Yuck, that sounds vaguely nasty!
'Meat in the seat' is a euphemism used to describe unqualified or underqualified truck drivers. The descriptive phrase denotes a driver who has the ability to sit upright and maintain a body temperature. All other skills are negotiable.

'way back when
There was a time when the vast majority of big rig drivers came from an agricultural background. They were used to operating machinery, having been exposed to it from childhood on the farm. You can still sometimes see examples such as a boy 12 years old driving a tractor, perhaps pulling a hay wagon or other implement. He is under the tutelege of his Dad or older sibling, coached in the finer points of operating his equipment. He grows up, takes to the big road and another truck driver is created.

Fast forward
As America becomes less and less of an agricultural economy, that training ground is disappearing. Huge agribusinesses now produce most of the farm products we consume. They don't employ child labor. The little farms are going under for an array of economic reasons. Those rural kids aren't going to get the hands-on training common in the past.

A different breed of cat
The demographic of the truck driver is changing. No longer is he or she a farm kid grown up. The mythos of the truck driver draws people into the profession. Todays trucker is just as likely to be a frustrated college graduate unable to find employment in their area. Advertising for truck driver training schools tell candidates all the glories of the open road. Their goal is to fill the slots for trainees. Many trucking companies work in conjunction with these training academies to solicit and train new drivers. There must be grist for the mill, after all.

There is an inherent conflict between actually training a new driver to safely, legally, and efficiently operate a tractor trailer or to simply churn out graduates who can pass the CDL (commercial driver's license) test required by the state to obtain a license. The course of study may vary from part-time over a period of months to a more intense schedule condensed into a few weeks.

You mean it isn't as easy as they said in the commercial?
There are myriad issues involved in driving a tractor trailer. You simply can't climb up, turn the key and drive away. You must obtain the required commercial drivers license (CDL). You must pass a physical exam certifying that you are physically capable of safely operating the type vehicle you intend to operate. You must become familiar with the log book requirements, along with the hours of service requirements. If you intend to haul HAZMAT (hazardous materials), you must also qualify under the special rules and regulations that govern their movement. After becoming qualified and proficient in all the above areas, then you must become familiar with the vehicle you operate. Most over-the-road tractor trailers are about 75' long, with a joint in the middle. They require paying attention and an understanding of when and which way to turn the wheel, when and how to brake, vehicle inspection and sometimes emergency repair, etc. Part of the game is driving in all weather conditions. Today it may be rain, tomorrow snow, the next day a 40 mile per hour cross wind. As that great American philosopher Dirty Harry said in the movie Magnum Force, "A man's got to know his limitations." It is not only important to know when to go, it's just as important to know when to shut down due to unsafe conditions. Barreling down the big road at 70 miles per hour on black ice is not a career enhancing idea. Imagine the idea that all these items will be addressed in a training program that lasts for 3 weeks. It simply is not possible. Couple all that with the fact that the highway is more unforgiving of error because of congestion than it ever has been.

Time for a new way of doing things?
There is NO substitute for wheel time in learning the trade. Some companies will take a green driver, have him run a couple months and then have him serve as trainer to another newbie. That gives the phrase 'the blind leading the blind' a whole new dimension. Some have called for an apprenticeship program whereby trainees are paired with an experienced driver for a specified period before they are 'cut loose' on their own. There is resistance to the concept from companies and drivers alike. The companies don't like it because of the added expense incurred doing the apprentice program. Some experienced drivers resist the idea because they simply don't want to be paired with an unqualified driver. New drivers don't like the idea because they bought the line that they're going to be free out on the big road. They don't want to be tied to an old driver's coat tails. Another factor in resistance to the apprenticeship concept is that it simply hasn't been done that way before, and truckers like everyone else resist change.

Welcome to the real world
Now you've got your CDL, found employment, and hit the road. Did the company mention that your not going to be seeing home for weeks at a time? Did they explain that you're not only going to be driving their truck but that you'll also be living in it? There aren't many comapnies that will hire a greenhorn driver. Many company's insurance will not accept a newbie because they are accident prone. The ones that are large enough to be self insured can accept these green drivers. The flip side of the coin is they know that the new driver has few options available should they find employment conditions unagreeable. New driver, prepare to be used and abused until you get enough seat time to transfer to another company with better pay and working conditions.

Many companies have an annual turnover rate of over 100%. It's not that every driver they hire quits during the year. It's that they may have to hire 2,3,4 or more drivers to fill the seat of a single truck. Imagine a new hire leaving home, living on the road in unfamiliar surroundings every single day. He starts to get grief from his wife or girlfriend about being gone all the time. The dispatchers are on his tail like a dirty diaper, pushing him to make his deliveries. After he's been out for maybe 6 weeks he gets back through the home terminal where he started. His decision is to clean out the truck, quit the job and find something else to earn a living. The trucking company now needs a new driver, more 'meat in the seat'.

As if that weren't enough
Another factor that will come into play is the impending influx of Mexican drivers on American highways. One of the purposes of NAFTA was to open the borders between Canada, the US, and Mexico. This was to facilitate the free flow of goods and commodities between the nations. Delays have been in effect due to the failure of Mexican trucking companies ability to comply with safety requirements. Those delays are drawing to a close. President Bush is committed to opening the border to Mexican drivers. If they comply with US laws and regulations when they operate on our highways, well and good. Studies have shown that they have demonstrated little ability to comply. If you are sick of the way American truckers behave on the road, wait until you are sharing the road with drivers who can't read the road signs. Regulation requires drivers be able to understand the language well enough to navigate. Regulations require lots of things, and they are consistantly ignored by those who don't care about compliance. Can anyone say 'illegal immigration'? Regulation without enforcement is worthless.

Caught between the rock and the hard place
There is a segment of the truck driver population, and maybe it's the majority, who want to comply with the law. They do not want to harm anyone. They simply want to do their job, draw a check, support themselves and their family. That segment is also forced to share the road with the underqualified and unregulated 'meat in the seat' employed by some companies.

The reputation of truckers as 'knights of the highway' is almost gone. When you look up in the rearview mirror and see a big rig approaching, don't assume there is a well trained and qualified professional at the wheel. You be the one to exercise caution, and do it gladly for your own sake and that of your loved ones. Don't become a statistic, a victim of the 'meat in the seat'.

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