How to Pick a CDL Training School in Alabama
Best wishes on your decision to become a trucker and enroll in a CDL school in Alabama. Maybe it has always been your goal to hit the open highway while driving a monster tractor trailer. Or perhaps you have done some analysis and have discovered that a career as a truck driver provides good wages and flexible job prospects. Regardless of what your reason is, it’s essential to obtain the proper training by choosing the right CDL school in your area. When evaluating your options, there are certain variables that you’ll want to think about before making your final choice. Location will no doubt be important, particularly if you have to commute from your residence. The expense will also be important, but selecting a school based exclusively on price is not the ideal means to make certain you’ll get the appropriate education. Just remember, your goal is to master the skills and knowledge that will allow you to pass the CDL examinations and become a professional truck driver. So keeping that purpose in mind, just how do you pick a truck driving school? The answer to that question is what we are going to cover in the remainder 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 Will You Need?
To drive commercial vehicles legally in Alabama and within the USA, an operator must get a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License). The 3 license classes that a driver can apply for are Class A, Class B and Class C. Given that the subject of this article is how to pick a truck driving school, we will discuss Class A and Class B licenses. What differentiates each class of CDL is the type of vehicle that the driver can operate in addition to the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) or GCWR (Gross Combination Weight Rating). Following are short summaries for the two classes.
Class A CDL. A Class A Commercial Drivers License is required to drive any vehicle that has a GCWR of more than 26,000 lbs., including a towed vehicle of more than 10,000 lbs. Several of the vehicles that drivers may be able to operate 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 Commercial Drivers License is needed to drive single vehicles having a GVWR of more than 26,000 lbs., or a GCWR of greater 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 Commercial Drivers Licenses may also require endorsements to operate certain types of vehicles, for example passenger or school buses. And a Class A license holder, with the proper required endorsements, may drive any vehicle that a Class B licensee is qualified to drive.
How to Evaluate a CDL School
As soon as you have determined which Commercial Drivers License you would like to pursue, you can begin the undertaking of evaluating the Alabama truck driver schools that you are considering. As earlier discussed, location and cost will certainly be your initial concerns. But it can’t be emphasized enough that they must not be your sole concerns. Other issues, including the reputations of the schools or the experience of the instructors are similarly if not more important. So following are some more things that you should research while carrying out your due diligence before selecting, and particularly paying for, your truck driver training.
Are the Schools Accredited or Certified ? Not many Alabama truck driving schools are accredited because of the demanding process and expense to the schools. However, certification is more common and is offered by the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI). A school is not required to become certified, but there are several advantages. Potential students recognize that the training will be of the highest caliber, and that they will get lots of driving time. For example, PTDI requires 44 hours of actual driving time, not simulations or ride-alongs. So if a school’s program is certified (the program, not the school is certified), students know that the curriculum and training will measure up to the very high benchmarks set by PTDI.
How Long in Business? One indicator to help evaluate the quality of a truck driving school is how long it has been in operation. A poorly ranked or a fly by night school usually will not stay in business very long, so longevity is a plus. Having said that, even the top Alabama schools had to begin from their opening day of training, so consider it as one of multiple qualifications. You can also ask what the school’s history is regarding successful licensing and employment of its graduating students. If a school won’t supply those numbers, search elsewhere. The schools should also have relationships with regional and national trucking companies. Having numerous contacts not only confirms a quality reputation within the profession, but also boosts their job placement program for graduates. It also wouldn’t hurt to check with the Alabama licensing authority to make sure that the CDL trucking schools you are considering are in good standing.
How Good is the Training? As a minimum requirement, the schools should be licensed in Alabama and hire teachers that are trained and experienced. We will cover more about the instructors in the next section. Also, the student to instructor ratio should be no higher than 4 to 1. If it’s any higher, then students will not be getting the personalized instruction they will need. This is particularly true concerning the one-on-one instruction for behind the wheel training. And be critical of any school that insists it can train you to drive trucks in a relatively short time frame. Training to be an operator and to drive a tractor trailer professionally takes time. The majority of Alabama schools provide training courses that range from 3 weeks to as long as two months, depending on the class of license or type of vehicle.
