Driving a truck is no easy task, and very different from driving a regular vehicle. This guide offers tips and information to help you drive with care, keep your vehicle in good condition, and ensure your cargo arrives safely at its destination.
Your License & Registration
You need a commercial driver license (CDL) to drive a truck. This section includes information about how to get a CDL, how license classes can affect the kind of trucks you can drive, how you can register your truck and trailers, and additional programs you might be eligible for.
Your CDL allows you to drive various kinds of trucks.
You must have a CDL to operate:
- Any single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more.
- Any single vehicle with a GVWR less than 26,000 pounds which is designed, used, or maintained to transport more than 10 passengers (including the driver).
- A combination vehicle with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, provided the GVWR of the vehicle(s) being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
- Any vehicle that tows any vehicle with a GVWR of 10,001 pounds or more.
- Any vehicle that tows more than 1 vehicle or a trailer bus.
- Any size vehicle which requires hazardous material (HazMat) placards or carries material listed as a select agent or toxin in Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Title 42, Part 73.
- Transports hazardous wastes (California Health and Safety Code (CHSC) §§25115 and 25117).
Federal regulations through the Department of Homeland Security require a background check and fingerprinting for the hazardous materials endorsement.
To apply for a CDL, you:
- Must be 18 years of age.
- May apply for a commercial learner’s permit (CLP), but must hold a California driver license (DL) prior to getting a CLP.
- The DL is used to validate the CLP (CFR, Title 49 §§383.5, 383.25).
- May drive for hire within California if you are 18 years of age or older and you do not engage in interstate commerce activities.
- Must be at least 21 years old to drive a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) engaged in interstate commerce or to transport hazardous materials or wastes (intrastate or interstate commerce) (California Vehicle Code [CVC] §12515).
Find out what you need to apply for a CDL, how much it will cost, and what special instructions you may need on the CDL page.
While your CDL allows you to drive a truck, the commercial class of your license (A, B, or C) determines the type and size of vehicle you can drive.
- Commercial Class A
You can drive any legal combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 pounds or more, provided the GVWR of the vehicle(s) being towed is in more than 10,001 pounds.
- Commercial Class B
You can drive any single vehicle with a GVWR of more than 26,000 pounds, or any vehicle towing a vehicle weighing no more than 10,000 pounds GVWR, or a 3-axle vehicle weighing over 6,000 pounds.
- Commercial Class C
You can drive any Class C vehicle with one or more of the following endorsements:
- Hazardous materials (HazMat)
- Passenger vehicle (PV)
- Tank vehicle (TV)
- All trailers are registered under the permanent trailer identification (PTI) program.
- Fifth-wheel trailers and camp trailers are registered as a trailer coach (not PTI) or camp trailer (PTI) based on the length, width, and size.
- Tow/auxiliary dollies are not required to be registered in California.
- However, you may want to register a tow/auxiliary dolly as PTI if you will tow it out of state, because other states’ registration requirements vary.
Any person or business entity that is paid to transport property in their motor vehicle regardless of vehicle size, type, or weight needs an MCP. Entities that transport property for compensation are deemed a ‘For-Hire’ motor carrier. (Example: If you are a courier service and your vehicle is a motorcycle, you are required to have an MCP.)
Additionally, you need an MCP if you operate:
- A CMV with a GVWR of 10,001 pounds or more, either for commercial or private use, hauling your own goods or property.
- Any vehicle or combination of vehicles transporting HazMat.
- A combination of motor truck and trailer, semitrailers, pole or pipe dollies, auxiliary dollies, and logging dollies, that exceeds forty feet in length when coupled together. For the purpose of an MCP, a “trailer” excludes camp trailers, utility trailers, and trailer coaches.
- Any motor vehicle or combination of motor vehicle and trailer for which the operation requires a CDL, except vehicle combinations including camp trailers, utility trailers, and trailer coaches.
To learn more about the Motor Carrier Program, including more information about who should apply and what the application process involves, in the Motor Carrier Services section.
International Registration Plan (IRP)
If you carry cargo among U.S. states and Canadian provinces, you might be eligible for the International Registration Plan (IRP). IRP member jurisdictions collect registration fees from their ‘home based’ interstate trucking companies on behalf of each member jurisdiction in which the companies operate and must register.
To learn more about how the IRP works and what vehicles qualify, visit the IRP landing page.
DMV is making it easier for military personnel trained in the operation of heavy vehicles to obtain a civilian CDL.
