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Safe Driving Behavior for Commercial Motor Vehicles (CMVs)


Learning objectives

  • List undesirable driving habits that are the cause of the majority of commercial motor vehicle crashes

  • Describe driver pre-trip responsibilities for the avoidance of crashes

  • Describe safe driver responsibilities and desired driving behaviors on the road

  • Recognize and respond to potential roadway hazards

Course overview

Each year in the United States, there are approximately 3,500 people killed and 80,000 others injured in accidents involving Commercial Motor Vehicles (CMVs).

Whenever you get the behind the wheel of a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV), your first responsibility is to drive safely. Because when a CMV weighing 10,000 pounds or more collides with a car weighing 4,000 pounds, the car almost always loses. So, the responsibility of driving a commercial motor vehicle is enormous.

A recent study showed that the majority of crashes are caused by four types of undesirable driver behavior: recognition errors, decision errors, performance errors, and non-performance errors.

Recognition Errors:

  • Reading a map while driving

  • Talking on a cellphone or texting while driving, as in the example cited earlier

  • Focusing on dashboard indicators while driving

  • Focusing on something outside the vehicle while driving, such as a delivery address

Decision Errors:

  • Exceeding the safe speed for the conditions, as in the example cited earlier

  • Tailgating

  • Misjudging another vehicle’s speed or distance

  • Not taking evasive action to avoid a road hazard

  • “Road rage”

Performance Errors:

  • Panicking

  • Freezing

  • Swerving

  • Slamming on the brakes

Non-Performance Errors:

  • Drug or alcohol impairment

  • Drowsiness, as in the example cited earlier

  • Fatigue

  • Poor driver health

The chances of a safe trip increase significantly when drivers take the time to prepare themselves and their vehicle before all trips. As licensed drivers of commercial motor vehicles, workers have the obligation to come prepared to drive. This means they are well rested and are not under the influence of drugs, either legal or illegal, or alcohol. It is important for safety professionals to emphasize the need to come to work ready to drive.

Let’s run through some basic principles for safely operating a Commercial Motor Vehicle.

First, and at the minimum, drivers must possess a valid driver license and otherwise maintain a lawful status to drive, and must always use seatbelts when operating a CMV. Background checks for commercial drivers can prevent ugly situations and minimize the risk of serious liability.

Before any trip, drivers should inspect the engine, cab, exterior, wheels, and load. Too often in haste, drivers neglect this important check step to get on the road, which is understandable because many drivers do not make money while sitting in port. But, it should be emphasized that unless cargo is delivered safely, no one profits from the arrangement—accidents are costly for commercial motor vehicle drivers and for the companies that employ or agreement with them.

The basis for all good driving habits starts with practicing defensive driving. When drivers are alert and aware of what is going on, they can react to a variety of possible hazards, such as unsafe drivers, changing weather conditions, changing traffic conditions, and road construction. When drivers drive defensively, they allow for more reaction time and better options to avoid crashing.

In poor weather conditions, the ability to see, steer, and brake decrease. In rain, decrease drivers should decrease speed by one third. In snow, drivers should decrease speed by one half. When in doubt, drivers should add extra seconds between the vehicle under their control and the vehicle ahead.

Blind spots are particularly dangerous when backing up your CMV. Before backing up, make sure the backup alarm is working, so that people near the vehicle are warned. Get out of your vehicle and inspect the area of travel, to make sure it is free from obstructions. If possible, recruit a spotter to help guide you into the spot you’re backing into, such as a loading dock.

Your ability to see well in low light conditions diminishes with age, resulting in slower reaction times to complete defensive actions. While driving at night, assessing risks associated with road conditions and obstructions, animals, and pedestrians is more difficult than during daytime.

Other nighttime hazards include driving with a single or weak headlight, momentary blindness caused by looking into the headlights of oncoming traffic, and driving at a speed where your headlights do not illuminate hazards in time to react safely.

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English, Spanish

Mobile Ready

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35 min

Course Outline

Course Outline

  • Introduction

  • Behaviors that Cause Crashes

  • Pre-Trip Responsibilities

  • Driving Safely



  • 29 CFR 1910 Subpart D - Walking-Working Surfaces - 1910.22 General Requirements


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