The Commercial Drivers License
In mountain driving, gravity plays a major role.
On any upgrade, gravity slows you down. The steeper the grade,
the longer the grade, and/or the heavier the load, the more you
will have to use lower gears to climb hills or mountains. In coming
down long steep downgrades, gravity causes the speed of your vehicle
to increase. You must select an appropriate safe speed, then use
a low gear, and use proper braking techniques.
You should plan ahead and obtain information about any long steep
grades along your planned route of travel. If possible, talk to
other drivers who are familiar with the grades to find out what
speeds are safe. You must go slow enough so your brakes can hold
you back without getting too hot. If the brakes become too hot,
they may start to “fade.” This means you have to apply them harder
and harder to getthe same stopping power. If you continue to use
the brakes hard, they can keep fading until you cannot slow down
or stop at all. Select a “Safe” Speed
Your most important consideration is to select a speed that is
not too fast for the:
• total weight of the vehicle and cargo
• length of the grade
• steepness of the grade
• road conditions
If a speed limit is posted, or there is a sign indicating “Maximum
Safe Speed,” never exceed the speed shown. Also, look for and heed
warning signs indicating the length and steepness of the grade.
You must use the braking effect of the engine as the principal
way of controlling your speed. The braking effect of the engine
is greatest when it is near the governed RPMs and the transmission
is in the lower gears.
Save your brakes so you will be able to slow or stop as required
by road and traffic conditions.
Be in the Right Gear Before Starting Down the Grade
Shift the transmission to a low gear before starting down the grade.
Do not try to downshift after your speed has already built up. You
will not be able to shift into a lower gear. You may not even be
able to get back into any gear and all engine braking effect
will be lost. Forcing an automatic transmission into a lower gear
at high speed could damage the transmission and also lead to loss
of all engine braking effect. With older trucks, a rule for choosing
gears is to use the same gear going down a hill that you would need
to climb the hill. However, new trucks have low friction parts and
streamlined shapes for fuel economy. They may also have more powerful
engines. This means they can go up hills in higher gears and have
less friction and air drag to hold them back going down hills. For
that reason, drivers of modern trucks may have to use lower gears
going down a hill than would be required to go up the hill. You
should know what is right for your vehicle.
Brake Fading or Failure Brakes are designed so brake shoes or pads
rub against the brake drum or disks to slow the vehicle. Braking
creates heat, but brakes are designed to take a lot of heat. However,
brakes can fade or fail from excessive heat caused by using them
too much and not relying on the engine braking effect. Brake fade
is also affected by adjustment. To safely control a vehicle, every
brake must do its share of the work. Brakes out of adjustment will
stop doing their share before those that are in adjustment. The
other brakes can then overheat and fade, and there will not be enough
braking available to control the vehicle. Brakes can get out of
adjustment quickly, especially when they are used a lot; also, brake
linings wear faster when they are hot. Therefore, brake adjustment
must be checked frequently.
Proper Braking Technique
Remember: The use of brakes on a long and/or steep downgrade is
only a supplement to the braking effect of the engine. Once the
vehicle is in the proper low gear, the following is a proper braking
1. Apply the brakes just hard enough to feel
a definite slowdown.
2. When your speed has been reduced to approximately
5 m.p.h. below your “safe” speed, release the brakes. (This brake
application should last for about three (3) seconds.)
3. When your speed has increased to your
“safe” speed, repeat steps 1 and 2. For example, if your “safe”
speed is 40 m.p.h., you would not apply the brakes until your speed
reaches 40 m.p.h. You now apply the brakes hard enough to gradually
reduce your speed to 35 m.p.h. and then release the brakes. Repeat
this as often as necessary until you have reached the end of the
Escape ramps have been built on many steep mountain grades.
Escape ramps are made to stop runaway vehicles safely without injuring
drivers and passengers. Escape ramps use a long bed of loose soft
material (pea gravel) to slow a runaway vehicle, sometimes in combination
with an upgrade. Know escape ramp locations on your route. Signs
show drivers where ramps are located. Escape ramps save lives, equipment,
and cargo. Use them if you lose your brakes.