The Troops to Trucks program allows DMV to waive the CDL driving test for qualified military service members who are (or were) employed within the last year and in a military position requiring the operation of a military motor vehicle equivalent to a commercial motor vehicle on public roads and highways. Waiving the driving test requirement streamlines the CDL application process for service people and eliminates the need to provide a commercial motor vehicle (CMV).
The driving test will not be waived for a school bus and/or passenger endorsement.
Applicants must complete a Commercial Driver License application.
To meet the federal regulation requirements, an applicant must certify that, during the two-year period immediately prior to applying for a CDL, they have not had:
- More than one license (except for a military license).
- Any license suspended, revoked, or cancelled.
- Any convictions for any type of motor vehicle for the disqualifying offenses:
- Any alcohol or drug related offenses.
- Leaving the scene of an accident.
- Commission of a felony involving the use of a motor vehicle.
- Driving a CMV while your CDL is suspended, revoked, disqualified, or cancelled.
- Causing a fatality through the negligent operation of a CMV, including , but not limited to, manslaughter, homicide by motor vehicle, and negligent homicide.
- Use of a motor vehicle in a felony involving manufacturing, distribution, or dispensing of a controlled substance.
- Violation of state or local law relating to motor vehicle traffic control (other than a parking violation) arising in connection with any traffic accident and has no record of an accident in which they were at fault.
- More than one conviction for any type of motor vehicle for serious traffic violations:
- Speeding in excess of 15 mph
- Reckless driving
- Making improper or erratic lane changes
- Following the vehicle ahead to closely
- A violation arising in connection with a fatal accident
- Driving a CMV without obtaining a CDL
- Driving a CMV without a CDL in possession
- Driving a CMV without the proper class or endorsement
- Violating a state or local law or ordinance prohibiting texting while driving
- Violating a state or local law or ordinance prohibiting the use of a hand held telephone while driving
An applicant must provide evidence and certify that they:
- Are regularly employed or were regularly employed within the last year in a military position requiring operation of a CMV.
- Were exempted from the CDL requirements in §383.3(c).
- While serving in the military, were operating a CMV equivalent to a civilian CMV, for at least 2 years immediately preceding discharge from the military.
Applicants can make these certifications by filling out the following forms:
To complete the application, applicants must submit the following documents to a DMV field office:
Tests and Inspections
The basic control skills text evaluates your skill in controlling your truck and judging its position and relation to other objects while maneuvering through various exercises. The judgement and skill required for each exercise can apply to many different driving situations.
If you refuse or fail to complete a basic control skills test exercise as instructed, this may result in an automatic failure.
You will be tested on a subset of the following exercises:
- Straight line backing.
- Offset back/right.
- Offset back/left.
- Parallel park (driver side).
- Parallel park (conventional).
- Alley dock.
Your performance on the basic control skills test is scored by the examiner. You will be scored for the following:
The examiner will score the number of times you touch or cross over an exercise boundary line or cone with any portion of your vehicle. Each encroachment will count as an error.
When a driver stops and pulls forward to clear an encroachment or to get a better position, it is scored as a “pull up.” Stopping without changing direction does not count as a pull up. You will not be penalized for initial pull ups. However, an excessive number of pull ups will count as errors.
Outside Vehicle Observations (Looks)
You may be permitted to safely stop and exit the vehicle to check the external position of your vehicle (look). When doing so, you must place the vehicle in neutral and set the parking brake(s). Then, when exiting the vehicle, you must do so safely by facing the vehicle and maintaining 3 points of contact with the vehicle at all times (when exiting a bus, maintain a firm grasp on the hand rail at all times). If you do not safely secure the vehicle or safely exit the vehicle, it may result in an automatic failure of the basic control skills test.
The maximum number of times that you may look to check the position of your vehicle is 2, except for the straight line backing exercise, which allows only 1 look. Each time you open the door, move from a seated position where in physical control of the vehicle or on a bus walk to the back of a bus to get a better view, it is scored as a “look.”
It is important that you finish each exercise exactly as the examiner has instructed you. If you do not maneuver the vehicle into its final position as described by the examiner, you will be penalized and could fail the basic skills test.
The vehicle inspection test is a skills test to see if you can identify which features and equipment on the test vehicle should be inspected before operating the vehicle. The entire vehicle inspection test must be conducted in the English language, as stated in CFR, Title 49 §§391.11(b)(2) and 383.133(c)(5).
During the vehicle inspection test, you must show that the vehicle is safe to drive. You will have to walk around the vehicle and point to or touch each item and explain to the examiner what you are checking and why. If any of these items do not work, the skills and road portions of the test will be postponed.
