The Importance of Commercial Vehicle Driver Training

To assure that new employees have the knowledge and skills necessary to perform the job in the manner expected, as well as to provide the opportunity to review individual company policies with each driver, it is widely believed that driver training must supplement the driver selection program. The amount of training that is needed varies directly with the complexity of the job and the knowledge and experience of the employee. An effective training program addresses the knowledge and skills necessary for an employee to perform in a satisfactory and safe manner and attempts to bridge the gap between the employee's existing level of knowledge and that which is required for the job.

Proper training should reduce operational disruptions and minimize unnecessary costs from crashes and equipment abuse. Positive driver attitudes can be promoted by emphasizing that the intent of the training program is to benefit drivers by helping them to perform their jobs safely and efficiently. Drivers must be shown the critical relationship between their actions and the success of the business.

This report outlines the types of training, selection of a driver-trainer, and areas to consider in establishing a driver training program and discusses current research justifying driver training programs.

Types of Commercial Driver Training

Three types of driver training should be considered when establishing a driver training program: initial, refresher, and remedial.

  • Initial training should be given to new personnel so that each employee is properly indoctrinated prior to starting work. Even drivers with many years of experience have a need for orientation due to differences in types of cargo, vehicles, and operations. As there are few "perfect" drivers, initial training should address the areas identified during a driver's road test that need improvement.
  • Refresher training can be very useful for regular drivers to update information on operational changes, new routes, cargo, equipment, and government regulations and to reinforce defensive driving awareness.
  • Remedial training may be useful to help alleviate substandard performance. The need for remedial training may be identified by customer complaints, complaints from the public, crash involvement, moving traffic violations, or reports of vehicle misuse or abuse.

Selecting Commercial Driving Instructors

A key element of a successful driver training program is to carefully select a qualified instructor. Depending on the size of the operation, this may be a full- or part-time responsibility. Whenever possible, a driver-trainer should be recruited from within the organization to avoid problems resulting from an "outsider's" lack of familiarity with the company's operations, lack of knowledge of existing problems and policies within the fleet, or possible resentment by the existing drivers. While these factors can be overcome, the effort might prove to be time-consuming and disruptive. Training an existing employee to perform the driver training function can prove to be a tremendous asset to the company.

The person selected to be the driver-trainer should have a superior personnel and safety record (to serve as an example for others) and sufficient experience with the company to have knowledge of its operations, procedures, and future plans. A mature, enthusiastic individual is essential in order to gain the respect of the other drivers and to deal effectively with supervisory personnel. It is also necessary for the driver-trainer to be able to analyze and interpret driver performance and crash records, as well as to communicate those findings.

Beyond the fundamentals of safe driving, driver training must also address other areas, such as company rules and policies, operation of specialized equipment, routes and schedules, emergency procedures, cargo handling (especially when hauling hazardous materials), security, and government regulations.

Management must do everything possible to provide the necessary support systems to make the driver-trainer effective. Foremost, it must recognize that the person selected must be able to teach others effectively. If the individual lacks the necessary teaching experience, it may be advantageous for that person to attend a course designed specifically to “train the driver-trainer.”

Commercial Driver Training Approaches

There are three general approaches to training: classroom, hands-on, and computer-based.

  • Classroom training can be accomplished using either a one-on-one or group approach. This type of training can be used for company rules, federal and state regulations, routes and schedules, crash and emergency procedures, basic cargo handling methods, and basic defensive driving techniques.
  • Hands-on training is most effective for equipment familiarization, pre-trip inspections, cargo handling, and defensive driving. It can provide one of the best methods of giving practical instructions to a driver under closely controlled conditions.
  • Computer-based training (CBT) can include interactive training programs (e.g., Internet, CD/DVD), or the use of driving simulators (although limited due to the expense). CBT does require careful selection and monitoring to assure the contents are appropriate to the business needs and completion by the driver can be validated.

Commercial Driver Training Program Contents

The driver training program needs to address the areas that a driver will face in the course of day-to-day operations, as well as unusual or emergency situations that may occur. At a minimum, a good driver training program should address the following areas:

Company rules and policies. Company rules and policies should be provided to drivers in written form. Revisions to this information should be given to drivers on a timely basis, and it should be assured that each driver understands the changes. The person who indoctrinates a new driver into the company should review the rules and policies with the driver.

Equipment familiarization. Equipment familiarization is necessary to minimize unintentional equipment misuse and abuse. With the large variety of combinations of engines, transmissions, and rear-ends, it makes good operating sense to show a newly hired driver the proper way to operate specific equipment for maximum efficiency and minimum maintenance. Special controls, including loading and unloading devices, should be demonstrated and the driver should be instructed in performing a proper vehicle inspection.

Routes and schedules. Routes and schedules should be explained. This information could be included in the materials given to drivers on company rules and policies. Routes should be established to avoid congested areas, poor road conditions, high-crash frequency areas, and roads with restrictive conditions, such as low or narrow overpasses or bridges with restricted weight limits.

