Guide to Commercial Truck Driver Safety Training

Guide to Commercial Truck Driver Safety Training

A commercial truck driver safely steers a truck.
Commercial truck driver safety training is critical for any trucking business, regardless of the size of your fleet. In addition to protecting both drivers and the public, it also helps protect company assets and reduce potential costs due to accidents. Safety training helps ensure that both carriers — and the people they share the road with — reach their destinations safely.

This guide will take you through the basics of both in-person and online truck driver safety training so you know what to look for when picking a course.

The importance of commercial truck driver safety training

The importance of truck driver safety training cannot be overstated. A report from OSHA states that a crash occurs every 5 seconds and an injury occurs every 10 seconds. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of injuries and death across all demographics, with over 46,000 fatalities in 2021 alone.

The good news is that many of these accidents are preventable. Commercial truck driver safety training is a great defense against crashes and helps protect drivers, other people on the road, and ultimately means less lost time on the job.


Types of truck driver safety training

When it comes to general safety training, there are a number of different options available, both in-person and online. It’s a good idea to google “commercial truck driver safety training near me” and check out the options (and reviews) before picking a program.

It’s important to remember that in addition to general safety training, there are also some circumstances and occupations that require additional specialized training. Depending on the contents of the freight, the type of vehicle, or the specific position an individual holds, they may have to take additional training as mandated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). This could include entry-level driver training, also sometimes called a CDL safety course, longer combination vehicle training, hazardous materials training, and reasonable suspicion training for supervisors.


Essential truck driver safety training topics

When it comes to general truck driver safety training, there are a number of topics that it’s essential that you cover to keep both your drivers and other drivers safe on the road. Essential safety topics to cover include:

Tactful defensive driving

Defensive driving teaches drivers that they need to have a positive attitude when they’re behind the wheel while also teaching them to stay alert and read cues from other drivers. It is a great way to increase driver safety by preventing collisions and accidents caused by outside factors like:

  • Drunk drivers
  • Ignorant or bad drivers
  • Distracted drivers
  • Extreme weather conditions, like heavy rain
  • Bad road conditions
  • Flashing lights
  • Unexpected traffic patterns

Some of the training that should be covered when it comes to defensive driving include:

  • Driving behind or ahead of other vehicles to avoid blind spots
  • Adjusting speed regularly according to speed limits
  • Staying alert and looking ahead to spot potential hazards ahead of time when there’s still an opportunity to react
  • Leaving at least 4-7 seconds of space between vehicles to maintain a safe driving distance
  • Paying attention to their surroundings in general, including scanning the road and checking mirrors regularly

This training is a great way to keep drivers from becoming complacent and while helping to protect them from factors outside their control.

General safety guidelines

All of the same safety guidelines that make for safe driving in general apply to truck drivers as well, but there are some situations where the size of the vehicle means additional precautions need to be taken to maintain safety. Key guidelines to reiterate include maintaining:

  • Hours of service: Truck drivers have strict hours of operation for their own safety and that of others on the road. After all, tired and drowsy drivers are a huge danger to everyone. Guidelines state that truck drivers should not operate any vehicle after a 14-hour shift. They should also never exceed 60-70 hours of work if they’ve been on the road for 7-8 days in a row.
  • A safe distance: It takes a truck more time to stop than other common types of vehicles like cars. That means trucks should maintain a safe following distance of approximately 20 feet. That can prevent a driver from having to brake too suddenly, which can lead to dangerous cargo shifts or even cause the brakes to lock.
  • Good traction: Bad roads and extreme weather conditions can be extremely dangerous, causing a truck’s wheels to lose grip and reduce their traction. Truck drivers need to know that they should reduce their speeds by 25-30% and that they should increase the distance between themselves and the vehicles in front of them whenever they experience reduced traction.
  • Quality signaling practices: Truck drivers should always use their turn signals early — earlier than in a smaller vehicle — to give other drivers sufficient time to adjust their own speed. This is essential for reducing accidents.

