Operating a large commercial vehicle on US roads and highways is a considerable responsibility. Accidents involving commercial vehicles can be devastating and potentially fatal. The sheer size and weight of a commercial vehicle should never be underestimated and all safety precautions need to be taken at all times.
For these reasons, not just anyone is allowed to operate a commercial vehicle. Special licensing, qualifications, and training are required to drive a commercial vehicle in the United States. In order to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL), a driver must already possess a valid class-D driver’s license and be 18 years of age or older. Although an individual may be able to get a CDL at the age of 18, they will not be allowed to drive commercial vehicles across state lines and they cannot haul any loads of hazardous materials until they are 21.
An important aspect of the process to obtain a CDL involves the “pre-trip inspection.” The pre-trip inspection is a vital process that must be conducted before every trip a driver embarks on. The purpose of the pre-trip inspection is to ensure everything vehicle-related is in correct working order before leaving. If any equipment is damaged or there are safety concerns, the driver must have them addressed before departing.
There are specific minimum requirements when it comes to the pre-trip inspection. They include an inspection of the service brakes and trailer brake connection, parking brake, steering, lights, reflectors, tires, horn, windshield wipers, rear-vision mirrors, coupling devices, wheels and rims, and all emergency equipment.
Here is a more detailed description of what a driver may want to look for when inspecting the vehicle before departure.
● Brakes: Ensuring that the brake systems on a commercial vehicle are in proper working order is essential. Large trucks already take longer to stop than other types of vehicles and so it is important that all the brake systems are functioning properly. A commercial driver should inspect the parking brake, hydraulic brake system, and air brakes before each and every trip.
● Steering: Being able to properly steer a commercial vehicle is vital to ensure safe transit. A driver may want to inspect the steering wheel and steering column to make sure the power steering system is intact as well as take a look at the power steering fluid level. If the power steering fluid is low, then the driver must sufficiently fill the power steering fluid reservoir.
● Lights: Lights are one of the most critical components of a vehicle to communicate with other vehicles while on the road and to provide visibility for the driver. A commercial vehicle should always have functioning headlights, tail lights, fog lights, off-road and emergency lights, as well as signal and accessory lights. If any of these lights are not functioning, ideally the driver should have a backup kit containing replacement bulbs for the various lighting systems. If the issue is more complex than a simple burnt-out lightbulb, then the driver will need to have a certified truck mechanic make any necessary repairs before the driver can embark.
● Reflectors: Having reflectors on a large commercial vehicle can help to increase visibility while on the road. The reflectors make other drivers aware of the presence of the vehicle at night, in rain or snow, and in tunnels. There should be reflectors placed all over the vehicle, however, it is especially important that the reflectors are placed on the sides and rear of the vehicle.
● Tires: If a tire should happen to blow out during a trip, it can cause a driver to potentially lose control of the vehicle and collide with other vehicles, highway barriers, or other roadway infrastructure. A driver of a commercial vehicle should inspect each tire and look for any visible cuts, cracks, bulges, knots, and/or bumps. If there are any noticeable defects in any of the tires, the driver should seek to get the tire replaced before taking the vehicle out onto the road. Additionally, a commercial driver can quickly test the pressure of each tire by striking the tire with a mallet to ensure it is properly inflated.
● Horn: A properly functioning horn is critical to help the driver communicate with other roadway occupants and pedestrians. The horn can warn others of the vehicle’s approach and presence as well as call attention to potential hazards that may occur in the roadway.
● Windshield/Wipers: Having a windshield that is free from cracks and other blemishes helps to ensure the structural integrity of the windshield while making sure there is nothing obstructing the view of the driver. Additionally, having windshield wipers is extremely important to ensure that rain and/or snow is cleared from the windshield and that the driver is able to see the road clearly and at all times.
● Mirrors: All mirrors should be cleaned and adjusted to help the driver view their blindspots. Mirrors are critical for backing up, coupling, and for maintaining a full range of visibility while on the road.
● Coupling: Before departure, drivers should check that the trailer is coupled properly to the cab. The lines, clamps, nuts, mounting brackets, locking jaws, locking pins, and all bolts should be inspected.
● Wheels/Rims: Wheels and rims should be inspected to ensure there are no loose or missing lug nuts.
● Safety equipment: Every commercial vehicle should be equipped with a variety of safety equipment. There should be a designated area in the vehicle where items like emergency flares, emergency triangles, first aid kits, and fire extinguishers are stored. A driver should inspect the equipment and take a mental inventory of the equipment they have in the event of an emergency.
● Doors & Locks: Check all doors to make sure they shut properly and that they are free from obstruction. Additionally, doors should lock, especially the trailer door.
● Cab inspection: Before leaving on a trip, it is important to clear the cab of any garbage or debris. When in transit, garbage and/or debris can get trapped under the pedals, or if the debris is on the dashboard, it could potentially obstruct the view of the driver.
● Fluids: Fluid levels are crucial to the operation of a commercial vehicle. Before each trip, a driver should inspect the fluid levels of the power steering pump, brakes, oil, windshield wiper fluid, and coolant.
This post was a collaboration opportunity between Pickup Truck +SUV Talk and Zutobi, an online driver’s education resource that teaches you everything there is to know about driving and driver safety. Zutobi’s mission is to create the BEST driver’s education program in the world and ensure that anyone can afford it. Everyone deserves to be safe on the roads, and the best way to do that is by making sure that access to quality driver’s education is available to the masses.