What Duties Does the Alabama CDL Manual Create for Drivers?
The Alabama Department of Public Safety has adopted the Alabama Commercial Driver’s License Manual as a mechanism to train prospective commercial drivers. It has not been adopted by the legislature and is not state law. Where it conflicts with either the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations or the Alabama Rules of the Road, those laws apply over and above any recommendation made in the Alabama CDL Manual. In fact if asked, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency will inform an inquirer that the Alabama CDL Manual should be thought of as “guidelines,” as opposed to mandatory regulations.
For example, in a recent case, I represented a truck driver who passed a passenger vehicle on a rural two-lane road in a passing zone. The truck driver did not honk when he began his passing maneuver. During the course of the passing action, the passenger vehicle entered the opposite-bound lane of travel the truck was occupying and struck the truck. The “failure” to honk was not in compliance with the recommendation made in the Alabama CDL Manual, which states: “When Passing. Whenever you are about to pass a vehicle, pedestrian, or bicyclist, assume they don’t see you. They could suddenly move in front of you. When it is legal, tap the horn lightly or, at night, flash your lights from low to high beam and back. And, drive carefully enough to avoid a crash even if they don’t see or hear you.” AL CDL Manual § 2.5.2. That same section also reads, “Use Your Horn When Needed. Your horn can let others know you’re there. It can help to avoid a crash. Use your horn when needed. However, it can startle others and could be dangerous when used unnecessarily.” AL CDL Manual § 2.5.2.
The Alabama Rules of the Road do not mandate that a driver honk when passing another vehicle going in the same direction. Alabama Code (1975) § 32-5A-82(2) requires the following: “Except when overtaking and passing on the right is permitted, the driver of an overtaken vehicle shall give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle on audible signal and shall not increase the speed of his or her vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle.” Only if, the passing driver gives an audible signal notifying the other driver of his intent to pass is the other driver under an obligation to yield to the passing vehicle. Likewise, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations do not address a driver’s obligation to honk, and only state that a driver is subject to state laws governing the operation of a vehicle. See 49 C.F.R. § 355.1, et seq.
Therefore, because no law adopted by the legislature creates a duty for a passing driver to honk, no such duty exists. The Alabama CDL Manual cannot create a duty that does not otherwise exist. For example, a violation of the Rules of the Road constitutes negligence per se or contributory negligence per se. See Allman v. Beam, 130 So. 2d 194, 196 (Ala. 1961) (Holding that “the violation of a statute designed for the protection of a person claiming to have been injured by reason of such violation, is negligence per se, or negligence as a matter of law.”). But there is no jury instruction, case law, or statute making the same mandate of a “violation” of one of the guidelines contained in the Alabama CDL Manual, therefore it cannot create any additional duties on commercial drivers.
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