If you are applying for a Class B or Class C CDL, you will be required to perform a vehicle inspection in the vehicle you brought with you for testing. Tests include an engine start and in-cab inspection. Then, your test may require an inspection of the entire vehicle or only a portion of the vehicle which your CDL examiner will explain to you. You will also have to inspect any special features of your vehicle (for example, school or transit bus).
To pass the road test portion of the CDL driving performance evaluation (DPE), you must make no more than 30 errors and no critical driving errors, which will result in an automatic failure. The entire road test must be conducted in the English language, according to CFR, Title 49 §391.11(b)(2) and 383.133(c)(5).
The road test requires you to drive over a test route that has a variety of traffic situations. At all times during the test, you must drive in a safe and responsible manner and:
- Wear your safety belt.
- Obey all traffic signs, signals, and laws.
- Complete the test without an accident or moving violation.
During the driving test, the examiner scores you on specific driving maneuvers as well as on your general driving behavior. The examiner will give you directions, so you will have plenty of time to do what they have asked.
You will not be asked to drive in an unsafe manner.
If your test route does not have certain traffic situations, you may be asked to simulate a traffic situation. You will do this by telling the examiner what you would do if you were in that traffic situation.
Remember: You are allowed a total of 3 attempts to pass the vehicle inspection, basic control skills, and road tests.
You will be tested on:
- Turns (right/left)
- Urban business
- Lane changes
- Railroad crossings
- School bus – student discharge
- General driving behaviors (clutch usage, gear usage, brake usage, lane usage)
- Regular traffic checks
- Use of turn signals
A driver must be tested in a truck or bus (as those terms are defined in CFR, Title 49, §390.5), or other single unit vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more, to satisfy the skills testing requirements for a Class B CDL.
Before you come into DMV to take your CDL knowledge tests, you can practice with two online sample tests designed to help you learn what to expect.
All questions are taken from the California Commercial Driver Handbook.
Truck Driver Safety
It is important to stay safe on the road, especially when your days are long and you are trying to meet deadlines. Here are some safety tips to help you stay alert and manage difficult situations.
A vehicle inspection will help you find problems that could cause an accident or breakdown. Vehicle inspections should be done routinely before operating the vehicle.
Federal and state laws require that drivers inspect their vehicles, and federal and state inspectors may also randomly ask to inspect your vehicle. If they judge the vehicle to be unsafe, they will put it “out of service” until it is fixed, and you will not be able to drive it.
For safety during a trip, you should:
- Watch gauges for signs of trouble.
- Use your senses to check for problems (look, listen, smell, feel).
Check critical items when you stop:
- Tires, wheels, and rims.
- Lights and reflectors.
- Brake and electrical connections to trailer.
- Trailer coupling devices.
- Cargo securement devices.
To drive a vehicle safely, you must be able to control its speed and direction. Safe operation of a commercial vehicle requires skill in:
- Backing safely
Fasten your seatbelt when on the road. Apply the parking brake when you leave your vehicle.
Hold the steering wheel firmly with both hands. Your hands should be on opposite sides of the wheel. If you hit a curb or a pothole (chuckhole), the wheel could pull away from your hands unless you have a firm hold.
Push the brake pedal down gradually. The amount of brake pressure you need to stop the vehicle will depend on the speed of the vehicle and how quickly you need to stop. Control the pressure so the vehicle comes to a smooth, safe stop. If you have a manual transmission, push the clutch in when the engine is close to idle.
Backing Up Safely
Because you cannot see everything behind your vehicle, backing is always dangerous. Avoid backing whenever you can. When you park, try to park so you will be able to pull forward when you leave. When you have to back up, here are a few simple safety rules:
- Start in the proper position.
- Look at your path.
- Use the mirrors on both sides.
- Back slowly.
- Back and turn toward the driver’s side whenever possible.
- Use a helper whenever possible.
Backing Up with a Trailer
When backing up a trailer, turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction. Once the trailer starts to turn, you must turn the wheel the other way to follow the trailer.
- Back up in a straight line. If you must back on a curved path, back toward the driver’s side so you can see. Back up slowly so you can make corrections before you get too far off course.
- Correct Drift Immediately. As soon as you see the trailer getting off the proper path, correct it by turning the steering wheel in the direction of the drift.
- Pull Forward. When backing, make pull-ups to reposition your vehicle when needed.
Shifting gears using double clutching requires practice. If you remain too long in neutral, you may have difficulty putting the vehicle into the next gear. If so, do not try to force it. Return to neutral, release the clutch, increase the engine speed to match the road speed, and try again.
Make sure you know the basic method for shifting up. Most heavy vehicles with manual transmissions require double clutching to change gears.
