CDL Truck Driver Schools

How to Choose a Truck Driving School

CDL truck driving schoolCongratulations on your decision to become a trucker and enroll in a trucking school.  Perhaps it has always been your dream to hit the open road while operating a big ole tractor trailer.  Or maybe you have done some research and have discovered that a career as a truck driver offers good pay and flexible job opportunities.  Whatever your reason, it’s important to get the proper training by choosing the right CDL school in your area.  When evaluation your options, there are certain factors that you’ll want to consider before making your final selection.  Location will no doubt be important, especially if you need to commute from your {city} home.  The cost will also be important, but choosing a school based solely on price is not the best way to ensure you’ll receive the right education.  Just remember, your objective is to learn the knowledge and skills that will allow you to pass the CDL exams and become a professional truck driver.  So keeping that goal in mind, just how do you choose a truck driving school?  That is what we are going to cover in the rest of this article.  But first, we are going to talk a little bit about which commercial driver’s license you will ultimately need.

Which CDL Do You Need?

tractor trailerIn order to drive commercial vehicles legally within the United States, an operator must obtain a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License).  The three classes of licenses that one can apply for are Class A, Class B and Class C.  Since the topic of this article is how to pick a truck driving school, we will focus on Class A and Class B licenses.  What distinguishes each class of CDL is the type of vehicle that the driver can operate as well as the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) or GCWR (Gross Combination Weight Rating).  Following are brief descriptions for the two classes.

Class A CDL.  A Class A CDL is required to operate any vehicle that has a GCWR of more than 26,000 lbs., including a towed vehicle of greater than 10,000 lbs.  Some of the vehicles that operators may be able to drive with Class A licenses are:

  • Interstate or Intrastate Tractor Trailers
  • Trucks with Double or Triple Trailers
  • Tanker Trucks
  • Livestock Carriers
  • Class B and Class C Vehicles

Class B CDL.  A Class B CDL is required to operate single vehicles having a GVWR of more than 26,000 lbs., or a GCWR of more than 26,000 lbs. including a towed vehicle weighing up to 10,000 lbs.  Some of the vehicles that operators may be qualified to drive with Class B licenses are:

  • Tractor Trailers
  • Dump Trucks
  • Cement Mixers
  • Large Buses
  • Class C Vehicles

Both Class A and Class B CDLs may also require endorsements to operate certain types of vehicles, such as passenger or school buses.  And a Class A license holder, with the proper needed endorsements, may operate any vehicle that a Class B license holder is qualified to operate.

How to Evaluate a Trucking School

tractor truckOnce you have decided which CDL you want to pursue, you can begin the process of evaluating the commercial driver’s license schools you are considering.  As previously mentioned, location and cost will no doubt be your initial concerns.  But it can’t be stressed enough that they should not be your only considerations.  Other factors, such as the reputation of the school or the experience of the instructors are equally if not more important.  So following are some additional things that you need to research while performing your due diligence before enrolling in, and especially paying for, your truck driver training.

Are the Schools Certified or Accredited?  Very few truck driving schools are accredited due to the rigorous process and expense to the schools.  However, certification is more prevalent and is offered by the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI).  A school is not required to become certified, but there are certain advantages.  Potential students know that the training will be of the highest quality, and that they will receive plenty of driving time.  For example, PTDI requires 44 hours of actual driving time, not simulation or ride-alongs.  So if a school’s course is certified (the course, not the school is certified), students know that the curriculum and training will meet the very high standards set by PTDI.

How Long in Business?  One indicator to measure the quality of a truck driving school is how long it has been in business.  A poorly rated or fly by night operation typically will not be in business very long, so longevity is a plus.  However, even the best of schools had to start from their first day of training, so use it as one of several qualifiers.  You can also find out what the school’s track record is regarding successful licensing and employment of its graduating students.  If a school won’t provide those numbers, look elsewhere.  The schools should also have relationships with local and national trucking firms.  Having numerous contacts not only confirms a quality reputation within the industry, but bolsters their job placement program for students.  It also wouldn’t hurt to check with the state licensing authority to confirm that the CDL trucking schools you are considering are in good standing.

