Five Key Elements of a Yard Driver Training Program

Mark Schedler, Sr. Editor - Transport Management

September 9, 2021

Skilled yard drivers, yard jockeys, spotters, or whatever the job title is at your company are crucial to yard safety and efficiency. It is imperative to train CDL-holding and non-CDL yard drivers, reduce potential liability and avoid accidents, injuries, or worst-case, a fatality, even if they never leave your yard.

Keep in mind, drivers and carriers that operate yard trucks in any area open to public travel, even if on private property, are subject to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations or FMCSRs. Compliance with the FMCSRs is a bare minimum for yard operations required to do so.

Train in the following areas at the time of hire, periodically after hire, and to correct deficiencies to demonstrate your commitment to safety and protect your business:

  1. Following facility safety policies and procedures;
  2. Conducting vehicle inspections;
  3. Coupling and uncoupling;
  4. Maneuvering safely and making efficient use of yard space; and
  5. Docking and undocking trailers.


Let’s examine why every yard driver training program should include these five components:

1. Following facility safety policies and procedures.

Facility safety policies and procedures are in place to protect the yard drivers, forklift operators, dockworkers, and anyone else walking or driving based risks of the operation. The following are just a few examples of requirements that carriers should document and train to avoid incidents and accidents:

  • Required personal protective equipment to increase the visibility of drivers and to protect their head, hands, eyes, and feet;
  • Placement of ”stop signs” in front of trailers, chocking trailer tires, or the use of dock locks to keep a driver from pulling away from the dock too soon;
  • Speed limit and other traffic management signs and rules; and
  • Communications between dock personnel and yard drivers.


2. Conducting vehicle inspections

Consistent vehicle inspections of yard trucks allow the driver to detect and correct safety deficiencies if operating in the yard or areas open to public travel. A few common mishaps due to skipped vehicle inspections can include:

  • Hydraulic leaks affecting power steering, the fifth wheel boom, and cab-jacking systems;
  • Emergency or parking brake failures; and
  • Fifth-wheel disconnects.


3. Coupling and uncoupling

After a proper inspection of the truck, and especially the fifth wheel, getting the vehicle into position for efficient coupling and uncoupling every time is no easy feat. Yard drivers must repeat this process many times per day without getting injured or damaging equipment. Mastering coupling and uncoupling can avoid mishaps like:

  • Unexpected disconnects of the trailer from the yard truck;
  • High hooks causing damage to the fifth wheel;
  • Damage to the air lines and the electrical cord; and
  • Slips and falls moving on and around the yard truck and trailers.


4. Maneuvering safely and making efficient use of yard space

Every yard is different, but a common cause of accidents in a yard is people hurrying to maximize productivity at the expense of safety. Safely maneuvering while making efficient use of yard space can avoid costly incidents such as:

  • Tip-overs due to turning too fast with the fifth-wheel boom and trailer raised too high;
  • Collisions with another vehicle or striking a pedestrian; and
  • Impacting a trailer, a building, or other structure due to not being aware of surroundings, yard congestion, or poorly spotted trailers.


5. Docking and undocking trailers

Yards and dock areas vary in the space available for docking and undocking trailers. Backing skills must be mastered to keep up as well as reduce driver stress and fatigue safely. Knowledge of dock safety procedures and skills to perform the following maneuvers must become second nature:

  • Straight-line backing,
  • Sight-side and blindside backing, and
  • Curved and offset backing.
Closing thoughts

Training your yard drivers in a structured program reduces potential liability and is an investment in safety, efficiency, and driver retention. The driver shortage may also require carriers to hire less qualified drivers than is desired. Targeted training at the time of hire, periodic refresher training, and remedial training to address deficiencies can keep your operation productive and staffed with quality drivers.

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