- Multi-speed rear axles and auxiliary transmissions are used on many vehicles to provide extra gears. You usually control them by a selector knob or switch on the gearshift lever of the main transmission. There are many different shift patterns. Learn the right way to shift gears in the vehicle you will drive.
- Some vehicles have automatic transmissions. You can select a low range to get greater engine braking when going down grades. The lower ranges prevent the transmission from shifting up beyond the selected gear (unless the governor rpm is exceeded). It is very important to use this braking effect when going down grades.
- Some vehicles have “retarders.” Retarders help slow a vehicle, reducing the need for using your brakes. They reduce brake wear and give you another way to slow down. Because these devices can be noisy, be sure you know where their use is permitted.
To be a safe driver you need to know what is going on all around your vehicle. Whether you are seeing what’s ahead of you or monitoring what is going on to the sides and rear of your vehicle, here are some tips to help keep you alert and safe.
- Make sure you always look far ahead, because stopping or changing lanes can take a lot of distance. Most good drivers look at least 12 to 15 seconds ahead. That means looking ahead the distance you will travel in 12 to 15 seconds.
- Always look for traffic coming onto the highway, shifting into your lane, or turning off the main road.
- Be sure to look for hills and curves, because you might have to slow down or change lanes.
- Pay attention to traffic signals and signs, because they may alert you to changing conditions where you may have to adjust your speed.
- Check your mirrors regularly and ensure they are properly adjusted.
- Make sure you can see the vehicles on either side of you and to the back of you. Watch for overtaking vehicles that might be hidden in your blind spot.
Other drivers cannot know what you are going to do until you tell them.
Signaling what you intend to do is important for safety. Here are some general rules for signaling.
- Signal early — Signal well before you turn. It is the best way to keep others from trying to pass you.
- Signal continuously — You need both hands on the wheel to turn safely. Do not cancel the signal until you have completed the turn.
- Cancel your signal — Do not forget to turn off your turn signal after you have turned (if you do not have self-canceling signals).
Other drivers may not notice your vehicle even when it is in plain sight. To help prevent accidents, let them know you are there. You can communicate your presence by tapping your horn:
- When passing vehicles, pedestrians, or bicyclists.
- When it is difficult to see in changing weather conditions or at daytime/night time.
- When you are parked at the ride of the road. Be sure to turn on your 4-way emergency flashers.
Driving too fast is a major cause of fatal accidents. You must adjust your speed depending on driving conditions. These include traction, curves, visibility, traffic, and hills.
- Stopping distance helps you estimate the distance ahead of you from the time when you begin braking until the time when you are able to come to a full stop. The faster you drive, the greater the impact or striking power of your vehicle and the longer stopping distance you will need. Also, the heavier your vehicle is, the harder the brakes must work to bring you to a full stop.
- Match your speed to the road surface. Make sure you always maintain traction, which is friction between the tires and the road. Certain road conditions reduce traction and call for lower speeds.
- Slow to a safe speed before you enter a curve. Braking in a curve is dangerous because it is easier to lock the wheels and cause a skid. Make sure you slow down as needed and do not ever exceed the posted speed limit for the curve. Put your vehicle in a gear that will let you accelerate slightly in the curve.
- Drive at the speed of the traffic, if you can do so without going at an illegal or unsafe speed. If you go faster than the speed of other traffic, you will have to keep passing other vehicles. This increases the chance of an accident. Moving with the flow of traffic is safer and easier.
- Watch your vehicle’s speed on downgrades. Gravity will cause your speed to increase on downgrades, so always follow maximum safe speed recommendations.
- Observe the posted speed limits at all times when approaching and driving through work zones. Speeding traffic is the number one cause of injury and death in roadway work zones.
- Do not overtake or pass another vehicle which is moving at less than 20 mph on a grade unless you can pass that vehicle at at least 10 mph faster than it is traveling.
You need to manage the space around your vehicle to make sure you have space to maneuver when something goes wrong. While this is true for all drivers, it is very important for large vehicles. They take up more space and require more space for stopping and turning.
- Space ahead – How much space should you keep in front of you? One good rule says you need at least 1 second for each 10 feet of vehicle length at speeds below 40 mph. At greater speeds, you must add 1 second for safety.
- Space behind – You cannot stop others from following you too closely, but you can make sure you stay to the right of the road, avoid quick changes, increase your following distance, and slow down in dangerous conditions.
- Space to the sides – Commercial vehicles are often wide and take up most of a lane. Safe drivers will manage what little space they have. You can do this by keeping your vehicle centered in your lane, and avoid driving alongside others.