How Good is the Training?  At a minimum, the schools should be licensed and employ instructors that are trained and experienced.  We will discuss more about the instructors in the next segment.  In addition, the student to instructor ratio should be no higher than 4 to 1.  If it’s any higher, then students will not be receiving the personal attention they will need.  This is particularly true concerning the one-on-one instruction for behind the wheel training.  And watch out for any school that claims it can teach you to be a truck driver in a relatively short period of time.  Learning to be a truck driver and to drive a tractor trailer professionally takes time.  The majority of schools offer  training programs that run from 3 weeks to as long as 2 months, depending on the class of license or type of vehicle.

How Good are the Instructors?  As previously stated, it’s important that the instructors are trained to teach driving techniques and experienced as both drivers and instructors.  Although several states have minimum driving time requirements to qualify as an instructor, the more successful driving experience an instructor has the better.  It’s also important that the instructors stay current with industry developments or any new laws or changes in regulations.  Evaluating instructors may be a little more subjective than other standards, and perhaps the best method is to visit the school and speak with the instructors in person.  You can also talk to some of the students going through the training and find out if they are happy with the level of instruction and the teacher’s ability to train them.

How Much Driving Time?  Above all else, a good truck driving school will provide plenty of driving time to its students.  After all, isn’t that what it’s all about?  Driving time is the actual time spent behind the wheel driving a truck.  Although the use of simulators and ride-alongs with other students are important training tools, they are no substitute for actual driving.  The more instruction that a student receives behind the wheel the better driver he or she will become.  Although driving time varies among schools, a good benchmark is a minimum of 32 hours.  If the school is PTDI certified, it will provide at least 44 hours of driving time.  Check with the schools you are considering and find out how much driving time they provide.

Are they Independent or Captive?  It’s possible to receive free or discounted training from some truck driver schools if you make a commitment to drive for a specific carrier for a defined period of time.  This is called contract training, and the schools that offer it are referred to as captives.  So instead of having relationships with numerous trucking lines that they can refer their students to, captives only refer to one company.  The tradeoff is receiving free or less expensive training by giving up the freedom to initially work wherever you choose.  Obviously contract training has the potential to limit your income opportunities when starting out.  But for some it may be the best way to receive affordable training.  Just be sure you to find out if the schools you are considering are independent or captive so that you can make an informed decision.

Onsite CDL Testing?  There are some states that will allow 3rd party CDL testing onsite of trucking schools for its graduates.  If onsite testing is allowed in your state, find out if the schools you are looking at are DMV certified to offer it.  One advantage is that it is more convenient than competing with graduates from other schools for testing times at state testing facilities.  But it is also an indication that the DMV considers the approved schools to be of a higher quality.

Are the Classes Flexible?  As previously noted, CDL training is only about 1 to 2 months in length.  With such a short term, it’s important that the school you enroll in offers flexibility for both the curriculum and the scheduling of classes.   For example, if you’re having difficulty learning a certain driving maneuver, then the instructor should be willing to dedicate more time with you until it’s mastered.  And if you’re still working while attending training, then the class scheduling needs to be flexible enough to accommodate working hours or other obligations.

Is Job Placement Assistance Provided?  Once you have obtained your commercial driver’s license after graduating from truck driving school, you will be anxious to start your new career.  Verify that the schools you are considering have job placement assistance programs.  Ask what their job placement rate is and what average salary their graduates start at.  Also, find out which local and national trucking companies their graduates are referred to for hiring.  If a school has a low job placement rate or few employers recruiting their graduates, it may be a sign to look elsewhere.

Is Financial Assistance Provided?  Truck driving schools are similar to colleges and other trade or technical schools where loans and other forms of financial aid are often available.  Find out if the schools you are evaluating have a financial aid department, or at least someone who can help you navigate the options and forms that need to be completed.

Choose the Right CDL School

tanker truckChoosing the right trucking school in your area is a critical first step to starting your new career as a local or long distance truck driver.  Most importantly, you must receive the proper training in order to operate a large commercial vehicle in a safe and professional manner.  If you are short on funds or financing, you may want to consider a captive school.  You will pay a reduced or even no tuition in exchange for driving for their contracted carrier.  Or you can enroll in an independent school and have the option of driving for the trucking company of your choice, or one of many affiliated with the school.  It’s your choice.  But no matter how you obtain your training, you will soon be entering an industry that helps America move as a professional trucker.