Your first step towards climbing into that shiny cab and hitting the superhighway is to make a stop at your local truck driving school. Like any other career, you simply must be taught the basics in order to perform at acceptable levels of skill. Who would want someone getting behind the wheel of 80,000 pounds of loaded truck and trailer without being taught and tested on the important safety and operability standards?
So what can you expect to learn in truck driving school?
What are your choices for truck driving schools?
How long will it take and how much will it cost?
Do those things get good gas mileage….?
Slow down Skippy, we’re getting there. Sit back grab a cup of Joe (that’s coffee for you uninformed, I mean we don’t actually want you to be grabbing Joes cup do we)?
Your answers are as follows:
You may have seen them advertised on late night tv, or caught glimpse of one of their training trucks on the highway as you made your way to work and wondered… Could I do that? Well your answer is yes, provided you get the right training. So where to start?
You basically have three choices when looking into your truck driving schools options. Private Schools, Technical/Community college courses, and Company sponsored and provided school.
Private schools are schools offered to the paying public. Like any other business they have to be concerned with making a profit to stay in business. The length of training tends to be shorter in order to maximize the effectiveness of training in the least amount of time. School lengths are typically in the three week range (full time option) more or less. These schools are usually more commercially advertised and may be the one you first become aware of. One key benefit is that classes start frequently so waiting for training may not be an issue. Private schools are usually the most costly of the three choices, typically setting you back on average between $3000-$5000 or more.
Technical schools/Community colleges are the second option. Many of these schools offer a vocational training course in commercial driving. These courses tend to be lengthier than private schools often lasting between eight to twelve weeks. They are also usually scheduled less frequently many times revolving around the typical college semester. A major benefit is the lower cost, many times in the $1500-$2500 range. An additional benefit is that these schools often have access to educational grants.
Finally we get to schools sponsored by the trucking companies themselves. It involves typically going through the pre-hiring process and showing up at a company sponsored training facility (usually one of the companies’ terminals). These arrangements typically involve the student signing a contract with the carrier to complete school and agree to work for the company (usually for a minimum of a year). Many times the training is provided without an upfront cost to the student. School can still cost the students, but usually the cost is deducted from a student’s weekly paycheck in increments. Many companies will reimburse the student provided they have stayed employed with them for the minimum amount of time. Reimbursement is typically the opposite of when they took pay out of your paycheck and involves the company putting small increments into your weekly pay after you have met your time of agreed upon employment with the company . This is often the arrangement that schools or companies use to advertise free truck driver training. There are companies out there who offer no upfront cost to obtaining the training, and as long as you stay with the company for the contract period you won’t be required to pay. Of course there is a cost to consider that most people miss. Unless you live down the street from this carrier’s training facilities you will be required to stay at a motel for lodging and pay for food. Some companies do have arrangements for reduced rates and some even provide lunches etc for a limited amount of time. However, you need to be aware of the fact that most will not consider you as employed until you complete and obtain your CDL class A license and as such you will be expected to pay some portion of food/lodging. So that is something you would need to factor into your cost of obtaining your Class A CDL. We are interviewing trucking companies and recruiters to provide more in depth information regarding this so stay tuned for that…
Company sponsored length of training varies, with some utilizing time spent out on the road after classroom as part of your training time. The biggest caveat is that these companies require you to stay in their employment for a certain length of time or you will be required to pay back immediately the cost of the training provided. In addition, you are signing a contract, not only for training and reimbursement but for employment as well. So if things don’t work out you may have difficulty getting employed at another carrier if they do not release you from the contract. So, this arrangement may not be a good option if you or the company decide you’re not a good match, or if you find something more lucrative or better suited prior to reaching the required time being met.
In all, you need to be aware of the fact that completing truck driving school does not mean that you are finished with learning anything. The primary purpose of any of these three schools is to prepare you to obtain your Class A CDL license from your state’s division of motor vehicle licensing. All recent graduates need to then complete training with a trainer at the company that hires them.
Of the three types of schools mentioned Private schools and Tech/Vocational schools often have full and part time programs. A good standard of measurement is a 160 hour course. Many employers will not look at anything less than that as acceptable training.
First is to take stock of what you have to work with. See what current savings and money that you can put aside in advance of attending school. Second, check with the prospective school about scholarships, grants, and loans that may be available. Consider some of the no up-front cost company sponsored training programs if money is tight. Check out our free in depth guide to saving money and boosting pay as a new truck driver.
Many truck driving schools will not be accredited. There is one body of certification through the Professional Truck Driving Institute (PTDI) out of Alexandria, Virginia. You may find some schools that are attached to the community college accredited.
