There are only a handful of required driver training topics in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. (J.J. Keller & Associates Inc. photo)

DOT Driver Training Requirements

Though not specific in detail, the regulations require training of commercial motor vehicle operators.

"Tell me about your training program. What are you doing to make sure your drivers are complying with the rules and regulations?" This is one of the first questions enforcement asks when conducting an audit or investigation at a motor carrier's facility.

So why is enforcement asking this question so early in an audit or investigation? There are only a handful of required driver training topics in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs). The few specific requirements for a motor carrier that is not hauling hazardous materials apply only to drivers of vehicles that require the driver to possess a commercial driver’s license (CDL) for operation. These training requirements address entry-level driver training, education/instruction on drug and alcohol testing requirements, and longer combination vehicle (LCV) training (if applicable).

The question posed by enforcement relates to a few simple sentences in the FMCSRs. Section 390.3(e) of the FMCSRs states that:

  • Every employer must be knowledgeable of and comply with all regulations contained in the FMCSRs that are applicable to that motor carrier’s operations;
  • Every driver and employee must be instructed regarding, and must comply with, all applicable regulations contained in the FMCSRs; and
  • All motor vehicle equipment and accessories required by the FMCSRs must be maintained in compliance with all applicable performance and design criteria set forth in the FMCSRs.

How does a motor carrier meet these requirements? Unfortunately, there isn't a straightforward answer to this question. The regulation goes no further than what is stated. A motor carrier can work toward meeting these requirements by having a comprehensive training program that includes the required training, as well as training that meets the criteria of Section 390.3(e).

Required Driver Training
First, let's discuss the few specific driver training requirements that a motor carrier that is not hauling hazardous materials must address: entry-level driver, drug and alcohol, and LCV (if applicable) training.

Entry-level driver training
>Entry-level driver training, as required in Part 380, Subpart E, of the FMCSRs applies to drivers with less than one year of experience operating a commercial motor vehicle that requires a CDL in interstate commerce.

An entry-level driver must receive instruction in the following four areas:

  • Driver qualification requirements (Part 391). Instruction on this topic should address medical examination procedures and medical certification. It should also address general driver qualifications, responsibilities, and disqualifications.
  • Hours of service (Part 395). Instruction on this topic should address the basic limits (driving, on duty, and off duty), record of duty status (log) preparation, exceptions to the requirements, and fatigue countermeasures as a means to avoid crashes.
  • Driver wellness. Instruction on this topic should include information on basic health maintenance, including diet and exercise, alcohol and drug use and abuse, and stress management.
  • Whistleblower protection (29 CFR 1978). Instruction on this topic should include information on the right of an employee to question the safety practices of an employer without risk of losing his/her job or being subject to reprisals for stating a safety concern.

A driver who successfully completes this training is issued a training certificate or diploma. A copy must be maintained in the driver’s qualification file or personnel file and it must be available for inspection when requested by enforcement.

Drug and alcohol (driver)
Section 382.601 of the FMCSRs requires that a motor carrier provide educational materials to its drivers that explain the Part 382 drug and alcohol testing requirements.

Eleven items must be included in these materials. These materials address many issues, including who is subject to the drug and alcohol regulations, specific information on driver conduct that is prohibited, the procedures used to test, and the consequences of a failed alcohol test, positive drug test, and refusal to test.

In addition, a motor carrier must provide its drivers with its policies and procedures that address meeting these requirements. This training/education of each driver must be completed prior to the driver's performance of any safety-sensitive functions (including driving).

Should company policy/procedure and/or regulation change, retraining would be required of all of a motor carrier’s drivers.

Each driver is required to sign a statement certifying that he/she received a copy of the materials. The original of the certificate should be maintained by the motor carrier and a copy should be provided to the driver.

Longer combination vehicles
A driver who wants to operate longer combination vehicles, specifically doubles or triples, must participate in and successfully complete an LCV driver training program. The training must include instruction in general categories, including safe operating practices, as well as behind-the-wheel instruction.

A driver who meets all of the training requirements will be issued a training certificate indicating that he/she is qualified to operate LCVs. A copy must be maintained in the driver's qualification file.

'Non-Required' Training
In addition to these specific training issues, Section 390.3(e) of the FMCSRs states that drivers and employees must be instructed in and comply with the regulations, but it does not include specifics as to delivery, documentation, or time. Though a motor carrier cannot be cited for not training on a specific topic, not training a driver can have consequences if violations are cited.

Civil penalties (fines) are determined based on limits stated in the regulations and consideration of information available at the time the claim is made. This information includes history of prior offenses, degree of culpability, and other matters as justice or public safety may require.

This is where proof of training is very important. Having a training program may not absolve a motor carrier of all fines and penalties, but it can help minimize their severity.

When it comes to "non-required" training, general topics to consider as part of your training program include driver orientation, the regulations, driving skills, and workplace safety.

A first impression is a lasting one. Driver orientation is the first step when it comes to positive driver-carrier relations. Programs vary from carrier to carrier. Topics often covered include general company information, company policy and procedure, a review of regulatory requirements (hours of service, vehicle inspection, etc.), and in some cases, behind-the-wheel training.

Specific topics and amount of time spent on orientation will depend on the experience of your new hires, as well as what is required by your company’s management and possibly your company’s insurance provider.

Though not required on a specific topic-by-topic basis, regulatory training is an important aspect of your safety and training program. When an enforcement representative is performing an investigation or audit, he/she is looking at a motor carrier’s and driver's compliance with the regulations. If a driver doesn't understand the regulations, how can he/she comply?

Also, as previously discussed, how can a carrier prove it is striving for compliance without providing this type of training?

Hours of service, vehicle inspection, and cargo securement are just some of the regulatory topics that should be addressed on a regular basis.

Driving skills
All drivers, including your veteran drivers, can benefit from a review of driving skills. Over time, poor driving habits or incorrect skills can develop, causing a greater risk for accidents, incidents, and near misses.

A review of driving techniques, such as backing procedures and turning, as well as procedural issues, such as driving in adverse weather conditions and operating at night, are examples of topics that should be addressed on a regular basis.

Workplace safety
Preventing workplace injuries benefits both the driver and carrier. First, there are some Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations that you need to consider if your driver is involved in materials handling, such as working in a warehouse or other workplace.

Use of personal protective equipment (gloves, footwear, etc.), operating powered industrial trucks (forklifts), loading dock safety, and safe lifting techniques/back safety are all issues that need to be trained on, either under specific regulation or OSHA’s General Duty Clause.

In addition to required training, addressing workplace safety can assist in preventing accidents and incidents that can lead to injury. For the driver, an injury means lost time behind the wheel, resulting in lost pay in addition to the pain and suffering he/she is enduring. For the motor carrier, this can mean loss of a valued member of your driving team, as well as lost revenue due to the driver's not being on the road and workers' compensation and insurance claims.

Driver Training: What Should Be Considered?
So why should driver training be a component of a motor carrier's safety program?

First is the issue of regulatory compliance. There are specific requirements that must be met addressing entry-level driver training, alcohol and drug training for drivers, and LCV training (if applicable). There are also general provisions (as listed in Sec. 390.3(e)) that apply to all of the FMCSRs.

Providing instruction to your drivers enables them, whether behind the wheel or in a workplace, to follow safe practices, which in turn contribute to a safe and productive work environment.

This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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