Back-to-school season serves as a helpful annual reminder for motor carriers to review their driver training programs. Driver training poses many challenges, including staying current on regulations, knowing how to best approach adult learners, and finding time to work training into your drivers’ busy schedules. A regular review of your training program helps you ensure it meets Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) and that your drivers understand and apply training they receive.
If you scour the FMCSRs, you won’t find many references to specific training requirements, so here’s a breakdown of what motor carriers must do and should do, plus some suggestions for how to implement an ongoing training program.
Training is only required of those who conduct certain inspections, drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) requiring a commercial driver’s license (CDL), and supervisors of those drivers.
- Vehicle maintenance:
- Periodic inspection training for employees who perform annual vehicle inspections. (§396.19)
- Brake inspector training for employees who conduct brake inspections, maintenance, service, or repairs to any CMV. (§396.25)
- Drivers of vehicles requiring a CDL:
- Entry-level driver training (ELDT) for anyone who wants to
- Upgrade a Class B CDL to a Class A CDL;
- Obtain for the first time a Class A or B CDL; or
- Obtain for the first time a passenger, school bus, or hazardous materials endorsement. (Part 380, Subparts F and G)
- Longer combination vehicles (LCVs) training for any driver who wants to drive a double- or triple-trailer vehicle. (Part 380, Subparts A, B, C, and D)
- Drug and alcohol testing and the company’s drug and alcohol policy. Though not technically a training requirement, this information is required to be given to drivers and should be included in your training program. (§382.601)
- Entry-level driver training (ELDT) for anyone who wants to
- Supervisors who oversee drivers of vehicles requiring a CDL:
- Drug and alcohol supervisor reasonable suspicion training. (§382.603)
But there’s a catch. . .
The required training listed above isn’t really all the training motor carriers are responsible for, since §390.3 (e) of the FMCSRs is a catch-all that states drivers and employees must know and comply with the regulations. This means everyone at your company needs to know and understand the FMCSRs that apply to their job responsibilities, even if specific training isn’t identified in the regulations. Motor carriers should make training drivers a regular part of their business operation, and training should span the length of a driver’s career.
Recommendations for your training program
Key to a successful training program is having a plan. You can’t tell drivers everything their first week on the job and expect them to remember information when they need it later. Instead, incorporate each of the following to develop an effective training program that teaches your drivers what they need, when they need it.
New employees should attend mandatory training before being allowed to operate any equipment, but onboarding for inexperienced and experienced drivers should be different. While topics covered for new and experienced drivers are the same, the time spent on each may be different.
Onboarding should cover:
- Applicable safety regulations, e.g., hours of service (HOS), driver qualifications.
- Mandatory training, e.g., right-to-know, hazardous materials.
- Company policies and procedures, e.g., safety and compliance policies.
- Company drug and alcohol policy and personal effects of drug use and alcohol abuse.
- Defensive driving.
- Company paperwork/electronic systems.
- Equipment, i.e., familiarization, inspection, and operation.
- Loading and unloading of cargo or passengers.
- Safe mounting and dismounting of equipment.
After onboarding, provide drivers with additional training on a regular schedule, at least twice a year. This training may include regulation updates, enforcement, safety policies, or operational procedures as well as a discussion of how the company is doing and what needs to be improved compliance-wise.
Accidents, incidents, or patterns of non-compliance might indicate it’s time for refresher training. Refresher training reminds your drivers about things they already know but may have grown complacent about. Topics to cover in refresher training include speed and space management, distracted driving, skills reviews, HOS, company policy, and driving in inclement weather.
Corrective action training
Use corrective action training when a driver struggles with a specific skill or task. If a couple of your drivers incorrectly document HOS, for example, review how to correctly complete records of duty status with just those drivers. There’s no reason to retrain your entire staff on a task if most already perform it correctly. In these situations, make sure your drivers know they aren’t in trouble but it’s important they’re following proper procedure.
Corrective action training can also be used after more serious occurrences, such as when a driver is in a crash or caught doing something unsafe. In these situations, corrective action training might be accompanied by disciplinary action based on your company policy.
Methods of training
Use classroom training to introduce drivers to a skill or task before asking them to apply it. Most people learn best when information is presented in a variety of ways, so consider using several of the following in classroom training:
- Verbal explanations
- Online training
- Virtual reality or simulators
- Hands-on or practical applications
- Question and answer sessions
For example, your trainer could verbally explain how to secure cargo while referring to an illustration, then take drivers out to the yard to practice using tie-downs.
Behind-the-wheel training is typically done after onboarding. This training is usually conducted by a “driver-trainer,” an experienced driver who has received additional training on how to train effectively.
Partnering new drivers with experienced ones provides new drivers with a personal point of contact. Mentors and mentees can drive together during a probationary period and can meet regularly to discuss common concerns or situations that have arisen.
Assessing your drivers’ learning
Trainees must spend a minimum number of hours with the trainer, but performance — not time — determines when training concludes. Once trainees have satisfied the time requirement, review their progress and compare it to the program’s objectives.
Document, document, document
Assessments, and your carrier’s records of them, help your company identify which areas of your training program might need revamping and also offer protection in case of an audit, investigation, or lawsuit.
Weighing the pros and cons of outsourcing
A driver training program has to hit a lot of targets in order to be successful. Trainers must be knowledgeable and personable as well as understand how and when to use different types of training.
Some carriers like the customization that an in-house training program allows them. However, driver training can be time consuming, and when companies are short staffed, designating someone to manage a training program can be challenging.
Other carriers find an outside provider that has trainers and resources devoted solely to training can better manage their program. A third party that specializes in driver training will actively stay up to date on complicated regulations, know how to employ appropriate training techniques for adult learners, and have experience delivering training that’s been proven to work for others in the industry.
Whether you choose to offer in-house training or to outsource your training program, an effective and ongoing program is key to attracting and retaining quality drivers.