The Georgia Commercial Driver’s License Manual (GCDLM) is an excellent reference. The GCDLM is a Georgia-specific version of the FMCSA-approved Commercial Driver’s License Manual published by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) and used in states throughout the country. It is available for download free of charge from the Georgia Department of Driver Services website. The GCDLM deals with selected areas of the FMCSRs and the Georgia Rules of the Road. It provides practical, user-friendly analysis of CMV operation and includes many tables and illustrations that lend themselves for use as demonstrative aids at trial. The book is aimed at those who operate or, more importantly, want to learn to operate, a CMV. Therefore, it is written with an emphasis on explaining what a driver needs to know in a down-to-earth fashion free of legalese.
Oftentimes in depositions, counsel will attempt to cross-examine a CMV driver about his knowledge of the intricacies of the FMCSRs. Rarely, if ever, is the Manual used to address an act or omission of the driver. This is a mistake. For example, the Manual provides sample “Test Your Knowledge” questions at the end of each section. These can serve as built-in deposition questions. The driver’s answers will help educate you and your expert on his knowledge and ability to safely operate a CMV. A driver is far more likely to have reviewed the GCDLM (or a similar version used in his state of licensing), rather than the FMCSRs, when learning to drive and training to obtain his CDL.
It is helpful to have the driver agree he reviewed the Manual prior to taking the exam and that he tries to comply with it in his operation of a CMV. Defense counsel may object that the Manual is not the law, but much of it is either based on law or common sense. Having the driver agree that he used the Manual to learn how to safely operate a CMV may obviate the objection. In the alternative, having an expert testify, for example, that the proper following distance is that one described in the Manual (which the driver has said he relied on) may get part if not all of it into evidence.
Although some of the more helpful sections are discussed in this chapter, a review of the entire Manual is important in any trucking case.
Section 2 is notable for a lucid discussion of critical topics such as elements of the pre-trip inspection, basic vehicle control, (Section 2.2) sight and stopping distance, (Sections 2.4, 2.6.1) communicating and signaling to other drivers, (Section 2.5) following distance, (Section 2.7.1) driving distractions, (Section 2.9) night driving, (Section 2.11) and alcohol and drug use. (Section 2.22) Of special note is its discussion of the operation of a CMV immediately prior to, during, and immediately following a crash or emergency situation. (Sections 2.17, 2.19, 2.20) For example, the Manual describes what actions can be taken when there is not enough room to stop a CMV, or when stopping may not be the best option. (See e.g., Section 2.17.1)
Section 3 addresses a driver’s duties when transporting cargo, such as the duties involved in inspecting loads, (Section 3.1) recognizing poorly-secured loads and overloads, (Sections 3.2, 3.3) and the types of cargo that require special attention during transport, including altering how or when the CMV should be driven. (Section 3.5)
Note that the manual repeats the FMCSRs requirement that cargo must be inspected both pre-trip and within fifty miles after a trip begins. (Section 3.1) It further provides that flat bed and/or sideless trailers should have at least one tiedown for every ten feet of cargo, with a minimum of two tiedowns regardless of cargo size. (Section 3.2.2, Figure 2.2). In a case involving a wreck caused by shifting cargo or a spilled load, this section may be particularly helpful.
In addition to the safe operation requirements of section, a CMV involved in transporting passengers requires a slightly different pre-trip inspection. (Section 5.1) Items such as handholds/railings, emergency exits, roof hatches, and the like are also detailed in the Manual.(Section 4.1.2, 4.1.3, 4.1.4)
Note that drivers are forbidden to converse with their passengers while driving due to the possible distraction. (Section 4.5) This prohibition is frequently ignored by CMV drivers in the field. Therefore, when handling a common carrier case, determine whether the driver was socializing with his passengers and may have been distracted. Note also that CDL drivers must have a “passenger endorsement” pm their CDL to lawfully operate a vehicle carrying sixteen or more people. (Introduction to Section 4, Page 4-1).
Air brake systems can be complex. In a brake failure case, educating the jury on how the system works, and more particularly how and why it failed, is key. This section features helpful, if still somewhat complex, illustrations. It includes drawings of the controls in the cab of the truck that the driver has available to use in controlling the brakes. (Figure 5.3, page 5-4). It also discusses and illustrates anti-lock braking systems, (required on tractors built after March 1, 1997 and other air brake vehicles built after March 1, 1998) and their functions and effects. (Sections 5.1.6, Figure 5.4) Section 5 also outlines in detail the pre-trip inspection that should be performed on any air brake-equipped CMV in addition to the “basic seven step” procedure for pre-trip inspection outlined in Section 2. (Section 5.3) Its description includes, among other things, instructions on how to check the slack adjustors and how to test low pressure warning signals, spring brakes, and air pressure buildup. (Sections 5.3.2, 5.3.3)
In any case where stopping distance or possible brake failure or ineffectiveness caused or contributed to a collision, it is crucial that counsel possess a working knowledge of the braking systems. For example, counsel should know how much stopping distance can be increased by air brake lag, or what minimum air pressure should be noted prior to the operation of a CMV with air brakes. An understanding of the detailed yet fairly basic information in the manual will orient counsel to a brake case and assist in framing the correct deposition and trial questions for the defendant CMV driver and testifying experts.