How Good are the Teachers? As previously mentioned, it’s imperative that the teachers are qualified to teach driving methods and experienced as both instructors and drivers. Even though several states have minimum driving time prerequisites to be certified as a teacher, the more professional driving experience a teacher has the better. It’s also important that the teachers stay current with industry developments or any new laws or changes in regulations. Assessing teachers may be a little more subjective than other standards, and possibly the ideal approach is to pay a visit to the Alabama school and speak with the instructors face to face. You can also talk to a few of the students going through the training and ask if they are happy with the quality of instruction and the teacher’s qualification to train them.
Adequate Driving Time? Most importantly, a good trucking school will provide sufficient driving time to its students. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about? Driving time is the real time spent behind the wheel driving a truck. Even though the use of ride-a-longs with other students and simulators are important training tools, they are no substitute for real driving. The more training that a student gets behind the wheel, the better driver he or she will become. Although driving time differs between schools, a good benchmark is a minimum of 32 hours. If the school is PTDI certified, it will furnish no less than 44 hours of driving time. Check with the Alabama schools you are researching and ask how much driving time they provide.
Are they Captive or Independent ? You can get discounted or even free training from some Alabama truck driving schools if you make a commitment to be a driver for a specific carrier for a defined period of time. This is what’s known as contract training, and the schools that provide it are called captives. So instead of maintaining relationships with numerous trucking lines that they can refer their students to, captives only refer to one company. The benefit is receiving free or less expensive training by surrendering the flexibility to initially be a driver wherever you have an opportunity. Clearly contract training has the potential to restrict your income prospects when starting out. But for many it may be the only way to get affordable training. Just make sure to find out if the schools you are looking at are captive or independent so that you can make an informed decision.
Is there Onsite CDL Testing? There are some states that will permit 3rd party CDL testing onsite of truck driving schools for its grads. If onsite testing is permitted in Alabama, ask if the schools you are considering are DMV certified to provide it. One benefit is that it is more convenient than competing with graduates of competing schools for test times at Alabama testing locations. It is also an indicator that the DMV deems the authorized schools to be of a higher quality.
Are the Classes Accessible? As formerly mentioned, truck driver training is just 1 to 2 months long. With such a short duration, it’s imperative that the Alabama school you select provides flexibility for both the curriculum and the scheduling of classes. As an example, if you’re having a hard time learning a particular driving maneuver, then the teacher should be willing to devote more time with you until you are proficient. And if you’re still employed while attending training, then the class scheduling must be flexible enough to accommodate working hours or other obligations.
Is Job Placement Offered? Once you have obtained your CDL license after graduating from truck driver school, you will be anxious to begin your new career in Alabama. Verify that the schools you are contemplating have job placement programs. Find out what their job placement percentage is and what average salary their grads start at. Also, find out which local and national trucking firms their graduates are placed with for hiring. If a school has a low job placement rate or few employers recruiting their grads, it might be a clue to search elsewhere.
Is Financial Assistance Available? Truck driving schools are much like colleges and other vocational or trade schools when it comes to loans and other forms of financial assistance being available. Ask if the schools you are assessing have a financial aid department, or at least someone who can help you get through the options and forms that need to be submitted in Alabama.
Choose the Best Truck Driving School
Picking the ideal truck driving school is a critical first step to beginning your new profession as a local or long distance truck driver. The skill sets that you will learn at school will be those that shape a new career behind the wheel. There are many options available and understanding them is critical to a new driver’s success. Most importantly, you must get the necessary training in order to drive a big commercial vehicle in a professional and safe manner. If you are lacking money or financing, you may want to think about a captive school. You will pay a lower or in some cases no tuition in exchange for driving for their contracted carrier. Or you can select an independent school and have the the freedom to drive for the trucking firm of your choice, or one of several affiliated with the school. It’s your decision. But no matter how you get your training, you will in the near future be entering an industry that helps America move as a professional truck driver in Alabama.