The dangers of distracted driving

Everyone knows that distracted driving is extremely dangerous, but it takes many more forms than simply using a cellphone while on the road. In addition to using a phone, many other activities can lead to distracted driving — activities that are often downplayed by drivers despite the frequency with which they cause accidents. These include:

  • Eating and drinking
  • Fiddling with the navigation system or the stereo
  • Talking across to another driver in another vehicle
  • Engaging in deep conversation with a passenger

All of these activities interfere with a driver’s ability to focus on the road, diverting their attention away from driving safely and staying alert. Drivers should always get off the road before engaging in any of these activities.

Pre-trip inspection importance

It’s far too easy for truckers to forget to inspect their vehicles before they go on a long trip. While it’s up to the trucking company to ensure that all their trucks and trailers are inspected daily for any signs of potential issues, it’s also essential that drivers perform thorough pre-trip inspections before they get on the road. It’s not just for peace of mind; the U.S Department of Transportation approximates that 10% of all large truck crashes happen as a result of vehicle problems like brake failure or tire issues.

Commercial truck driver safety training should cover why it’s important to never overlook a pre-trip inspection and what exactly that inspection should contain. Crucial areas that should always be inspected include the:

  • Air brake system
  • Cruise control
  • Steering functions
  • Wheels, fasteners, and hubs
  • Tires
  • Cargo securement
  • Fuel and exhaust system
  • Flatbed trailer fall protection systems
  • Emergency equipment and safety devices
  • Lights

Checking all these components (and recording the results of that check) should only take around 15-30 minutes, but it can make a huge difference when it comes to both lost time and safety once the driver is actually on the road.


Components of commercial truck driver safety training

Obviously, the main component of commercial truck driver safety training is the actual educational portion, but there are a few additional components and approaches that you want to be sure are included in your course whether you build it yourself or you find an existing option that you modify for your organization. These are:

Written procedures and policies

Policies around safety should be explicit. In addition to laying these out clearly in the course from day one, it’s important that every trucking business have safety procedures and expectations available in writing. Some policies to include in writing are those around seatbelt use and drug and alcohol use. It can also be helpful to include the training topics in writing so drivers can easily reference them.

Motor vehicle record (MVR) checks

Everyone who operates a commercial motor vehicle should have their driving record checked before they get on the road. Past road performance can be a very useful indicator of future performance and it’s important to understand where drivers may have had problems. While it’s best to avoid working with drivers with shaky past records altogether, in situations where that isn’t possible, their record could give useful guidance for training interventions.

Crash reporting and investigation procedure

It’s important that you have an established and thorough crash reporting and investigation procedure in place that every driver is familiar with before they get on the road. No matter the severity of the crash, every incident needs to be recorded within a reasonable amount of time. It should then be investigated to determine the causes and potential liabilities.

Incentives and consequences

While no driver wants to get into an accident, it’s far too easy for minor driving infractions and preventable accidents to occur if there isn’t some kind of incentivizing and disciplinary system in place to keep drivers alert and ensure they do their best to stay safe all the time, even when they may think that skipping a few precautions may not matter.

Continuous safety training

Just like motor vehicles need regular maintenance to remain in peak condition, so do drivers when it comes to safety training. Quality commercial truck driver safety training is continuous, including regular refresher training that keeps drivers from becoming complacent when it comes to safety.


Get on the road with DAT

Truck driver safety training is just one element of success as a carrier. If you want to find more tools that will help your business grow, check out the resources available to carriers through DAT. From load board, to TMS, factoring, fleet compliance, and much more, DAT has everything you need to succeed as a carrier.

Let DAT help your business thrive!

As a commercial truck driver, you have to worry about more than driving. You also have to find loads, stay compliant, manage your cash flow, and more! Luckily, DAT is here to help every step of the way.

Let DAT’s carrier fleet services take the weight off your shoulders!