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Implementing a comprehensive Train the Trainer program will profoundly increase the effectiveness of your driver finishing program.

This article is from the Fall 2016 issue of The Quill. To view the full issue, visit The Quill archive.

During a driver finishing program, the trainer will be the trainee’s teacher, mentor, safety manager, operations manager, business consultant, equipment expert, best friend and sometimes marriage counselor. The trainee will approach the trainer with questions regarding all levels of these topics, including coping with family while away from home. The trainer will need to provide correct guidance or have the knowledge of where to obtain accurate and appropriate advice. The trainee will need factual information, not truck stop or self-taught anecdotes.

The following are best practices to establish a Train the Trainer program for the purpose of instructing inexperienced drivers, or drivers with less than one year of experience, on how to drive CMV units that operate in your system. Many of these items are basic. However, it is important that all trainers have the same knowledge of the company, equipment, and safety and regulatory concepts, and that all training is uniform throughout the country, excluding specific geographical or service area requirements.

This article outlines best practices for the trainer’s qualifications and skill sets. Our recommendations are extensive but not all-encompassing. Many of the subjects may be duplicative of what a trainee should have or may have learned at his or her truck driving school. However, these schools are for the primary purpose of training individuals to pass the proficiency tests for obtaining their CDLs. The classroom portion is normally expedited and focused on general industry and typically does not provide high-end results. Therefore, a qualified trainer is needed in a motor carrier’s driver finishing program to continue the training and education, plus provide function-specific training to that company’s particular needs.

Based on the most recent FMCSA research, a record 84% of drivers now wear their belts whenever they are operating trucks on public roadways. While that is a worthy accomplishment for the industry, it implies that 16% of drivers still do not take this important, yet simple, step every time they drive to ensure both their safety and the safety of others on the roadway. The report also noted that 6% of drivers surveyed for the report indicated that they never use a seat belt, and that only 73% of commercial motor vehicle passengers use seat belts.

Note that Protective’s Minimum Loss Prevention & Safety Standards for an in-house driver finishing program require a qualified driver trainer to ride with the trainee/student driver and monitor their progress for at least 240 hours of behind-the-wheel (BTW) training before they may drive solo. During this time, the truck must be dispatched as a solo driver.

Selecting Successful Trainers

When selecting candidates to be trainers, consider requiring a minimum of three years of driving experience, including experience with all seasons and terrain that your drivers are expected to encounter. Trainers should be recommended by their supervisors and have high scores on driver and work performance, plus high performance in regard to CSA BASICs. A trainer must be a professional driver with a positive attitude on and off the road. For at least the past three years, they should be free of moving violations/convictions, collisions and injuries. Just as important, they must have the desire, ability and patience to be a trainer. If they don’t, regardless of their experience and past performance, they will not be a quality trainer. Above all, they must have the ability to evaluate and document the trainee’s progress.

Recommended Program Content

Your Train the Trainer program should include instruction on all aspects of work and lifestyle that an experienced driver may encounter, plus training on how to observe, document and coach the trainee to perform at the skill level required to be an experienced driver.

Emphasis should be placed on the many areas that managers may take for granted, assuming the trainer knows and practices proper technique. Examples are the use of engine retarders, proper following distance, mirror adjustments, using the three-point system, vehicle inspections and safe worker behavior. It is critical to bridge the gap between what the trainer personally understands to be correct and proven loss prevention strategies, industry best practices and the behavior the company expects.

The trainer should be familiar with company operations, dispatch procedures, maintenance programs, paperwork, policies and procedures, as well as with all company commodities and customers, and must demonstrate how to safely load, secure and transport all commodities.

In addition to having extensive driving-related knowledge, trainers should fully understand your company’s strategic operating/growth plans, business initiatives and development plans. This information will provide the trainer with an understanding of the business purpose of training inexperienced drivers, as well as an understanding of the loss exposures that can be created by using inexperienced drivers.

Trainers should be instructed on the topic of customer relations, including proper dress, hygiene and general personal appearance, as well as how to positively interact with customers in challenging situations.

Trainers must be taught what to do at the scene of a collision, especially in today’s social media-driven and litigious world. Topics should include securing the scene; tending to the injured; who to contact in case of emergency and procedures for speaking with law enforcement, witnesses, adjusters, bystanders, the media, etc. Trainers should also be taught how to photograph a collision scene, including what to photograph and what not to photograph.

Your Train the Trainer program should include all aspects of work and lifestyle that an experienced driver may encounter, plus training on how to observe, document and coach the trainee.

Key Federal Safety Regulations

Review Parts 40 and 382 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) with trainers, emphasizing driver disqualification criteria and company policies and procedures for drug and alcohol use. It is also a good idea to train instructors as a reasonable suspicion observer. For coaching and guidance purposes, the trainer should understand Parts 383 and 391 regarding disqualification violations and out-of-service violations.

Common violations occur in Part 395, Hours of Service. The trainer should be proficient in all aspects of these regulations, company policies and procedures, as well as out-of-service violations and repercussions for violations.

Conduct a focused review of Parts 393 and 396, Vehicle Equipment Maintenance and Inspections. The trainer should be proficient in systematic vehicle inspections and what will cause a violation and an out-of-service violation. If the trainer is not absolutely proficient, the trainee could have low ambition for properly inspecting the safety of the vehicle prior to and after a trip.

