Mountain Driving 101: Video series guides truck drivers in the mountains

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Drivers exposed to long mountain grades for the first time face a dilemma. They may not be aware of the physical limitations of their equipment to keep them at a safe speed during the descent. They probably won’t be aware of the profile of the grade, or where the steeper sections are, so they won’t be able to determine a safe speed for the descent.

(Photo: Volvo Trucks North America)

They may also be led down a dangerous path by observing the speed of other trucks on the hill. Those trucks may be empty or loaded lightly compared to their own truck. If they follow the guidance found in many commercial driver training manuals, they may under the assumption that snubbing the brakes or maintaining a constant light brake application pressure is the correct way to descend a grade.

That’s fine on short grades where minor speed corrections are necessary, but prolonged use of service brakes on long grades will lead to overheating and brake fade — a condition from which there’s no turning back.

And then there’s old adage, “come down the hill in the same gear you went up.” Well, that’s not much use to you if you never climbed that hill before. And will today’s engines with all their torque and horsepower, you’ll be climbing faster than you should be descending anyway. Forget what you think you know about driving in mountains. This video series explains how it should be done.

Mountain Driving 101 — a four-part training series produced by Today’s Trucking, and sponsored by Volvo Trucks North America — explains how to safely descend any grade without using any service brake at all, relying instead on the correct gear selection and proper use of the engine brake.

The series is split into four episodes for easier consumption and better retention. Each covers a specific topic related to the subject of mountain driving.   

Episode 1 explains the fundamentals of how brakes work, why they get hot and how that affects braking performance.

Episode 2 covers the brake walk-around drivers should conduct to verify the brakes are in good working order before heading down a long steep grade.

Episode 3 offers a deeper understanding of the warning signs commonly found on roads in mountainous areas, as well as the proper operation of a Volvo I-Shift automated transmission and the Volvo engine brake to maintain a safe speed during a descent.

Episode 4 brings together all that insight for a drive down a 6-mile (10 km) 7% grade called the Blueberry-Paulson Hill, located in the Kootenay Mountains near Castlegar, B.C..

Our mountain driving instructor, Andy Roberts, brings more than 30 years of mountain driving experience to this production. He’s the owner and president of the Castlegar-based commercial vehicle driving school, Mountain Transport Institute. He has been instructing his students in proper mountain driving techniques for more than 15 years.

  • Newcom Media thanks Volvo Truck North America for supporting this video and helping to make mountain driving a safer and more enjoyable experience.
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Jim Park was a CDL driver and owner-operator from 1978 until 1998, when he began his second career as a trucking journalist. During that career transition, he hosted an overnight radio show on a Hamilton, Ontario radio station and later went on to anchor the trucking news in SiriusXM's Road Dog Trucking channel. Jim is a regular contributor to Today's Trucking and, and produces Focus On and On the Spot test drive videos.

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  • Hi-A “professional” driver selects a prudent combination of gear choice-“light” brake application & retarder on any grade and respect for adverse road environment. 60 years in the industry and appalled by todays commercial accident’s happening to often. – Thanks – John W. Vancouver, BC.

  • this is a well done an practical set of videos that every fleet should make a part of their training program. Both Jim Park and Andy Roberts do a very professional and informative ‘REAL LIFE’ presentation.
    All our drivers get trained and mentored for working through this area. This is our ‘neighbourhood’ that we operate in regularly. If you can drive the Kootenays , you’re GOLDEN.

  • After 28 years OTR I thought I knew my mountain driving skills… then my employer (Carbon Express) sent a small group to ANDY for training… my world changed 150% after the mountain driving course… what an incredible amount of knowledge and practical application!! I’ve spent the last 2 years using all of the (proper) techniques to descend mountain grades and have never felt safer or more professional on the descent… brakes are my tools… but my skill &knieledge of how to PROPERLY descend are the icing on my career… this course was outstanding!!

  • Hi Jim and Andy, These videos are much needed in the industry. Congratulations on the content and the simple direct way the message is delivered. Well done. We will share them with some CDL schools in the US. Brian