Modern equipment requires modern testing methods

DashboardGetting behind the wheel of your vehicle today, you’re likely to have many additional safety features that didn’t exist even just a few years ago. This technology is also making its way into commercial vehicles that share our roads.

Updated technology is changing the training and driving skills required of commercial drivers. These updates are in turn changing the way we test the skills of the men and women behind the wheel of large commercial trucks.

Standardizing commercial driver training

Truck trafficCommercial drivers often crisscross the county to bring you the things you need every day. Because drivers often work in many states to deliver their cargo, the initial training that drivers receive needs to be consistent across the nation. That includes training on updated technology.

Last year the federal government implemented an Entry-Level Driver Training program focused on ensuring training consistency. That national standard was soon followed by updated standards for state departments of transportation related to testing the skills of new drivers.

Updating commercial driver testing

As a national leader, members of the Iowa DOT’s Motor Vehicle Division staff were instrumental in including updated Commercial Driver’s License or CDL testing strategies for Iowa.  One of our own, Cyndie Delp, worked directly with the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators and the International Driver Examiner Certification Board, a national organization of state DOTs on developing the new testing criteria. She said, “With technology in the trucks changing, our testing methods needed to change to keep up.”

The CDL test system that has been used for decades was conceptualized in the late 1980s and implemented in the early 1990s. It has been updated several times since then with the most recent update in 2017.  

“While we tried to keep the testing as current as possible, the changes in technology called for a new, data-based approach to test for the elements that make a difference in safety,” Delp said. “Our national group started back in 2016 evaluating years of data related to collisions, traffic citations, and out-of-service orders to help better understand what was happening on the roads.” 

Pre-trip inspection

Class A inspectionThis analysis phase took two years. The group then reviewed the more than 100 test items for pre-trip inspections. With the inclusion of testing on the new safety technology, the list of items would need to grow if changes weren’t made.

Delp said, “Our team quickly realized that adding the new items would become a test of memorization rather than the driver’s knowledge since there are so many items to review. We started to think about testing in a different way to get to the heart of what would be key to the driver’s safe performance on the road, not just the knowledge of a laundry list of items.”  

Delp and the national teams boiled the testing down to the most essential items to determine whether the vehicle is safe to drive, resulting in a more safety-focused test of the pre-trip inspection process.

These changes in the pre-trip inspection testing include:

  • Every applicant will perform a full vehicle inspection, but inspection items will focus on those that are safety critical.
  • Items have been combined where it made sense to do so (e.g., critical fluid levels, frames/tandem release, coupling systems) to reduce the number of test items.
  • Driver Vehicle Inspection Checklists can be used during the exam.
  • The CDL Manual now includes a description and rationale of inspection items. This update is synchronized with the manual used by those performing the testing.

Skills testing

Once the pre-trip inspection is complete, the driver is asked to perform maneuvers in an open area near the testing facility.  The new test criteria are based on data that specifically focuses on safety elements.

Delp said when preparing Iowa for the new modernized testing standards, “This was a team effort to get our test areas ready for the new testing. We worked with our maintenance staff and paint crews in the local area of each of our DMVs and county treasurer partners to paint the new course layout at each location.”

The modernized test changes include an emphasis on the position of the vehicle.

  • Forward stops - Statistics show that rear-end collisions at intersections are the leading cause of crashes in high-profile vehicles due to the driver’s inability to judge the distance to the front of the vehicle.
  • Straight line backing- The driver is required to back a vehicle down a 12-foot wide by 100-foot alley.
  • Forward offset tracking - The driver is evaluated on knowing where the right rear tire is in relation to a four-foot boundary.
  • Reverse offset tracking - The driver will be asked the location of the vehicle in relation to boundaries around them when backing the vehicle into a three-foot box.

Road testingOnce these two testing phases are successfully completed, the person administering the test and the driver take to the road for the road test. This portion of the process has not changed from previous testing.

Using a data-driven approach and collaboration with our counterparts in other states to find and implement best practices in driver’s license testing, we’re living up to our core value of “Safety First.”



Process-improvementEditor’s note: This post is part of a series related to our 5-year priority goal of “Supporting a Culture of Innovation” at the Iowa Department of Transportation. We are working to find innovative ways to improve processes, tools, & relationships to create positive customer experiences.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Have a comment?


©  Iowa Department of Transportation.  All rights reserved.