Also include:

  • Adjustment, function and use of each mirror used in the fleet
  • Sliding fifth wheel and tandem use
  • Engine retarders—appropriate use and unsafe situations when retarders should not be used
  • Proper coupling and uncoupling procedures and testing techniques
  • Shifting techniques
  • Fuel mileage management

Have the trainer provide a complete commentary while conducting the vehicle inspection procedure. This will help determine if the trainer is familiar with vehicle components and their functions, how to check for defects, plus provide evidence of their knowledge in conducting a systematic inspection.

Trainers’ hazardous materials knowledge should include all parts of the hazardous materials regulations that apply to your company plus the policies and procedures for at least the following: how to read and act on the hazardous materials/substance tables and charts including placarding; shipping labels; containers; shipping papers completion and accessibility; load securement and segregation; vehicle security, parking and attendance; route controls; spill containment and emergency response procedures.

A trainer’s CSA knowledge should include all aspects of the BASICs, including how the driver’s performance affects the carrier’s score, as well as their own.

The importance of knowing the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations is not just to know them, but be expected to live by, proficiently discuss and demonstrate how to find and review specific regulations.

Defensive Driving

Trainers need to be defensive driving instructors, plus be trained and tested to determine their proficiency and ability to safely operate a commercial motor vehicle in all maneuvers and situations that a trainee and experienced driver can be expected to encounter while driving. Regardless of whether you use the National Safety Council, Smith System and/or unique corporate safe driving programs, the trainer must be able to coach the trainee in all aspects of defensive driving, hazard recognition and acting correctly in time.

Driver attitude is a critical component to safe driving and preventing road rage. The trainer must demonstrate an appropriate attitude and be able to communicate how to identify unsafe behaviors in other drivers and how to avoid collisions with them, whether on the road or in a parking lot. The trainer should be aware of the collision and severity frequency experienced at your company and place emphasis on maneuvers such as speed and space management, following distance, lane changes and lane management, adverse driving conditions, backing in a variety of situations, turning, overhead objects and rollover prevention. Don’t just provide classroom training to the trainer; make them demonstrate their proficiency on the road. The trainer must be able to conduct a commentary drive and instruct the trainee how to do the same. Don’t forget about distracted driving!

A successful trainer has comprehensive knowledge of: company operations, federal safety regulations, defensive driving, injury prevention and interpersonal skills.

Additional Topics

Worker injury prevention training is commonly forgotten. The trainer must be able to determine unsafe worker behavior, provide guidance and demonstrate proper safety techniques to prevent injury (including strains/sprains, cuts, contusions and blunt force injury) while on and off the job. This will include but not be limited to:

  • Use of a proper three-point system while entering/exiting a tractor and trailer or loading dock
  • Safe lifting/carrying or pushing/pulling of freight
  • Cranking trailer dolly legs
  • Safe walking on working surfaces and proper body movement to prevent slips, trips and falls
  • When to use personal protective equipment
  • Working in all weather conditions

Driver health training cannot be overlooked. Ensure trainers are knowledgeable about healthy eating while on the road, driver fatigue prevention (including sleep apnea identification), exercising while on the road and proper sleep habits.

Additional considerations and responsibilities that are commonly forgotten are time management, map reading and trip planning. Interpersonal relationship skills and interaction training is also critical. The trainer and trainee will be spending a great deal of time together in close quarters and the trainer needs to know how to demonstrate getting along with others.


Establish guidelines regarding the types of tests, both written and practical, a trainer will give to a trainee. Determine test content and frequency, including driving skill tests. Driving Skill Observation Reports should include at a minimum: maneuvering scores, time(s) of day, total miles driven, road and weather conditions, recommendations to improve skills, attitude, safe worker/behavior evaluation, and space to write comments and additional observations.

Trainers must receive a series of tests during the Train the Trainer program to assess their complete understanding of the topics covered. Once the trainer is actively working with a new driver, measure the trainer’s success based on the trainee’s continued progress during and after the driver finishing program. If a negative trend develops with the trainees that were assigned to a particular trainer, re-evaluate the quality of that trainer’s instruction. Determine if the trainer should be retrained or removed as a trainer from the program.

Rewarding Trainers

Give trainers an incentive to be a trainer. Being a trainer takes time away from earning money due to his or her extra time spent with the trainee. The following suggestions help reward trainers financially and identify them as leaders in the company.

  • Ensure the trainer is able to earn additional income for this responsibility. Consider placing them on a salary or an increase in the mileage rate/percentage rate. Some companies pay them for all miles the truck is moving, including when the trainee is driving.
  • Let them stand apart from other drivers, provide them with a uniform, hat, belt buckle, etc. that identifies them as a trainer.
  • Permit the trainer to sleep in a hotel room while the student sleeps in the truck and showers at the truck stop so they can experience life on the road.
  • Allow the trainer to expense meals for themselves.

Being a trainer is not easy and not all trainers are effective. It is critical to measure their performance and provide follow-up training as needed or remove them from the training role if their performance or the trainee’s performance does not measure favorably. Implementing a comprehensive Train the Trainer program will profoundly increase the effectiveness of your driver finishing program, which in turn will help limit your loss exposures and keep your operations running efficiently.

  • Categorized in:
  • Transportation Safety
  • Driver Management
  • Workplace Safety