How to Choose a Truck Driver School in Tennessee
Best wishes on your decision to become a truck driver and enroll in a CDL school in Tennessee. Maybe it has always been your dream to hit the open road while operating a big ole tractor trailer. Or perhaps you have conducted some research and have found that an occupation as a truck driver provides excellent pay and flexible work prospects. Whatever your reason is, it’s important to obtain the proper training by picking the right CDL school in your area. When evaluating your options, there are various variables that you’ll need to think about prior to making your ultimate selection. Location will undoubtedly be an issue, especially if you need to commute from your residence. The expense will also be important, but choosing a school based solely on price is not the best way to make sure you’ll obtain the right training. Just remember, your goal is to learn the skills and knowledge 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 remainder of this article. But first, we are going to talk a little bit about which commercial driver’s license you will eventually need.
Which CDL Will You Require?
To operate commercial vehicles legally in Tennessee and within the United States, a driver must get a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License). The 3 classes of licenses that a driver can qualify for are Class A, Class B and Class C. Given that the topic of this article is how to select a truck driver school, we will focus on Class A and B licenses. What differentiates each class of CDL is the kind of vehicle that the driver can operate in addition to the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) or GCWR (Gross Combination Weight Rating). Following are brief descriptions for the 2 classes.
Class A CDL. A Class A CDL is needed to operate any vehicle that has a GCWR of greater than 26,000 lbs., including a towed vehicle of greater than 10,000 lbs. A few 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 Commercial Drivers License is required to drive single vehicles having a GVWR of greater 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 Commercial Drivers Licenses might also require endorsements to drive certain kinds of vehicles, including school or passenger buses. And a Class A licensee, with the proper required endorsements, can operate any vehicle that a Class B licensee is qualified to drive.
How to Research a CDL School
After you have decided which Commercial Drivers License you would like to obtain, you can begin the process of assessing the Tennessee truck driver schools that you are considering. As already mentioned, location and cost will no doubt be your initial considerations. But it can’t be stressed enough that they must not be your only considerations. Other variables, including the experience of the instructors or the reputations of the schools are similarly or even more important. So following are some additional factors that you need to research while performing your due diligence before choosing, and especially paying for, your truck driving training.
Are the Schools Accredited or Certified ? Very few Tennessee truck driving schools are accredited because of the demanding process and expense to the schools. On the other hand, certification is more common and is offered by the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI). A school is not obligated to become certified, but there are several advantages. Potential students know that the training will be of the highest standard, and that they will receive an ample amount of driving time. As an example, PTDI requires 44 hours of real 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 satisfy the very high benchmarks set by PTDI.
How Long in Business? One clue to help assess the quality of a trucking school is how long it has been in business. A negatively ranked or a fly by night school typically will not stay in business very long, so longevity is a plus. Having said that, even the top Tennessee schools had to begin from their opening day of training, so consider it as one of multiple qualifiers. You can also find out what the school’s track record is relating to successful licensing and job placement of its graduates. If a school won’t share those stats, look elsewhere. The schools should also maintain associations with regional and national trucking companies. Having a large number of contacts not only affirms a superior reputation within the industry, but also bolsters their job assistance program for graduates. It also wouldn’t hurt to get in touch with the Tennessee licensing department to make sure that the CDL trucker schools you are researching are in good standing.
How Effective is the Training? As a minimum requirement, the schools must be licensed in Tennessee and hire instructors that are experienced and trained. We will discuss more about the teachers in the next section. Also, the student to instructor proportion should not be greater than 4 to 1. If it’s any greater, then students will not be getting the personalized attention 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 professes it can teach you to be a truck driver in a comparatively short period of time. Learning to be an operator and to drive a tractor trailer skillfully takes time. Most Tennessee schools offer training courses that run from three weeks to as long as 2 months, based on the class of license or type of vehicle.