Defensive driving techniques. Defensive driving is driving so as to prevent accidents in spite of the incorrect actions of others or adverse driving conditions, such as weather, traffic, lighting, vehicle, or road condition, or the driver's physical or mental state. The defensive driver assumes that other drivers may make mistakes and is on guard in the event an error is made. When giving a prospective driver a pre-employment road test, defensive driving techniques should be evaluated. Any bad driving habits should be corrected prior to a driver's first trip. In order to effectively achieve a change in a driver's habits or attitude, it is essential to have in-vehicle training.

Regulations. Traffic regulations and state and federal Department of Transportation safety regulations should be explained to a new driver, with specific emphasis on those regulations specific to a company's operations. Drivers should be kept well-informed of any changes in regulations that might affect them.

Cargo handling. Various cargoes require different skills to load, transport, and unload. Dump trucks and trailers, tank trucks, dry-bulk products, new-car carriers, hazardous materials, and different "size" loads all require specialized knowledge that a driver may not have acquired previously. In order to minimize cargo losses, equipment damage, and third-party claims, it is essential that new drivers are made aware of specific cargo hazards and how to deal with them.

Security. Drivers need to understand the security risks and measures used by the company to enhance security. Securing vehicles, trailers, and cargo from theft, knowing where it is safe and unsafe to park the vehicle, and knowing how to document cargo delivery data, etc. will help the driver, equipment, and cargo to be secure.

Emergency procedures. Emergency procedures should be established to deal with problems encountered while en route. In case of mechanical problems with the vehicle, the driver should know what to do with the disabled vehicle, the proper placement of emergency warning devices, and the person(s) to contact for assistance.

Proper procedures to follow in the event of a crash must be established. As the driver may be under extreme stress at the crash scene and because the initial actions of the driver are often critical in minimizing the effects of the crash, the procedures to follow must be clear and concise and the responsibilities of the driver must be well-defined. An information packet containing instructions and forms for use in the event of a crash should be carried in the vehicle, and the driver should be familiar with its contents.

Justification for Commercial Driver Training

Intuitively, most experts believe that proper driver training is critical to the success of a business that operates motor vehicles. Unfortunately, little valid statistical data is available to support that assumption. One of the problems is that driver training is most frequently part of an overall safety program, and it is not possible to isolate the incident data to reflect just the driver training component. Past research has resulted in a situation where the variance in safety performance was not great enough to find a meaningful relationship between the value of formal entry-level driver training (ELDT) and the safety performance of those drivers.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), in its proposal for Minimum Training Requirements for Entry-Level Commercial Motor Vehicle Operators issued in 2003, stated that its “adequacy study found few studies within the motor carrier industry that had examined the relationship between training and accident reduction.” Not being able to create a Final Rule, in 2015, FMCSA formed a Negotiated Rulemaking Committee called the Entry-Level Driver Training Advisory Committee (ELDAC) to establish acceptable guidelines for training entry-level drivers of commercial motor vehicles. The committee will provide recommendations based on a consensus-based process on the development of minimum training requirements for individuals applying for a commercial driver’s license to the FMCSA.

FMCSA, in its March 2003 publication, Best Highway Safety Practices: A Survey about Safety Management Practices among the Safest Motor Carriers, demonstrated motor carrier support for training. In the survey, managers of the safest fleets were asked about their level of agreement with three statements about both pre-service and in-service training programs. About 88 percent of all carriers agreed that pre-service driver training is a strategic safety investment. This percentage rose to 90 when carriers were asked about their in-service driver training.

Earlier research indicated CDL ELDT is not adequate. About 75 percent of the fleets surveyed in the 2001 I-95 Corridor Coalition Coordinated Safety Management study require new drivers to train with an experienced driver before driving solo. These carrier finishing programs provide newly-licensed CDL drivers with additional training and/or supervised driving time to ensure a minimum operational skill level is met, even though the drivers already hold valid CDLs. An FMCSA study, Investigation of Driver Training Curricula Effectiveness, is currently in progress.

Another FMCSA research project, Commercial Driver Training Survey, approved May 2015, is currently underway. FMCSA is examining the effectiveness of entry-level CDL driver training programs. Research shows that training has a positive effect on driver performance and safety; however, there are no data linking decreased crash rates and other indirect safety performance outcomes with application of formal training programs.

For more information on commercial vehicles and protecting your business, visit the American Family Insurance Loss Control Resource Center.


1. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Commercial Driver Training Survey. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Transportation, June 3, 2015.

2. ---. Entry-Level Driver Training Advisory Committee. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Transportation, June 3, 2015.

3. ---. Investigation of Driver Training Curricula Effectiveness. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Transportation, June 3, 2015.

4. ---. Special Training Requirements. 49 CFR 380. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Transportation, June 3, 2015.

COPYRIGHT ©2015, ISO Services, Inc.

The information contained in this publication was obtained from sources believed to be reliable. ISO Services, Inc., its companies and employees make no guarantee of results and assume no liability in connection with either the information herein contained or the safety suggestions herein made. Moreover, it cannot be assumed that every acceptable safety procedure is contained herein or that abnormal or unusual circumstances may not warrant or require further or additional procedure.

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Related Topics: Auto Fleet Safety , Protecting Your Business , Safety Programs