How to Select the Best CDL Driving School near Birmingham Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to become a truck driver and enroll in a trucking school near Birmingham AL. Perhaps it has always been your fantasy to hit the open highway while driving a monster tractor trailer. Or possibly you have done some analysis and have discovered that a career as a truck driver provides excellent wages and flexible job prospects. No matter what your reason is, it's imperative to obtain the proper training by choosing the right CDL school in your area. When evaluating your options, there are various variables that you'll need to examine prior to making your final choice. Location will no doubt be important, particularly if you have to commute from your Birmingham residence. The expense will also be important, but picking a school based entirely on price is not the optimal method to guarantee you'll get the appropriate education. 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 objective in mind, just how do you decide on a truck driving school? That is what we are going to discuss in the balance of this article. But first, we are going to review a little bit about which commercial driver's license you will ultimately need.
Which CDL Should You Get?
To operate commercial vehicles legally within the USA and Birmingham AL, an operator needs to get a CDL (Commercial Driver's License). The three license classes that one can qualify 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 Class B licenses. What distinguishes each class of CDL is the kind of vehicle that the driver can operate as well as the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) or GCWR (Gross Combination Weight Rating). Following are brief explanations for the two classes.
Class A CDL. A Class A CDL 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 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 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 might also require endorsements to operate certain types of vehicles, for example school or passenger buses. And a Class A license holder, with the appropriate required endorsements, may operate any vehicle that a Class B licensee is authorized to drive.
How to Evaluate a Trucker School
As soon as you have determined which Commercial Drivers License you want to pursue, you can begin the process of evaluating the Birmingham AL truck driver schools that you are considering. As already discussed, location and cost will undoubtedly be your primary concerns. But it can't be emphasized enough that they should not be your sole 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 more things that you should research while performing your due diligence prior to selecting, and especially paying for, your truck driving training.
Are the Schools Certified or Accredited ? Very few trucking schools in the Birmingham AL area are accredited because of the rigorous process and expense to the schools. However, certification is more commonplace and is offered by the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI). A school is not required to become certified, but there are several advantages. Interested students recognize that the training will be of the highest standard, and that they will receive an ample amount of driving time. For example, PTDI requires 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 benchmarks set by PTDI.
How Long in Operation? One clue to help assess the quality of a truck driving school is how long it has been in business. A poorly reviewed or a fly by night school normally will not be in business very long, so longevity is a plus. On the other hand, even the top Birmingham AL schools had to begin from their opening day of training, so use it as one of multiple qualifiers. You can also learn what the school's track record is relating to successful licensing and employment of its graduating students. If a school won't provide those numbers, search elsewhere. The schools should additionally have associations with regional and national trucking companies. Having a large number of contacts not only affirms a superior reputation within the profession, but also bolsters their job placement program for students. It also wouldn't be a bad idea to check with the Alabama licensing department to verify that the CDL trucking schools you are researching are in compliance.
How Effective is the Training? At a minimum, the schools must be licensed in Alabama and employ instructors that are trained and experienced. We will talk more about the teachers in the following segment. Also, the student to instructor ratio should not be greater than 4 to 1. If it's any higher, then students will not be getting the individual attention they will need. This is especially true regarding the one-on-one instruction for behind the wheel training. And be critical of any school that professes it can train you to drive trucks in a comparatively short period of time. Training to be a truck driver and to drive a tractor trailer professionally requires time. The majority of Birmingham AL schools offer training courses that run from three weeks to as long as two months, depending on the class of license or kind of vehicle.
How Experienced are the Teachers? As already mentioned, it's important that the teachers are trained to teach driving techniques and experienced as both instructors and drivers. Although several states have minimum driving time prerequisites to qualify as an instructor, 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 instructors may be a bit more subjective than other criteria, and possibly the ideal method is to pay a visit to the school and talk to the teachers face to face. You can also talk to some of the students going through the training and find out if they are happy with the quality of instruction and the teacher's ability to train them.
Plenty of Driving Time? Above all else, a great truck driving 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 driving a truck. While the use of simulators and ride-a-longs with other students are important training tools, they are no replacement for real driving. The more instruction that a student receives behind the wheel, the better driver she or he will become. Although driving time fluctuates between schools, a reasonable benchmark is 32 hours at a minimum. If the school is PTDI certified, it will provide no less than 44 hours of driving time. Get in touch with the Birmingham AL schools you are researching and ask how much driving time they provide.
Are they Captive or Independent ? You can obtain free or discounted training from some trucking schools if you enter into an agreement to be a driver for a specified 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 rather than maintaining associations with numerous trucking lines that they can place their graduates with, 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 have an opportunity. Naturally contract training has the potential to limit your income opportunities when starting out. But for many it may be the best way to obtain affordable training. Just remember to inquire if the Birmingham AL schools you are contemplating are independent or captive so that you can make an informed decision.
Provide CDL Testing Onsite? There are a number of states that will permit third party CDL testing onsite of trucking schools for its grads. If onsite testing is allowed in Alabama, find out if the schools you are looking at are DMV certified to provide it. One benefit is that it is more convenient than contending with graduates from competing schools for test times at Alabama testing facilities. It is moreover an indicator that the DMV views the approved schools to be of a superior quality.
Are the Classes Flexible? As earlier noted, truck driving training is just 1 to 2 months in length. With such a short duration, it's imperative 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 certain driving maneuver, then the instructor 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 accommodate working hours or other commitments.
Is Job Assistance Offered? The moment you have acquired your CDL license after graduating from truck driving school, you will be impatient to start your new profession. Make sure that the schools you are reviewing have job placement programs. Find out what their job placement rate is and what average salary their graduates start at. Also, find out which local and national trucking firms their graduates are placed with for employment. If a school has a lower job placement rate or few Birmingham AL employers hiring their grads, it may be a clue to look elsewhere.
Is Financial Assistance Given? Truck driver schools are much like colleges and other Birmingham AL area trade or technical 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 a minimum someone who can help you get through the options and forms that need to be submitted.
Learn More About Birmingham Trucker Schools
Enroll in the Best Birmingham AL Truck Driver Training
Choosing the ideal trucking school is an essential first step to starting your new vocation as a long distance or local truck driver. The skills that you will learn at school will be those that mold a new career behind the wheel. There are a number of options available and understanding them is crucial if you are going to succeed as an operator. But first and foremost, you must obtain the necessary training in order to drive a big commercial vehicle in a professional and safe manner. If you are short on money or financing, you may need to think about a captive school. You will pay a lower or even no tuition by agreeing to drive for their contracted carrier. Or you can enroll in an independent truck driving school and have the the freedom to drive for the trucking firm of your choice, or one of many associated with the school. It's your choice. But no matter how you receive your training, you will in the near future be entering a profession that helps America move as a professional truck driver in Birmingham AL.