- Space overhead – Hitting overhead objects is a danger. Make sure you always have overhead clearance. If you doubt you have safe space to pass under an object, go slowly. If you are not sure you can make it, take another route. Warnings are often posted on low bridges or underpasses, but sometimes they are not.
- Space below – Many drivers forget about the space under their vehicles. This space can be very small when a vehicle is heavily loaded. This is often a problem on dirt roads and in unpaved yards. Do not take a chance on getting hung up. Drainage channels across roads can cause the ends of some vehicles to drag. Cross such depressions carefully.
- Space for turns – The space around a truck or bus is important in turns. Large vehicles can hit other vehicles or objects during turns because of wide turning and off-tracking. Turn slowly to give you more time to avoid problems and watch out for vehicles coming toward you.
Distracted driving can describe anything that takes your attention away from driving. Whenever you are driving a vehicle and your full attention is not on the road, you are putting yourself, your passengers, other vehicles, and pedestrians in danger. Distracted driving can cause accidents, resulting in property damage, injury, or even death.
There are many causes of distractions, all with the potential to increase risk.
- Physical distractions – something that causes you to take your hands off the wheel or your eyes off the road, such as reaching for an object or checking your GPS.
- Mental distractions – activities that take your mind away from the road, such as engaging in conversation with a passenger or thinking about something that happened during the day.
- Both physical and mental distractions – together, these distractions form an even greater chance that an accident could happen. Examples include talking on a mobile phone, or sending/reading text messages.
CFR, Title 49, Part 383, 384, 390, 391 and 392 and the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) restricts the use of hand-held mobile telephones by drivers of CMVs.
Your goal should be to eliminate all in-vehicle distractions before driving begins. You can do this by:
- Assessing all potential in-vehicle distractions before driving.
- Developing a preventative plan to reduce/eliminate possible distractions.
- Expecting distractions to occur and being aware.
- Discussing possible scenarios before getting behind the wheel.
Based on the assessment of potential distractions, you can develop a preventative plan to help you stay focused and attentive.
When you encounter something unexpected on the road, it is tempting to react quickly or to overcompensate in your reaction to a hazard. Here are some safe ways to react to driving emergencies that will help you remain in control of your rig.
Steering to avoid accidents – Stopping is not always the safest thing to do in an emergency. When you do not have enough room to stop, you may have to steer away from what is ahead. Remember, you can almost always turn to miss an obstacle more quickly than you can stop. However, top-heavy vehicles and tractors with multiple trailers may flip over.
Stop quickly and safely – You should brake in a way that will keep your vehicle in a straight line and allow you to turn if it becomes necessary. You can use the “controlled braking” method or the “stab braking” method. Do not jam on the brakes.
Brake failure – Brakes kept in good condition rarely fail. Most hydraulic brake failures occur for one of 2 reasons:
- Loss of hydraulic pressure – When the system will not build up pressure, the brake pedal will feel spongy or go to the floor.
- Brake fade on long hills – Going slow enough and braking properly will almost always prevent brake failure on long downgrades. Once the brakes have failed, however, you are going to have to look outside your vehicle for something to stop it. Your best hope is an escape ramp. If there is one, there will be signs telling you about it. Use it.
Tire failure – Tire failure, such as blowing a tire, can happen at any time on the road, so you should be aware of the telltale signs and react accordingly. Signs of a tire failure include:
- A loud sound (loud bang).
- Sensing vibration (if the vehicle thumps or vibrates heavily).
- Steering feels heavy. The best way to respond in this situation is to hold the steering wheel firmly, stay off the brake, come to a full stop, and check your tires.
When you brake hard on slippery surfaces in a vehicle without ABS, your wheels may lock up. When your wheels lock up, you lose steering control and you may skid, jackknife, or even spin the vehicle.
ABS helps you avoid wheel lock up and maintain control. You may or may not be able to stop faster with ABS, but you should be able to steer around an obstacle while braking, and avoid skids caused by over braking.
- Sensors detect potential wheel lock up. An electronic control unit (ECU) will then decrease brake pressure to avoid wheel lockup.
- Brake pressure is adjusted to provide the maximum braking without danger of lockup.
- ABS works far faster than the driver can respond to potential wheel lockup. At all other times the brake system will operate normally.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires that ABS be on:
- Truck tractors with air brakes built on or after March 1, 1997.
- Other air brake vehicles, (trucks, buses, trailers, and converter dollies) built on or after March 1, 1998.
- Hydraulically braked trucks and buses with a GVWR of 10,000 pounds or more built on or after March 1, 1999.
