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How to Choose the Best Trucker Classes near Birmingham Alabama

Birmingham Alabama tractor trailer stopped on of roadCongratulations on your decision to become a trucker and enroll in a truck driving school near Birmingham AL. Perhaps it has always been your dream to hit the open road while driving a monster tractor trailer. Or maybe you have done some analysis and have found that a career as a truck driver offers good income and flexible work opportunities. Whatever your reason is, it's imperative to receive the appropriate training by choosing the right CDL school in your area. When evaluating your options, there are various factors that you'll need to examine prior to making your ultimate selection. Location will certainly be important, especially if you need to commute from your Birmingham residence. The expense will also be important, but choosing a school based only on price is not the ideal method to make certain you'll obtain the proper training. Don't forget, your objective is to learn the skills and knowledge that will enable you to pass the CDL exams and become a professional truck driver. So keeping that target in mind, just how do you choose a truck driving school? The answer to that question is what we are going to address in the remainder of this article. But first, we are going to discuss a little bit about which CDL license you will ultimately need.

Which CDL Will You Need?

Birmingham Alabama cement mixer truck

In order to operate commercial vehicles lawfully within the United States and Birmingham AL, a driver needs to get a CDL (Commercial Driver's License). The 3 license classes that one can qualify for are Class A, Class B and Class C. Given that the topic of this article is how to pick a truck driver school, we will highlight Class A and Class B licenses. What differentiates each class of CDL is the kind of vehicle that the driver can operate together with the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) or GCWR (Gross Combination Weight Rating). Following are brief descriptions for the two classes.

Class A CDL. A Class A Commercial Drivers License is needed to drive any vehicle that has a GCWR of more than 26,000 lbs., including a towed vehicle of greater than 10,000 lbs. Several 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 CDL 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. 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 might also require endorsements to operate certain kinds of vehicles, for instance passenger or school buses. And a Class A license holder, with the appropriate needed endorsements, can drive any vehicle that a Class B licensee is authorized to operate.

How to Evaluate a Trucking School

Birmingham Alabama CDL Driving school campus

After you have determined which Commercial Drivers License you want to pursue, you can begin the process of assessing the Birmingham AL trucking schools that you are considering. As earlier discussed, location and cost will undoubtedly be your primary considerations. But it can't be emphasized enough that they should not be your only concerns. Other variables, for instance the experience of the instructors or the reputations of the schools are equally or even more important. So following are some more things that you should research while carrying out your due diligence before choosing, and especially paying for, your truck driving training.

Are the Schools Certified or Accredited ? Not many trucking schools in the Birmingham AL area are accredited because of the demanding process and cost to the schools. On the other hand, certification is more common and is provided by the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI). A school is not obligated to become certified, but there are a number of advantages. Prospective students recognize that the training will be of the highest standard, and that they will receive lots of driving time. For example, PTDI mandates 44 hours of actual driving time, not simulations or ride-alongs. So if a school's course is certified (the course, not the school is certified), students know that the training and curriculum will measure up to the very high standards set by PTDI.

How Long in Business? One clue to help measure the quality of a trucking school is how long it has been in operation. A negatively rated 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 begin from their opening day of training, so consider it as one of several qualifiers. You can also find out what the school's track record is regarding successful licensing and job placement of its graduates. If a school won't supply those stats, search elsewhere. The schools should also have associations with local and national trucking companies. Having numerous contacts not only points to a quality reputation within the trade, but also boosts their job assistance program for graduates. It also wouldn't hurt to contact the Alabama licensing department to verify that the CDL trucking schools you are reviewing are in good standing.

How Effective is the Training? At a minimum, 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. In addition, the student to instructor proportion should be no higher than 4 to 1. If it's any higher, then students will not be obtaining the personal attention they will need. This is especially true concerning 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. Learning to be an operator and to drive a tractor trailer professionally takes time. Most Birmingham AL schools offer training courses that run from 3 weeks to as long as 2 months, based on the license class or kind of vehicle.

How Experienced are the Teachers? As already mentioned, it's important that the instructors are qualified to teach driving methods and experienced as both drivers and instructors. Even though several states have minimum driving time criteria to be certified as a teacher, the more successful driving experience an instructor has the better. It's also crucial that the teachers keep current with industry developments or any new laws or changes in regulations. Evaluating instructors might be a bit more intuitive than other criteria, and perhaps the best method is to pay a visit to the school and speak with the instructors in person. You can also talk to some of the students completing the training and find out if they are satisfied with the level of instruction and the teacher's qualification to train them.

Enough Driving Time? Above all else, an excellent trucking 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. While the use of simulators and ride-a-longs with other students are essential training tools, they are no replacement for actual driving. The more training that a student receives behind the wheel, the better driver he or she will become. And even though driving time fluctuates between schools, a good standard is a minimum of 32 hours. 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 considering and ask how much driving time they provide.

Are they Independent or Captive ? You can obtain free or discounted training from a number of trucking 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 rather than having affiliations with a wide range of trucking lines that they can refer their students to, captives only work with one company. The benefit is receiving free or less expensive training by giving up the flexibility to initially be a driver wherever you choose. Naturally contract training has the potential to limit your income prospects when starting out. But for some it may be the ideal way to get affordable training. Just be sure to find out if the Birmingham AL schools you are considering are independent or captive so that you can make an informed decision.

Offer CDL Testing Onsite? There are several states that will permit 3rd party CDL testing onsite of truck driver schools for its graduates. If onsite testing is allowed in Alabama, ask if the schools you are considering are DMV certified to provide it. One benefit is that it is more convenient than competing with graduates from competing schools for test times at Alabama testing centers. It is moreover an indication that the DMV deems the approved schools to be of a superior quality.

Are the Class Times Flexible? As previously mentioned, CDL training is only about one to two months long. With such a short term, it's imperative that the Birmingham AL school you select offers flexibility for both the curriculum and the scheduling of classes. As an example, if you're having difficulty learning a particular driving maneuver, then the instructor should be prepared to spend more time with you until you have it mastered. And if you're still holding a job while going to training, then the class scheduling needs to be flexible enough to accommodate working hours or other obligations.

Is Job Assistance Provided? Once you have acquired your commercial driver's license after graduating from truck driver school, you will be anxious to start your new profession. Verify that the schools you are reviewing have job assistance programs. Ask what their job placement rate is and what average salary their grads start at. Also, find out which national and local trucking firms their graduates are placed with for employment. If a school has a poor job placement rate or not many Birmingham AL employers hiring their graduates, it might be a sign to search elsewhere.

Is Financial Aid Available? Truck driving schools are much like colleges and other Birmingham AL area technical or vocational schools when it comes to loans and other forms of financial aid being available. Ask if the schools you are examining have a financial aid department, or at least someone who can help you navigate the options and forms that need to be submitted.

Learn More About Birmingham Truck Driving Schools

Enroll in the Right Birmingham AL CDL Training

Choosing the appropriate truck driver school is a critical first step to launching your new profession 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 many options available and understanding them is vital to a new driver's success.  But first and foremost, you must get the appropriate training in order to operate a big commercial vehicle in a safe and professional fashion. If you are short on money or financing, you may need to look into a captive school. You will pay a lower or even no tuition in exchange for driving for their contracted carrier. Or you can choose an independent trucker school and have the option of driving for the trucking company of your choosing, or one of several associated with the school. It's your decision. But regardless of how you obtain your training, you will in the near future be joining an industry that helps our country move as a professional truck driver in Birmingham AL.