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Mentorship, graduated licensing needed for confident, safe truck drivers: Darcy Knowles – Truck News

In addition to a record of 11 years of accident-free driving – among other achievements – Darcy Knowles, an award-winning B.C. driver, is recognized in the industry for his cheerful personality and camaraderie.

Knowles himself, however, believes that being ‘stubborn as a mule’ is the quality that has driven his success.

Darcy Knowles with wife
Darcy Knowles says his wife Esperanza has been supporting him and his career throughout the years. (Photo: Supplied)

He remembers one of the times when he was picking up an oversized load at the dawn of his career. The dispatcher planned the route via Calgary and the Rogers Pass. But Knowles quickly realized the load on a 53-ft. stepdeck would not fit through the tunnels, and voiced his concern.

“And he replied, ‘Oh yes, it will [fit in]’. And I said, “No, I’ve measured it, we’re half a meter too high. You’re going to have to reroute me back through Edmonton,’” Knowles recalls.

“This reminds me of what’s happening nowadays with everybody hitting the bridges [in B.C.]. You know, sometimes you gotta put your foot down. Unfortunately, people in the office don’t know all that. And half the time, they don’t know half.”

What Knowles didn’t know at the time, was that this defiance would later cost him a job.

Persistence pays off

“I wasn’t even there another two months. Basically, because I questioned them. They started me on some very crappy runs, and then they fired me in a very disgusting way.”

He recalls never getting picked up by a colleague who was supposed to give him a ride to Edmonton from Kamloops, B.C., where Knowles and his family resided. When he called to ask what happened, he didn’t receive a response. Knowles knew something was up, so he drove all the way to Edmonton himself, just to find his truck parked at the shop, with his belongings on the floor, packed in paper and plastic bags.

“They said, ‘You’re too much of a problem,’” he recalls.

Three decades have passed since then, but Knowles’ commitment to safety has since paid dividends.

Picture of Darcy Knowles
Darcy Knowles receives 2023 CTA Driver of the Year award (Photo: CTA)

In 2023, he was named the Canadian Trucking Alliance’s national Driver of the Year. A year prior, the B.C. Trucking Association (BCTA) named him provincial Driver of the Year. BCTA president Dave Earle called Knowles “a true embodiment of professionalism and safety on the road” and highlighted Knowles’ commitment to his fellow drivers.

Currently driving for Alchemist Specialty Carriers based in Langley, B.C., Knowles is contributing to promoting road safety by mentoring younger drivers in the company. Some years ago, he even helped them rewrite the company’s outdated SOPs (standard operational procedures).

Reflecting on past experiences – his own and his mentees’ – Knowles says a lot is required of a good, safe driver. This includes being passionate about the job, being a constant learner, asking questions, mastering confidence with experience, and developing problem-solving skills throughout one’s career.

Lessons learned…and taught

Knowles has always been passionate about trucking, adding he knows for sure he’s not cut out for office jobs.

“That will last about three days and they’ll try to crawl through a wall,” was the response when he was offered a management position at his company.

Helping younger drivers deal with unexpected kerfuffles, on the other hand, is rewarding.

He knows a driver will eventually call with a problem if they haven’t asked any questions. “They always say, ‘no, no questions.’ But that’s when I know he would have a problem – [they haven’t] paid attention at all. I want questions. That tells me you’re trying to learn.”

This is a picture of Darcy Knowles in a uniform
(Photo: Supplied)

Knowles remembers receiving a call at 3:30 a.m. from a driver who was delivering a load to Vancouver Island. The driver encountered a challenge with a trailer that featured an unusual valving system.

It was equipped with two valves and a pump for both offloading and loading product. The pump was removed, but the second valve remained. The driver, under pressure to unload the product at a water treatment plant, struggled to operate the valves. With guidance over the phone, Knowles instructed him to open specific levers. He was able to recall the trailer’s design, asking the driver to check for an additional valve located on the left front fender.

“I said that every once in a while, it likes to vibrate back into the C position. I said, ‘Walk up in the trailer.’ I’m on the phone with him as he’s going. As he gets up there, the lever’s pointing backwards. I said, ‘Well, that’s closed. That’s the emergency shut-off, flick the lever forward.’” The issue was then resolved and the trailer unloaded.

This is just one of many times he has helped colleagues. But Knowles is also known for helping other drivers he sees struggling on the road.

Industry needs mentorship

When asked about where his knowledge comes from, Knowles doesn’t attribute his experience to learning on the road alone.

“I am one of those mechanically inclined people. I figure stuff out,” he says.

However, not everyone is as mechanically inclined. And some drivers, especially the least experienced, need help ‘figuring stuff out.’ This is why Knowles believes mentorship programs and graduated licensing are what the trucking industry needs these days.

“I mean, you can’t have somebody that comes right out of training school and directly into a 53-ft. unit going down the highway,” he says. “It is ridiculous to have someone shoved into a B-train driving through the mountains of British Columbia with basically zero hours [of experience] and taking that truck down the highway with 63,500 kg of weight. And they were trained on a five-axle and had nothing [loaded] in it.”

Knowles believes drivers should start with a standard 53-ft. dry van and graduate up through the different types of trucks like dump trucks, B-trains, tankers, and more, according to the increased level of danger and risks.

“Most of the B-trains are just lumber, you have heavy equipment and stuff on them as well. [But] everything we haul is extremely dangerous. It’s either hot, it’s corrosive, flammable, or explosive,” he says. “Somebody said to me, ‘Well, you’re a chemical tanker driver, you’re the top of the top’. When he said that I thought about it for a long time and I said, ‘Yes, you have to be.’”


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