- Many commercial vehicles built before these dates have been voluntarily equipped with ABS.
All drivers should know something about HazMat. You must be able to recognize hazardous cargo, and know whether or not you can haul it without having a HazMat endorsement on your CDL.
Note: If you apply for an original or renewal HazMat endorsement, you must undergo a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) federal security threat assessment (background records check). For a list of TSA agent sites, go online at universalenroll.dhs.gov or call 1-855-347-8371.
Learn more about Federal Hazardous Materials Requirements.
Placards and Identification (ID) Numbers
Placards warn others of hazardous materials. Placarded vehicles must have 4 identical placards clearly placed on the vehicle (front, rear, left, right).
- ID numbers are 4-digit codes used by first responders to identify hazardous materials. An ID number may be used to identify more than one chemical on shipping papers. The ID number will be preceded by the letters “NA” or “UN.” The U.S. DOT Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG) lists the chemicals and the ID numbers assigned to them.
- Not all vehicles carrying hazardous materials need to have placards. If you do not know if your vehicle needs placards, ask your employer. Never drive a vehicle needing placards unless you have the HazMat endorsement. To do so is a crime. When stopped, you will be cited and you will not be allowed to drive your truck. It will cost you time and money. A failure to placard when needed may risk your life and others if you have an accident. Emergency help will not know of your hazardous cargo.
Changing Driving Conditions
You need to be prepared to handle a variety of changing road conditions when you’re driving a long haul. From nighttime driving, to fog, snow, and extreme heat, there are many difficult and potentially dangerous conditions you need to be prepared for, so you can adapt and react accordingly.
You are at greater risk when you drive at night. Drivers cannot see hazards as quickly as in daylight, so they have less time to respond. Drivers caught by surprise are less able to avoid an accident. Driving at night can also lead to fatigue and a lack of alertness, which raises your risk of getting into an accident.
In the daytime there is usually enough light to see well. This is not true at night. Some areas may have bright street lights, but many areas will have poor lighting. On most roads, you will probably have to depend entirely on your headlights. Be sure to drive more slowly when lighting is poor or confusing.
Because seeing well is so critical to safe driving, you should have your eyes checked regularly by an eye specialist. You may never know you have poor vision unless your eyes are tested. If you need to wear glasses or contact lenses for driving, remember to:
- Always wear them when driving, even if driving short distances. If your DL says corrective lenses are required, it is illegal to move a vehicle without using corrective lenses.
- Keep an extra set of corrective lenses in your vehicle. If your normal corrective lenses are broken or lost, you can use the spare lenses to drive safely.
- Avoid using dark or tinted corrective lenses at night, even if you think they help with glare. Tinted lenses cut down the light that you need to see clearly under night driving conditions.
Drivers can be blinded for a short time by bright lights, and it can take several seconds to recover from glare. Even 2 seconds of glare blindness can be dangerous. A vehicle going 55 mph will travel more than half the distance of a football field during that time.
Fatigue and Lack of Alertness
Fatigue is physical or mental tiredness that can be caused by physical or mental strain, repetitive tasks, illness, or lack of sleep. Just like alcohol and drugs, it impairs your vision and judgment.
Fatigue causes errors related to speed and distance, increases your risk of being in an accident, causes you to not see and react to hazards as quickly, and affects your ability to make critical decisions. When you are fatigued, you could fall asleep behind the wheel and crash, injuring or killing yourself or others.
However, many people cannot tell if or when they are about to fall asleep. Here are some signs that should tell you to stop and rest:
- Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, or heavy eyelids.
- Yawning repeatedly or rubbing eyes.
- Daydreaming, wandering, or disconnected thoughts.
- Trouble remembering the last few miles driven.
- Missing exits or traffic signs.
- Trouble keeping head up.
- Drifting from your lane, following too closely, or hitting a shoulder rumble strip.
- Feeling restless and irritable.
When you are tired, trying to “push on” is far more dangerous than most drivers realize. If you notice any signs of fatigue, stop driving and go to sleep for the night or take a 15 – 20 minute nap. Do not continue driving while fatigued.
Night Driving Procedures
- Pre-trip procedures – Make sure you are rested and alert. If you are drowsy, sleep before you drive! Even a nap can save your life or the lives of others. If you wear eyeglasses, make sure they are clean and unscratched. Do not wear sunglasses at night. Do a complete vehicle inspection of your vehicle. Pay attention to checking all lights and reflectors, and cleaning those you can reach.
- Avoid blinding others – Glare from your headlights can cause problems for drivers coming toward you. They can also bother drivers going in the same direction you are, when your lights shine in their rearview mirrors. Dim your lights within 500 feet of an oncoming vehicle and when following another vehicle within 500 feet.
