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Understanding DOT road tests




Ensuring commercial drivers are properly qualified to operate heavy trucks or buses is a major part of complying with federal and state motor carrier safety regulations. That shouldn't come as a surprise since defects in drivers' qualifications routinely contribute to significant accidents.



Indeed, Part 391 of the federal safety regulations contains dozens of rules carriers must follow before allowing an individual to operate a commercial vehicle on public highways. Things like pre-employment drug screens, background investigations, and motor vehicle reports (MVRs), just to name a few.


Arguably one of more critical aspects of initial driver onboarding is the DOT road test. Unlike some of the more paper-driven aspects of the driver qualification process, the road test gives prospective employers the opportunity to physically observe a driver-candidate's ability (or inability) to safely operate the types of trucks or buses the carrier will be expecting them to operate day in and day out. It's the carrier's chance to keep drivers off the road if they aren't proficient in the basic operation of these vehicles.


Who exactly is subject to these DOT road tests? When must they be conducted and by whom? And how are they documents? Those are the types of questions we're tackling in this article.


When are DOT road tests required?

As a general rule, Section 391.31 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) provides that "a person shall not drive a commercial motor vehicle unless he/she has first successfully completed a road test and has been issued a certificate of driver's road test in accordance with this section." Simply put, anyone who intends to operate a "commercial motor vehicle" must first pass a DOT road test.


As we discussed in an earlier article, the term "commercial motor vehicle" for this purpose generally includes any vehicle or combination (1) weighing more than 10,000 lbs., (2) designed or used to transport 9 passengers for compensation (or 16 passengers not for compensation), or (3) used to transport placardable amounts of hazmat. If you run a business and require individuals to operate any of these types of vehicles as part of your business, then you are generally subject to the road test requirement.


Is anyone exempt from the road test requirement?

What kind of regulation would this be if it didn't contain some exemptions! There are, in fact, a couple primary exemptions from the road test requirement. Specifically, Section 391.31 of the FMCSRs provides that "in place of, and as equivalent to, the road test required by § 391.31, a person who seeks to drive a commercial motor vehicle may present, and a motor carrier may accept—


(1) A valid Commercial Driver's License as defined in § 383.5 of this subchapter, but not including double/triple trailer or tank vehicle endorsements, which has been issued to him/her to operate specific categories of commercial motor vehicles and which, under the laws of that State, licenses him/her after successful completion of a road test in a commercial motor vehicle of the type the motor carrier intends to assign to him/her; or


(2) A copy of a valid certificate of driver's road test issued to him/her pursuant to § 391.31 within the preceding 3 years.


In short, motor carriers are permitted, but not required, to accept a driver-applicant's CDL or a road test certificate from another employer issued in the past 3 years as "equivalent to a road test" in lieu of administering a new one.


The rationale for the first exemption is that drivers who hold a current CDL have already passed a skills test in order to obtain the CDL and so should theoretically be qualified to operate the types of vehicles they are licensed to drive. And the second exemption is really just a way to accommodate drivers who have been recently road tested by another employer.


We should reiterate here that just because these exemptions are "on the books" doesn't mean (1) carriers are required to observe them; or (2) they are a good idea. In fact, many carriers, including some of the largest in the country, choose to ignore them. Why? Well, it really goes back to the significant exposure that comes from allowing unqualified drivers to operate large trucks and buses. Some carriers just don't trust that drivers who possess a CDL or have been recently road tested by another employer are actually proficient at driving these vehicles. They would rather be safe than sorry by conducting their own road tests and putting eyes on all new drivers and their ability to operate CMVs. That's certainly their prerogative.


Importantly, for carriers that do choose to take advantage of these exemptions, the regulation goes on to require they "retain a legible copy of the license or certificate in its files as part of the driver's qualification file." Note also that drivers who will be operating commercial vehicles requiring either a double/triple trailer or tank vehicle endorsement are not eligible for the so-called CDL exemption, meaning they must be road tested.


What do DOT road tests entail?

So what exactly are carriers to look for when administering these types of tests to new drivers? The regulation answers this question as follows: The road test must be of sufficient duration to enable the person who gives it to evaluate the skill of the person who takes it at handling the commercial motor vehicle, and associated equipment, that the motor carriers intends to assign to him/her. As a minimum, the person who takes the test must be tested, while operating the type of commercial motor vehicle the motor carrier intends to assign him/her, on his/her skill at performing each of the following operations:


(1) The pretrip inspection required by § 392.7 of this subchapter;

(2) Coupling and uncoupling of combination units, if the equipment he/she may drive includes combination units;

(3) Placing the commercial motor vehicle in operation;

(4) Use of the commercial motor vehicle's controls and emergency equipment;

(5) Operating the commercial motor vehicle in traffic and while passing other motor vehicles;

(6) Turning the commercial motor vehicle;

(7) Braking, and slowing the commercial motor vehicle by means other than braking; and

(8) Backing and parking the commercial motor vehicle.


And how must these road tests be documented? According to the regulation, the motor carrier must provide a road test form on which the person who gives the test shall rate the performance of the person who takes it at each operation or activity which is a part of the test. After he/she completes the form, the person who gave the test shall sign it.


A copy of the signed road test certificate should be kept in each driver's qualification file for the length of their employment plus three years thereafter.


Who can administer DOT road tests?

Per Section 391.31, DOT road tests must be given by the motor carrier or a person designated by it. More specifically, the test "shall be given by a person who is competent to evaluate and determine whether the person who takes the test has demonstrated that he/she is capable of operating the commercial motor vehicle, and associated equipment, that the motor carrier intends to assign him/her." Ideally, the person administering the road test will hold the same or higher license class/type that's required to operate the vehicle(s) in question.


Conclusion

In sum, DOT road tests are an important component of federal and state motor carrier safety regulations. Carriers who hire or otherwise engage drivers to operate regulated vehicles must generally administer road tests and ensure all new drivers are competent at operating the types of commercial vehicles they will be expected to operate. Copies of the road test certificates must be kept in each driver's qualification file.


About Trucksafe Consulting, LLC: Trucksafe Consulting is a full-service DOT regulatory compliance consulting and training service. We help carriers develop, implement, and improve their safety programs, through personalized services, industry-leading training, and a library of educational content. Trucksafe also hosts a livestream podcast on its various social media channels called Trucksafe LIVE! to discuss hot-button issues impacting highway transportation. Trucksafe is owned and operated by Brandon Wiseman and Jerad Childress, transportation attorneys who've assisted some of the nation’s leading fleets to develop and maintain cutting-edge safety programs. You can learn more about Trucksafe online at www.trucksafe.com and by following Trucksafe on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Or subscribe to Trucksafe's newsletter for the latest highway transportation news & analysis.



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