How Experienced are the Trainers? As earlier stated, it’s imperative that the teachers are trained to teach driving methods and experienced as both drivers and instructors. Even though a number of states have minimum driving time prerequisites to be certified as an instructor, the more successful driving experience an instructor has the better. It’s also vital that the teachers stay current with industry advancements or any new laws or changes in regulations. Evaluating teachers might be a little more subjective than other criteria, and perhaps the best method is to pay a visit to the Tennessee school and talk to the instructors face to face. You can also talk to a few of the students going through the training and find out if they are satisfied with the level of instruction and the teacher’s ability to train them.
Enough Driving Time? Most importantly, a good truck driving school will furnish plenty of driving time to its students. Besides, isn’t that what it’s all about? Driving time is the actual time spent behind the wheel operating a truck. Even though the use of simulators and ride-a-longs with other students are necessary training methods, they are no replacement for real driving. The more training that a student receives behind the wheel, the better driver he or she will be. And even though driving time differs among schools, a good benchmark is a minimum of 32 hours. If the school is PTDI certified, it will provide a minimum of 44 hours of driving time. Get in touch with the Tennessee schools you are considering and ask how much driving time they furnish.
Are they Independent or Captive ? You can obtain discounted or even free training from certain Tennessee truck driving schools if you enter into an agreement to drive for a specified carrier for a defined time period. This is referred to as contract training, and the schools that offer it are called captives. So instead of having affiliations with a wide range of trucking lines that they can refer their students to, captives only refer to one company. The tradeoff is receiving less expensive or even free training by surrendering the freedom to initially be a driver wherever you have an opportunity. Clearly contract training has the potential to restrict your income opportunities when starting out. But for some it may be the only way to receive affordable training. Just make sure to ask if the schools you are contemplating are captive or independent so that you can make an informed decision.
Provide CDL Testing Onsite? There are some states that will permit third party CDL testing onsite of truck driving schools for its graduates. If onsite testing is available in Tennessee, find out if the schools you are reviewing are DMV certified to offer it. One benefit is that it is more convenient than competing with graduates of competing schools for test times at Tennessee testing facilities. It is also an indicator that the DMV deems the authorized schools to be of a superior quality.
Are the Class Times Flexible? As previously mentioned, CDL training is just one to two months long. With such a short duration, it’s important that the Tennessee school you enroll in offers flexibility for both the scheduling of classes and the curriculum. As an example, if you’re having a hard time learning a certain 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 going to training, then the class scheduling must be flexible enough to fit in working hours or other commitments.
Is Job Assistance Provided? As soon as you have acquired your commercial driver’s license after graduating from truck driving school, you will be impatient to begin your new career in Tennessee. Verify that the schools you are reviewing have job placement programs. Ask what their job placement ratio is and what average salary their grads start at. Also, find out which local and national trucking firms their graduates are referred to for hiring. If a school has a lower job placement rate or few employers hiring their grads, it might be a sign to look elsewhere.
Is Financial Aid Provided? Truck driving schools are comparable to colleges and other trade or technical schools when it comes to loans and other forms of financial assistance being offered. Ask if the schools you are reviewing have a financial aid department, or at least someone who can help you get through the options and forms that need to be completed in Tennessee.
Pick the Best Truck Driver School
Picking the right trucking school is a critical first step to beginning your new occupation as a local or long distance truck driver. The skill sets taught at school will be those that mold a new career behind the wheel. There are several options offered and understanding them is crucial to a new driver’s success. Most importantly, you must get the necessary training in order to operate a large commercial vehicle in a professional and safe fashion. If you are lacking money or financing, you may need to consider a captive school. You will pay a reduced or even no tuition by agreeing to drive for their contracted carrier. Or you can select an independent school and have the the freedom to drive for the trucking company of your choosing, or one of several affiliated with the school. It’s your decision. But no matter how you receive your training, you will in the near future be part of an industry that helps our country move as a professional truck driver in Tennessee.