- Avoid glare from oncoming vehicles – Do not look directly at the lights of oncoming vehicles. Look slightly to the right at a right lane or edge marking, if available. If other drivers do not put their low beams on, do not try to “get back at them” by putting your own high beams on. This increases glare for oncoming drivers and increases the chance of an accident.
- Use high beams when you can – Some drivers make the mistake of always using low beams. This seriously cuts down on their ability to see ahead. Use high beams when it is safe and legal to do so. Use them when you are not within 500 feet of an approaching vehicle. Also, do not let the inside of your cab get too bright. This makes it harder to see outside. Keep the interior light off, and adjust your instrument lights as low as you can to still be able to read the gauges.
- If you get sleepy, stop at the nearest safe place – People often do not realize how close they are to falling asleep even when their eyelids are drooping. If you feel sleepy, stop driving! You are in a very dangerous condition, and the only safe choice is to sleep.
You should not drive in fog if you do not have to. It is preferable that you pull off the road into a rest area or truck stop until visibility is better. If you must drive, be sure to consider the following:
- Obey all fog-related warning signs.
- Slow down before you enter fog.
- Use low-beam headlights and fog lights for best visibility even in daytime, and be alert for other drivers who may have forgotten to turn on their lights.
- Turn on your 4-way emergency flashers. This will give vehicles approaching you from behind a quicker opportunity to notice your vehicle.
- Watch for vehicles on the side of the roadway. Seeing taillights or headlights in front of you may not be a true indication of where the road is ahead of you. The vehicle may not be on the road at all.
- Use roadside highway reflectors as guides to determine how the road may curve ahead of you.
- Listen for traffic you cannot see.
- Avoid passing other vehicles.
- Do not stop along the side of the road, unless absolutely necessary.
Make sure your vehicle is ready before driving in winter weather. You should make a regular vehicle inspection each season so you can drive slowly and smoothly on slippery roads. If it is very slippery, you should not drive at all.
Here are some tips for driving in cold weather:
- Start gently and slowly – When first starting, get the feel of the road. Do not hurry.
- Check for ice – Check for ice on the road, especially bridges and overpasses. A lack of spray from other vehicles indicates ice has formed on the road. Also, check your mirrors and wiper blades for ice. If they have ice, the road most likely will be icy as well.
- Adjust turning and braking to conditions – Make turns as gently as possible. Do not brake any harder than necessary, and do not use the engine brake or speed retarder they can cause the driving wheels to skid on slippery surfaces.
- Adjust speed to conditions – Do not pass slower vehicles unless necessary. Go slowly and watch far enough ahead to keep a steady speed. Avoid having to slow down and speed up. Take curves at slower speeds and do not brake while in curves. Be aware that as the temperature rises to the point where ice begins to melt, the road becomes even more slippery. Slow down more.
- Adjust space to conditions – Do not drive alongside other vehicles. Keep a longer following distance. When you see a traffic jam ahead, slow down or stop to wait for it to clear. Try hard to anticipate stops early and slow down gradually. Watch for snowplows, as well as salt and sand trucks, and give them plenty of room.
- Wet brakes – When driving in heavy rain or deep standing water, your brakes will get wet. Water in the brakes can cause the brakes to be weak, to apply unevenly, or to grab. This can cause lack of braking power, wheel lockups, pulling to one side or the other, and jackknife if you pull a trailer.
When you’re driving in hot weather, you should go slowly to prevent overheating. You should also watch out for tar in the road pavement, as it can be very slippery.
To ensure your rig is in proper condition to drive in hot weather, you can perform a normal vehicle inspection and pay special attention to the following items.
- Tires – Air pressure increases with temperature. If a tire is hot, remain stopped until the tire cools off.
- Engine oil – This helps keep the engine cool, so make sure you have enough for your trip.
- Engine coolant – Make sure the system has enough water and coolant. Check the temperature of the water and coolant regularly, and add more if needed.
- Engine belts – Learn how to check v-belt tightness on your vehicle by pressing on the belts. Loose belts will not turn the water pump and/or fan properly. This will result in overheating. Also, check belts for cracking or other signs of wear.
- Hoses – Make sure coolant hoses are in good condition. A broken hose while driving can lead to engine failure and even fire.
In mountain driving, gravity plays a major role. On any upgrade, gravity slows you down. The steeper the grade, the longer the grade, and/or the heavier the load–the more you will have to use lower gears to climb hills or mountains. In coming down long, steep downgrades, gravity causes the speed of your vehicle to increase. There are three key ways to navigate downgrades:
Select a safe speed – Consider total weight of your vehicle and cargo, the length and steepness of the grade, road conditions, and weather.