PTDI suggests a minimum of 148 hours of instruction, with a minimum combination of 104 hours of classroom/lab instruction and 44 hours of driving time. In addition it is suggested to have a minimum of one hour of night driving and six hours of driving with a trailer loaded with at least 15,000 pounds.
This brings us to another important topic, time as a student spent driving. You should definitely put it on your list of things to ask a school prior to enrollment; how much time a student spends actually driving and not “behind the wheel”. Some schools are known to state behind the wheel time as an amount of hours that generally is not reflective of actual time spent driving. Some of this time is measured as time spent in observation while a fellow student spends their time behind the wheel with you watching from the sleeper compartment. In addition you want to find out the ratio of instructors per student while driving. Ideally it would be 1:1 which is one instructor per student driving and maximizes your learning while driving. The lower the ratio the better. Some schools are known to pile 4-5 students into a truck with one instructor, so just beware of this.
Schools are usually equipped with classrooms and driving ranges. Typically you will find the classrooms to be standard with audio visual equipment, white boards etc. In addition training devices will probably be utilized. You may even get lucky and find a training simulator that will be utilized. The outdoor driving range is where you learn basic maneuvering functions such as backing, parking, pre-trip inspections etc. For more details on curriculum see below. Break facilities and admin offices round out the typical set up. A plus is if the school has lunch facilities for the students. I always think about the food…!
Equipment utilized at the school will typically be older tractors and trailers. At least one used for on the road experience and testing should be in the 4-5 years old range. Expect that others used for range time could be older, and that is fine as long as all equipment is within safe and sound mechanical condition.
The first week (of a typical three week course) is usually spent in the classroom. This time is first spent with obtaining the CDL Class A permit. If you want to have the best advantage over any of the other students, you should prepare for this prior to arrival. Like any other new endeavor, stress will be involved and if you can do anything to alleviate that stress and put the odds in favor of your success you should. We have help available on this website for you to obtain your permit prior to arriving at school. It starts with obtaining your State’s CDL permit book and studying it. You can utilize the appropriate tools to obtain your CDL permit prior to arrival and thus check off one important factor in obtaining your license. Even if you decide not to go to your State’s DMV prior to school, you should still study and prepare yourself ahead of time thus making your first week a breeze. Many of the tools we offer are low cost and some are even free. A smart choice is to utilize several sources to study.
In addition, you need to complete a Department of Transportation (D.O.T.) physical to go with your permit. This medical card needs to be carried with you at all times. Further details of this physical exam are available on this website.
After obtaining your permit and completing your first week you typically move to the school’s outdoor range for pre-trip inspections, coupling and uncoupling of trailers, and backing maneuvers. Additional links are provided to you which will detail some of these options.
According to PTDI, Curriculum should cover the following:
· Basic operation of the Truck: Consisting of orientation, vehicle systems, vehicle inspections, basic control, shifting, backing and docking, and coupling and uncoupling
· Safe Operation: Visual search, vehicle communication, speed and space management
· Advanced operating practices: Night operation, extreme driving conditions, hazard perception, emergency maneuvers, skid control and recover, and railroad crossings.
· Vehicle systems and reporting malfunctions: Identifications and maintenance, and diagnosing and reporting malfunctions
· Non-Vehicle activities: Handling and documenting cargo, environmental issues, hours of service, accident procedures, managing life on the road, trip planning, and interpersonal communication skills.
Expect that you will start early in the morning and stay late. There is a lot of information to digest, be tested and trained on and time is therefore at a premium.
Well you most certainly will meet a diverse group of individuals of all ages and all walks of life who have made their way into entering this career field, just like yourself. It would behoove you to make friends and exchange email/ contact information prior to leaving school. These fellow students are your first support mechanism in this career and ones that you can bounce ideas off of and compare notes with. You would be surprised how many opportunities are to be had and information obtained with good networking.
In addition, most schools assist with job placement. In fact it should also be one of the benefits that you look for in selecting a potential school. You will most likely have recruiters who will give presentations on their company and info on their pay and benefits. Pay attention to these presentations, even if you don’t think you may be interested. It is beneficial to know what is out there and what is available for drivers.
Finally, if opportunity is given at the conclusion of the school, do offer your objective feedback. Try to be constructive in your critique and offer opportunities for the school to improve so that the drivers coming up behind you benefit from improved training and lessons. Sometimes they don’t know what is broken and can’t fix it if they aren’t aware that there is a problem.
In addition, be sure to pick up our FREE guides on:
7 Hacks for boosting pay as a new Truck Driver
Avoiding the 11 biggest mistakes before starting CDL School
And our Cheat sheet checklist of what to ask trucking company recruiters.