19 of Training Circular 21-305-20, Manual for the Wheeled Vehicle Operator. As a result, once the LHS to his front began to slow and pull to the side of the tank trail, the driver was unable to stop and attempted to steer to the left to avoid a collision. The right-side cab of his LHS struck the left corner of the flat rack of the second LHS, resulting in the death of the TC and extensive damage to the vehicle.
A review of the mishap indicated inadequate unit-level driver training, a failure of the TC to identify an unsafe practice, no FM communications, and environmental conditions affecting vision as latent failures resulting in or contributing to the wrong course of actions by the driver. Through a review of the driver’s training program, gaps existed in training drivers to operate in environmental conditions commonly experienced in convoy movements. Additionally, the TC, as an NCO and experienced LHS operator, should have recognized the unsafe distance between his LHS and the vehicle ahead. Present but not contributing 1
Through the review of the mishap, it was concluded the driver’s training program at the company and battalion levels was not conducted as outlined by Army Regulation (AR) 600-55. Additionally, there did not appear to be adequate program oversight at the brigade level. While these issues did not directly result in the mishap, they may contribute to future incidents if not addressed.
Major deficiencies of the driver’s training program included:
Present but not contributing 2
- Master drivers were not appointed or trained in accordance with AR 600-55. A battalion master driver was not assigned as a member of the battalion staff in the operations section, nor had he attended the M9 course at Fort Lee, Virginia.
- There were no licensed instructors and license examiners at the company level.
- Vehicle and equipment operators were not trained in accordance with AR 600-55 with respect to the phased training approach.
- Hands-on training was not conducted as outlined in specific vehicle training circulars.
- There were no records of written testing or performance road tests.
- Training validation for reassigned operators was not conducted in accordance with AR 600-55.
- No night vision device (NVD) academics and training was conducted by NVD-certified license instructors.
In reviewing the inconsistencies in seat belt use by the mishap convoy, some drivers stated that they prefer not to wear their seat belt and don’t unless the TC tells them to wear it. These drivers stated that between the wearing of the improved outer tactical vest and seat belt, it is difficult to steer the LHS, as the kit and seat belt interferes with movement. In the case of the third LHS in the movement, it was concluded the driver and TC wore their seat belts and full kits for the following reasons: medics found the TC in a full kit to include gloves, and all drivers interviewed stated that that TC required the use of seat belts and the wearing of all required kits. The responding medics stated there was no evidence that the TC who died in the mishap was wearing his advanced combat helmet or seat belt. However, given the lack of survivable space in the area where the TC was seated, a review of the mishap concluded the use of seat belts would not have prevented serious injury or changed the ultimate outcome for the TC. The importance driver training
These types of GMV mishaps are all too common. The cost in lives, injuries and materiel involved in this mishap was extensive, catastrophic and avoidable. This type of mishap is the reason the Army undertook the extensive rewrite of AR 600-55. The intent was to improve and emphasize the importance of providing driver training as well as improve the overall training experience and the processes required to manage an effective driver training program. The challenge is to take a hard look at your driver training program and see if it’s up to speed with the changes in AR 600-55. Driver training, compliance with the regulations and leader enforcement of known standards would have made the difference in the mishap above and prevented the needless loss and injuries to the Soldiers involved.