Select the right gear before starting down the grade – Shift transmission into low gear. Don’t downshift after your speed has built up.
Practice braking techniques – The use of brakes on a long and/or steep downgrade is only a supplement to the braking effect of the engine. Once the vehicle is in the proper low gear, the following are the proper braking techniques:
- Apply the brakes just hard enough to feel a definite slowdown.
- When your speed has been reduced to approximately 5 mph below your “safe” speed, release the brakes. This brake application should last for about 3 seconds.
Watch out for brake fading or failure – Brakes are designed so brake shoes or pads rub against the brake drum or disks to slow the vehicle. Braking creates heat, but brakes are designed to take a lot of heat. However, brakes can fade or fail from excessive heat caused by using them too much and not relying on the engine braking effect.
A hazard is any road condition or other road user (driver, motorcyclist, bicyclist, and pedestrian) that is a possible danger. For example, if a car in front of you is headed toward the freeway exit and they begin braking hard, this could mean the driver is uncertain about taking the off ramp. They might suddenly return to the highway. This car is a hazard. If the driver of the car cuts in front of you, it is no longer just a hazard; it is an emergency.
Seeing hazards lets you be prepared – You will have more time to act if you see hazards before they become emergencies.
Move-over laws – Move-over laws have been enacted, which require drivers to slow and change lanes when approaching a roadside incident to lessen the problem. Signs are posted on roadways in states that have such laws.
Drivers who are hazards – In order to protect yourself and others, you must know when other drivers may do something hazardous.
To identify hazards, be aware of your surroundings. This includes cars that are driving quickly, weaving between lanes, frequently varying speed, and more:
- Confused drivers
- Slow drivers
- Drivers signaling a turn
- Drivers in a hurry
- Impaired drivers – sleepy, drunk, high
Make sure you are aware of the causes of fires and how to prevent them.
Here are some of the common causes of vehicle fires:
- After accidents – Spilled fuel, improper use of flares.
- Tires – Under-inflated tires and duals that touch.
- Electrical system – Short circuits due to damaged insulation, loose connections.
- Fuel – Driver smoking, improper fueling, loose fuel connections.
- Cargo – Flammable cargo, improperly sealed or loaded cargo, poor ventilation.
There are a number of things you can do to prevent fires, such as:
- Vehicle inspections – Make a complete inspection of the electrical, fuel, and exhaust systems, tires, and cargo. Be sure to check that the fire extinguisher is charged.
- En route inspections – Check the tires, wheels, and truck body for signs of heat whenever you stop during a trip.
- Following safe procedures – Follow correct safety procedures for fueling the vehicle, using brakes, handling flares, and other activities that can cause a fire. Carry a fire extinguisher with you in the cab.
- Regular monitoring – Check the instruments and gauges often for signs of overheating and use the mirrors to look for signs of smoke from tires or the vehicle.
- Using caution – Use normal caution in handling anything hot, electric, or flammable.
How to Fight Fires
Knowing how to fight fires is important. Learn how your fire extinguisher works. Study the instructions printed on the extinguisher before you need it. Here are some procedures to follow in case of fire.
The first step is to get the vehicle off the road and stop. When you do so:
- Park in an open area, away from buildings, trees, brush, other vehicles, or anything that might catch fire.
- Do not pull into a service station!
- Notify emergency services of your problem and your location.
Before trying to put out the fire, make sure that it does not spread any further.
- With an engine fire, turn off the engine as soon as you can. Do not open the hood if you can avoid it. Shoot foam through the louvers, radiator, or from the vehicle’s underside.
- For a cargo fire in a van or box trailer, keep the doors shut, especially if your cargo contains hazardous materials. Opening the van doors will supply the fire with oxygen and can cause it to burn very fast.
Make sure you fully extinguish the fire.
- When using the extinguisher, stay as far away from the fire as possible.
- Aim at the source or base of the fire, not up into the flames.
For more information, refer to California Code of Regulations (CCR), Title 13 §1242.
Whether you need to look up traffic conditions or you need to contact a state or federal agency, here are some additional links that you might find useful.
Office of Truck Services
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
California Board of Equalization
California Department of Food and Agriculture
California Department of Health Services
California Department of Transportation
California Highway Patrol
California Office of Traffic Safety
Environmental Protection Agency
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
Internal Revenue Service
International Registration Plan, Inc.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Public Utilities Commission
Unified Carrier Registration