You Really Should Do A Road Test, No Matter What

There are a few reasons why people choose not to test a driver applicant before hiring him or her: it takes time, (and time equals money), you might not know HOW to test them, or maybe you don’t have someone TO test them; the biggest one of all could be, depending on interpretation, it might not actually be required!

However, you really should do a road test, no matter what…and I’ll explain why.

First, here is what the reg says:

391.31 Road test.

(a). .  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.

(b) The road test shall be given by the motor carrier or a person designated by it.

(c) 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. 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, 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 commercial 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.

(9)        The motor carrier shall 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.

And here is the exception:

391.33 Equivalent of road test.

(a) In place of, and as equivalent to, the road test. . .  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. . . 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.

(b) If a driver presents, and a motor carrier accepts, a license or certificate as equivalent to the road test, the motor carrier shall retain a legible copy of the license or certificate in its files as part of the driver´s qualification file.

(c) A motor carrier may require any person. . . to take a road test or any other test of his/her driving skill as a condition to his/her employment as a driver.

Based on these two regs only, there is an old tradition in this industry that the CDL drivers DON’T need a road test but the NON-CDL drivers DO. However, there is a more-recent interpretation that allows you to accept a driver’s license as evidence the prospective driver can safely operate anything up to 26,000 GVWR.

But look at it this way: if a driver has an operator’s license, what that shows you is he passed a driving test ONCE, when he was 16. Would you really take that as evidence he can operate safely any vehicle up to and including a 26,000 flatbed with air brakes? Should  you?

If you are a new safety mgr and some drivers have years of experience, there is no reason you can’t or shouldn’t plan a ‘ride-along’ for each one of them.

AT A MINIMUM, you should satisfy yourself and document each driver properly performs everything on the list found here in 393.31(c). Maybe that should be your standard the first time around, to help you decide if you need to arrange some remedial training for old drivers with bad habits.

After the ride-along, if the driver has  shown you they CAN safely operate the truck, you should fill out the road test form and keep it in their DQ file. But, if they frighten you during the road test, some remedial training should be arranged as soon as possible.

If you want to be a GOOD safety manager,  don’t stop with just the minimum; look at the lists in 383.111 and 383.113.

Your first question shouldn’t be, “Does my driver, or my DQ file, meet the MINimum requirement?”

The question you SHOULD be asking the first time is, “Am I SATISFIED my driver demonstrates sufficient mastery of the skills needed to operate a CMV safely?”

On that note, if they are ever assigned to a NEW type of truck, even if they have been working for you for years, they should pass a road-test in the new vehicle.


In one instance, a driver of a non-CDL vehicle was involved in a collision and the NTSB stated the CMV operator lacked proper driving skills.

The non-CDL driver was traveling on a residential street with a steep downgrade, and suddenly realized he was unable to stop the vehicle.

His vehicle struck four passenger cars at the intersection at the bottom of the downgrade, pushing the cars into three children standing on a sidewalk near the intersection.

When the dust settled, the driver and a child in one of the passenger cars was dead, and the three children on the sidewalk were seriously injured.

If you were the motor carrier that dispatched this driver, what would you say when law enforcement walked into your office and asked why there was no road test form in the DQ file?

“Well, according to this rule we don’t have to do that road test. In effect, we accepted his operator’s license as proof he could safely operate this truck.”

But that driver demonstrated clearly he DID NOT have the proper skill set.

In my experience, the DOT will not prosecute you, but there are attorneys who will make you sound like a complete moron. Like a completely NEGLEGENT moron. Like a CRIMINALLY negligent moron.

The law (regulation) says to conduct a road test.

Another law (regulation) says you can pretend you are confident of each driver, just by making a photocopy of the Drivers License.

But the jury will listen carefully as the plaintiff’s attorney explains why an enormous punitive damage award is appropriate.

Another example: this crash happened in Glen Rock, PA. in 2003.

The NTSB did an investigation of this incident, and found that a causal factor in this collision was an untrained driver operating an air-brake equipped vehicle with faulty brakes.

Incidents like this are avoidable, and prevention begins with the road test you ARE required to do in accordance with the provisions of FMCSR 391.31(c).

Here is a link to that NTSB investigation:

I am speaking from the heart when I tell you to road test EVERYONE, regardless of license class or number of years of experience, and test them in the vehicle and environment you expect them to operate in.

It is the right thing to do, legally, morally, and financially.

If you can’t do a 100% skills inventory today, that’s fine, no one would expect that; but you should have such a process underway.

That’s my two cents worth.

-Mike England

About DOT Compliance Help Inc
Phone: 847-836-6063 web: e-mail DOT Compliance Help, Inc. is a full-service consulting firm specializing in the interpretation and execution of the regulations and guidelines set forth by the US Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. •Mission Statement• To assist our clients in establishing proper safety management controls in order to minimize accidents, injuries, and fatalities. The ultimate goals are safer roadways for the public and increased profits for our clients. Our core consulting competencies include FMCSA Assessments (mock audits), DOT compliance training (on-site and via webinar) and custom safety plans and policies. We also hold DOT compliance workshops and conferences all across the country. Utilizing a proprietary curriculum developed by our President, Mike England, our classes cover everything you need to know about the FMCSRs, how to survive your next DOT Compliance Review, and how Comprehensive safety Analysis (CSA 2010) will affect you.

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