When screening an applicant for a regulated driving position, it is often difficult to know the individual’s true capabilities. Licensing alone is not a tell-all and unless you personally see the applicant in action you may have no idea how he or she will handle your vehicles. This is where a thorough road test comes in.

Section 391.31 requires a road test of anyone operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) as defined in Section 390.5. This definition includes a variety of vehicle types — larger pickup trucks and trailers, straight trucks, tank vehicles, and tractor-trailers. The requirement applies to both private and for-hire motor carriers.

A driver must successfully complete a road test and be issued a certificate before operating a CMV for you for the first time as part of the Driver’s Qualification (DQ) process. When a driver upgrades or is assigned to a new vehicle type, it is recommended that the driver has another road test on a representative vehicle.

What Does a Road Test Consist Of?

The motor carrier must give a road test using the vehicle type for the position. The test must be of a duration to allow the person giving the test (tester) to judge the driver’s abilities. Many carriers will have a set route for all applicants. For instance, if you expect the driver to operate in the city, rural, and/or divided highway settings, the course should include as many of these settings as possible.

The tester will rate the driver’s performance on the following eight activities:

  • Performing a pre-trip inspection as required in Section 392.7.
  • Coupling and uncoupling of combination units, if applicable.
  • Placing the vehicle in operation.
  • Using the controls and emergency equipment.
  • Operating in traffic and while passing other motor vehicles.
  • Turning. 
  • Braking, and slowing by means other than braking.
  • Backing and parking.

As the driver performs these maneuvers, the tester will fill out a scoring sheet. Since there is no prescribed format, it is up to the motor carrier how detailed it wishes to make the eight components and whether it is a simple pass-fail or the driver is graded on each. After completing the form, the tester must sign the document.
If the driver passes the test, the tester completes a road test certificate — which does have a prescribed format. One copy is kept in the DQ file, along with the scoring sheet, for the duration of employment plus three years after it ceases. Another copy is given to the driver for his or her personal records. The driver is not told what to do with the personal copy and could discard it if he or she wanted.

Who Can Perform the Test?

The safety regulations do not specify a job title or background of the individual acting as the tester. Simply, the designated person must have the ability to evaluate the driver’s skills in handling the vehicle and associated equipment. This may be a supervisor, veteran driver, or even someone contracted from outside the company.
A best practice is to have someone who can take over the reins if necessary. In the event the test does not go well and is stopped, a person such as a manager or a recruiter who is not qualified under the safety regulations (i.e., licensing, DQ file, DOT testing) would be stuck until a DOT-qualified driver is sent to the scene.

Are There Any Exceptions?

A road test does not have to be performed — based on Section 391.33 — if the driver provides:

  • A road test certificate issued in the past three years on a representative vehicle; or
  • A valid commercial driver’s license (CDL) issued by a state after a successful road test for the vehicle type the motor carrier intends on assigning.

If the driver will be assigned to a double, triple, or tank vehicle, you are unable to accept a copy of the CDL in lieu of a road test. You must perform a road test on a representative vehicle.

If the motor carrier has a policy of accepting a copy of the CDL or previous road test certificate, a legible copy of the license or certificate is kept in the DQ file for the duration of employment, plus three years. The company does not have to request or retain subsequent renewals of the CDL in the file.

Keep in mind that, by accepting someone else’s road test, you are also accepting another party’s standards that may differ from yours. In addition, a copy of a CDL does not tell you whether the driver has acquired confidence and decision-making skills since obtaining the license.

About the Author

Kathy Close is a transportation editor at J.J. Keller & Associates, Inc. Her areas of expertise include transportation security, DOT drug and alcohol testing, and driver qualification. E-mail transporteditors@jjkeller.com with any questions.