How to Find the Best Truck Driver Classes near Birmingham Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to become a truck driver and enroll in a truck driving school near Birmingham AL. Perhaps it has always been your ambition to hit the open road while operating a monster tractor trailer. Or perhaps you have done some analysis and have discovered that an occupation as a truck driver offers good pay and flexible work prospects. No matter what your reason is, it's important to obtain the appropriate training by picking the right CDL school in your area. When evaluating your options, there are several variables that you'll want to consider before making your final selection. Location will undoubtedly be important, especially if you have to commute from your Birmingham residence. The expense will also be of importance, but selecting a school based entirely on price is not the optimal way to make sure you'll receive the appropriate training. Don't forget, your goal 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 target in mind, just how do you select a truck driving school? That is what we are going to cover in the remainder of this article. But first, we are going to review a little bit about which CDL license you will ultimately need.
Which CDL Should You Get?
In order to operate commercial vehicles legally within the United States and Birmingham AL, a driver needs to obtain a CDL (Commercial Driver's License). The 3 classes of licenses that a driver can apply for are Class A, Class B and Class C. Given that the subject of this article is how to choose a truck driver school, we will discuss Class A and B licenses. What differentiates each class of CDL is the type of vehicle that the driver can operate together with 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 greater than 10,000 lbs. A few 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 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 need endorsements to drive certain types of vehicles, including school or passenger buses. And a Class A licensee, with the proper required endorsements, can drive any vehicle that a Class B license holder is qualified to drive.
How to Research a Truck Driver School
Once you have decided which Commercial Drivers License you wish to obtain, you can begin the process of researching the Birmingham AL truck driver schools that you are considering. As earlier mentioned, cost and location will undoubtedly be your initial considerations. But it can't be emphasized enough that they must not be your sole concerns. Other variables, including the reputations of the schools or the experience of the instructors are similarly if not more important. So below are some more things that you need to research while carrying out your due diligence prior to choosing, and especially paying for, your truck driving training.
Are the Schools Accredited or Certified ? Not many truck driver schools in the Birmingham AL area are accredited due to the demanding process and expense to the schools. However, certification is more prevalent and is provided by the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI). A school is not obligated to become certified, but there are several advantages. Interested students know that the training will be of the highest quality, and that they will receive an ample amount of driving time. For example, PTDI calls for 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 curriculum and training will comply with the very high standards set by PTDI.
How Long in Business? One indicator to help evaluate the quality of a truck driver school is how long it has been in business. A negatively reviewed or a fly by night school usually will not be in business very long, so longevity is a plus. However, even the top Birmingham AL schools had to start from their opening day of training, so use it as one of several qualifications. You can also find out what the school's history is concerning successful licensing and employment of its graduating students. If a school won't provide those stats, search elsewhere. The schools should additionally maintain associations with regional and national trucking firms. Having numerous contacts not only points to a quality reputation within the trade, but also boosts their job placement program for students. It also wouldn't be a bad idea to check with the Alabama licensing department to make sure that the CDL trucking schools you are considering are in good standing.
How Effective is the Training? As a minimum requirement, the schools must be licensed in Alabama and employ teachers that are experienced and trained. We will talk more about the instructors 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 obtaining the personalized instruction 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 professes it can teach you to be a truck driver in a relatively short time frame. Learning to be a truck driver and to drive a tractor trailer skillfully requires time. The majority of Birmingham AL schools provide training courses that run from three weeks to as long as 2 months, depending on the class of license or type of vehicle.
How Good are the Instructors? As earlier stated, it's imperative that the instructors are qualified to teach driving methods and experienced as both instructors and drivers. Although several states have minimum driving time requirements to qualify as a teacher, the more professional driving experience an instructor has the better. It's also crucial that the instructors keep current with industry developments or any new regulations or changes in existing laws. Assessing teachers might be a little more intuitive than other criteria, and perhaps the ideal approach is to pay a visit to the school and talk to the teachers in person. You can also speak with a few of the students going through the training and find out if they are satisfied with the quality of instruction and the teacher's qualification to train them.
How Much Driving Time? Most importantly, an excellent truck driver school will provide ample 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. Even though the use of simulators and ride-a-longs with other students are essential training methods, they are no replacement for actual driving. The more training that a student receives behind the wheel, the better driver she or he will become. And even though driving time varies between schools, a reasonable benchmark is 32 hours at a minimum. If the school is PTDI certified, it will provide a minimum of 44 hours of driving time. Contact the Birmingham AL schools you are researching and find out how much driving time they provide.
Are they Captive or Independent ? You can get discounted or even free training from a number of truck driver schools if you make a commitment to drive for a specified carrier for a defined period of time. This is called contract training, and the schools that offer it are called captives. So instead of maintaining associations with a wide range of trucking lines that they can refer their students to, captives only work with one company. The benefit is receiving less expensive or even free training by surrendering the freedom to initially work wherever you choose. Clearly contract training has the potential to limit your income prospects when starting out. But for many it may be the best way to obtain affordable training. Just remember to ask if the Birmingham AL schools you are looking at are independent or captive so that you can make an informed decision.
Offer Onsite CDL Testing? There are a number of states that will permit 3rd party CDL testing onsite of trucking schools for its graduates. If onsite testing is available in Alabama, ask if the schools you are considering are DMV certified to offer it. One benefit is that it is more accommodating than battling with graduates of competing schools for test times at Alabama testing facilities. It is moreover an indicator that the DMV deems the authorized schools to be of a higher quality.
Are the Classes Flexible? As formerly noted, CDL training is only about 1 to 2 months long. With such a short duration, it's important that the Birmingham AL school you choose provides flexibility for both the scheduling of classes and the curriculum. For example, if you're having difficulty learning a particular driving maneuver, then the instructor should be prepared to devote 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 responsibilities.
Is Job Assistance Provided? The moment you have received your CDL license after graduating from trucking school, you will be impatient to start your new career. Verify that the schools you are contemplating have job assistance programs. Ask what their job placement rate is and what average salary their grads start at. Also, ask which local and national trucking companies their graduates are referred to for hiring. If a school has a poor job placement rate or not many Birmingham AL employers recruiting their grads, it might be a sign to look elsewhere.
Is Financial Assistance Offered? Truck driver schools are much like colleges and other Birmingham AL area technical or vocational schools when it comes to loans and other forms of financial assistance being available. Find out if the schools you are reviewing have a financial assistance department, or at least someone who can help you get through the options and forms that need to be submitted.
Select the Best Birmingham AL CDL Driver Training
Selecting the appropriate truck driver school is an essential first step to beginning your new profession as a local or long distance truck driver. The skill sets taught at school will be those that forge a new career behind the wheel. There are a number of options offered and understanding them is critical if you are going to succeed as an operator. However, you must obtain the appropriate training in order to operate a big commercial vehicle in a professional and safe manner. If you are lacking cash or financing, you might need to think about 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 trucking school and have the option of driving for the trucking firm of your choice, or one of many affiliated with the school. It's your choice. But regardless of how you receive your training, you will soon be part of an industry that helps America move as a professional truck driver in Birmingham AL.