How to Decide on a Truck Driving School in District of Columbia
Best wishes on your decision to become a trucker and enroll in a trucking school in District of Columbia. Maybe it has always been your dream to hit the open road while driving a monster tractor trailer. Or maybe you have conducted some analysis and have discovered that a career as a truck driver offers excellent income and flexible job prospects. Whatever your reason is, it’s important to receive the appropriate training by picking the right CDL school in your area. When assessing your options, there are a number of variables that you’ll need to examine prior to making your final choice. Location will no doubt be an issue, especially if you have to commute from your residence. The expense will also be important, but selecting a school based only on price is not the best way to ensure you’ll receive the right education. Just remember, your objective is to master the knowledge and skills that will allow you to pass the CDL exams and become a professional truck driver. So keeping that purpose in mind, just how do you decide on a truck driving school? That is what we are going to discuss in the rest of this article. But first, we are going to discuss a little bit about which CDL license you will eventually need.
Which Commercial Drivers License Should You Get?
To operate commercial vehicles legally in District of Columbia and within the United States, an operator needs to obtain a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License). The 3 license classes that a driver can apply for are Class A, Class B and Class C. Since the topic of this article is how to pick a truck driver school, we will focus on Class A and 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). Below 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 greater 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 CDL is required to drive 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. Several of the vehicles that drivers may be qualified to operate 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 specific kinds of vehicles, such as passenger or school buses. And a Class A licensee, with the proper required endorsements, can operate any vehicle that a Class B license holder is qualified to operate.
How to Evaluate a Trucking School
After you have decided which Commercial Drivers License you want to pursue, you can begin the process of assessing the District of Columbia truck driver schools that you are considering. As already discussed, cost and location will no doubt be your initial considerations. But it can’t be emphasized enough that they should not be your sole concerns. Other variables, including the reputations of the schools or the experience of the instructors are equally or even more important. So below are several more points that you should research while conducting your due diligence before enrolling in, and especially paying for, your truck driving training.
Are the Schools Accredited or Certified ? Very few District of Columbia trucking schools are accredited due to the rigorous process and cost to the schools. On the other hand, certification is more prevalent and is offered by the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI). A school is not obligated to become certified, but there are certain advantages. Prospective students know that the training will be of the highest standard, and that they will receive lots of driving time. As an example, PTDI mandates 44 hours of actual driving time, not ride-alongs or simulations. So if a school’s course is certified (the course, not the school is certified), students know that the training and curriculum will fulfill the very high standards set by PTDI.
How Long in Business? One indicator to help assess the quality of a truck driving school is how long it has been in business. A negatively rated or a fly by night school typically will not be in business very long, so longevity is a plus. On the other hand, even the top District of Columbia schools had to begin from their opening day of training, so use it as one of several qualifications. You can also learn what the school’s history is relating to successful licensing and employment of its graduates. If a school won’t provide those numbers, look elsewhere. The schools should additionally have associations with local and national trucking firms. Having a large number of contacts not only points to a superior reputation within the trade, but also bolsters their job placement program for graduates. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to check with the District of Columbia licensing authority to verify that the CDL trucking schools you are researching are in compliance.
How Good is the Training? As a minimum requirement, the schools must be licensed in District of Columbia and hire instructors that are trained and experienced. We will talk more about the teachers in the following segment. Also, the student to instructor proportion should not be greater than 4 to 1. If it’s any higher, then students will not be obtaining the personalized instruction they will need. This is particularly true concerning the one-on-one instruction for behind the wheel training. And look out for any school that claims it can train you to be a truck driver in a relatively short time frame. Learning to be an operator and to drive a tractor trailer skillfully takes time. The majority of District of Columbia schools offer training courses that run from three weeks to as long as 2 months, depending on the class of license or kind of vehicle.
How Good are the Trainers? As previously mentioned, it’s essential that the instructors are trained to teach driving methods and experienced as both instructors and drivers. Even though several states have minimum driving time requirements to qualify as an instructor, the more professional driving experience a teacher has the better. It’s also vital that the instructors stay up to date with industry advancements or any new regulations or changes in existing laws. Assessing instructors might be a little more subjective than other criteria, and possibly the ideal approach is to visit the District of Columbia school and talk to the teachers in person. You can also speak with some of the students completing the training and find out if they are happy with the quality of instruction and the teacher’s qualification to train them.
How Much Driving Time? Above all else, an excellent truck driver school will furnish lots of driving time to its students. Besides, isn’t that what it’s all about? Driving time is the real time spent behind the wheel operating a truck. While the use of simulators and ride-a-longs with other students are important training tools, they are no substitute for actual driving. The more training that a student receives behind the wheel, the better driver he or she will become. Although driving time fluctuates between schools, a reasonable standard is a minimum of 32 hours. If the school is PTDI certified, it will provide at least 44 hours of driving time. Get in touch with the District of Columbia schools you are considering and find out how much driving time they provide.
Are they Independent or Captive ? It’s possible to obtain free or discounted training from some District of Columbia truck driver schools if you enter into an agreement to be a driver for a specific carrier for a defined amount of time. This is called contract training, and the schools that provide it are called captives. So rather than maintaining affiliations with many different 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. Naturally contract training has the potential to restrict your income opportunities when starting out. But for some it may be the only way to obtain affordable training. Just make sure to find out if the schools you are considering are independent or captive so that you can make an informed decision.
Is there Onsite CDL Testing? There are several states that will allow 3rd party CDL testing onsite of trucking schools for its students. If onsite testing is permitted in District of Columbia, ask if the schools you are looking at are DMV certified to provide it. One benefit is that it is more accommodating than battling with graduates from other schools for test times at District of Columbia testing centers. It is moreover an indicator that the DMV considers the authorized schools to be of a superior quality.
Are the Class Times Convenient? As formerly mentioned, truck driver training is only about 1 to 2 months long. With such a short duration, it’s essential that the District of Columbia school you enroll in provides flexibility for both the curriculum and the scheduling of classes. For example, if you’re having a hard time learning a certain driving maneuver, then the teacher should be prepared to dedicate more time with you until you are proficient. And if you’re still holding a job while going to training, then the class scheduling must be flexible enough to fit in working hours or other obligations.
Is Job Assistance Offered? Once you have attained your CDL license after graduating from trucking school, you will be eager to begin your new career in District of Columbia. Make sure that the schools you are contemplating have job placement programs. Ask what their job placement percentage is and what average salary their graduates start at. Also, find out which local and national trucking firms their graduates are referred to for hiring. If a school has a low job placement rate or few employers recruiting their graduates, it might be a sign to look elsewhere.
Is Financial Assistance Offered? Truck driving schools are similar to colleges and other vocational or trade schools when it comes to loans and other forms of financial aid being available. Find out if the schools you are evaluating have a financial aid department, or at a minimum someone who can help you understand the options and forms that must be submitted in District of Columbia.
Pick the Right CDL School
Selecting the appropriate truck driver school is an important first step to beginning your new occupation as a long distance or local truck driver. The skills that you will learn at school will be those that forge a new career behind the wheel. There are several options available and understanding them is crucial to a new driver’s success. 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 need to look into a captive school. You will pay a reduced or in some cases no tuition in exchange for driving for their contracted carrier. Or you can choose an independent school and have the option of driving for the trucking firm of your choice, or one of several associated with the school. It’s your choice. But no matter how you get your training, you will soon be part of an industry that helps America move as a professional truck driver in District of Columbia.