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How to Select the Best CDL Training School near Decatur Alabama

Decatur Alabama truck stopped on of highwayCongratulations on your decision to become a trucker and enroll in a truck driving school near Decatur AL. Maybe it has always been your dream to hit the open highway while driving a huge tractor trailer. Or maybe you have done some analysis and have discovered that a career as a truck driver provides excellent wages and flexible work opportunities. Whatever your reason is, it's imperative to obtain the proper training by enrolling in the right CDL school in your area. When assessing your options, there are a number of variables that you'll want to think about prior to making your final selection. Location will no doubt be important, particularly if you need to commute from your Decatur residence. The cost will also be of importance, but picking a school based only on price is not the best way to make sure you'll get the right education. Don't forget, your objective is to learn the skills and knowledge that will allow you to pass the CDL examinations and become a qualified truck driver. So keeping that target in mind, just how do you select 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 review a little bit about which CDL license you will eventually need.

Which CDL Will You Need?

Decatur Alabama cement mixer truck

To drive commercial vehicles legally within the USA and Decatur AL, an operator needs to attain a CDL (Commercial Driver's License). The 3 license classes that a driver can apply for are Class A, Class B and Class C. Given that the subject of this article is how to select a truck driver school, we will discuss Class A and B licenses. What distinguishes 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). Below are brief explanations of the 2 classes.

Class A CDL. A Class A Commercial Drivers License is required to drive any vehicle that has a GCWR of greater than 26,000 lbs., including a towed vehicle of more 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 Commercial Drivers License is needed to operate single vehicles having a GVWR of more than 26,000 lbs., or a GCWR of greater than 26,000 lbs. including a towed vehicle weighing up to 10,000 lbs. A few 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 may also require endorsements to drive certain types of vehicles, for instance school or passenger buses. And a Class A licensee, with the appropriate required endorsements, may drive any vehicle that a Class B licensee is authorized to drive.

How to Evaluate a Truck Driver School

Decatur Alabama truck driver school campus

As soon as you have decided which CDL you wish to pursue, you can start the undertaking of evaluating the Decatur AL trucking schools that you are looking at. As previously mentioned, cost and location will no doubt be your initial concerns. But it can't be stressed enough that they should not be your sole considerations. Other factors, for example the reputations of the schools or the experience of the instructors are similarly or even more important. So following are a few additional points that you need to research while carrying out your due diligence before enrolling in, and particularly paying for, your truck driver training.

Are the Schools Accredited or Certified ? Not many truck driving schools in the Decatur AL area are accredited because of the stringent 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 obligated to become certified, but there are certain advantages. Potential students recognize that the training will be of the highest quality, and that they will get plenty of driving time. As an example, PTDI mandates 44 hours of actual driving time, not simulations or ride-alongs. So if a school's program is certified (the program, not the school is certified), students know that the training and curriculum will satisfy the very high benchmarks set by PTDI.

How Long in Operation? One clue to help determine the quality of a truck driver school is how long it has been in operation. A negatively ranked or a fly by night school normally will not stay in business very long, so longevity is a plus. However, even the best of Decatur AL schools had to begin from their opening day of training, so consider it as one of multiple qualifications. You can also ask what the school's history is regarding successful licensing and employment of its graduates. If a school won't share those stats, search elsewhere. The schools should additionally maintain associations with regional and national trucking companies. Having numerous contacts not only points to an excellent reputation within the trade, but also bolsters their job placement program for students. It also wouldn't be a bad idea to get in touch with the Alabama licensing authority to make sure that the CDL trucking schools you are considering are in compliance.

How Good is the Training? As a minimum requirement, the schools must be licensed in Alabama and hire teachers that are trained and experienced. We will discuss more about the teachers in the next section. Also, the student to instructor proportion should not be higher than 4 to 1. If it's any higher, then students will not be receiving the personal 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 train you to drive trucks in a relatively short period of time. Learning to be a truck driver and to drive a tractor trailer skillfully requires time. The majority of Decatur AL schools offer training programs that range 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 mentioned, it's important that the teachers are qualified to teach driving techniques and experienced as both drivers and instructors. Even though a number of states have minimum driving time requirements to be certified as a teacher, the more successful driving experience a teacher has the better. It's also vital that the teachers keep up to date with industry advancements or any new laws or changes in regulations. Assessing instructors may be a bit more intuitive than other standards, and possibly the ideal method is to pay a visit to the school and talk to 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.

How Much Driving Time? Most importantly, an excellent truck driving school will furnish sufficient 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 ride-a-longs with other students and simulators are essential training methods, they are no alternative for actual driving. The more training that a student receives behind the wheel, the better driver she or he will become. Although driving time fluctuates 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. Contact the Decatur AL schools you are researching and ask how much driving time they provide.

Are they Independent or Captive ? It's possible to receive free or discounted training from a number of trucking schools if you make a commitment to be a driver for a specific carrier for a defined period of time. This is referred to as contract training, and the schools that provide it are called captives. So rather than having associations with many different trucking lines that they can place their graduates with, captives only work with one company. The tradeoff is receiving free or less expensive training by surrendering the freedom to initially be a driver wherever you choose. Naturally contract training has the potential to reduce your income prospects when beginning your new career. But for many it may be the best way to obtain affordable training. Just make sure to inquire if the Decatur AL schools you are looking at are independent or captive so that you can make an informed decision.

Provide CDL Testing Onsite? There are some states that will allow 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 provide it. One advantage is that it is more accommodating than contending with graduates from competing schools for test times at Alabama testing locations. It is also an indication that the DMV considers the authorized schools to be of a superior quality.

Are the Class Times Flexible? As previously mentioned, truck driver training is only about 1 to 2 months in length. With such a short duration, it's important that the Decatur 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 teacher should be prepared to spend more time with you until you have it mastered. And if you're still holding a job while attending training, then the class scheduling needs to be flexible enough to accommodate working hours or other responsibilities.

Is Job Assistance Offered? Once you have acquired your CDL license after graduating from truck driving school, you will be impatient to start your new career. Make sure that the schools you are contemplating have job placement programs. Find out what their job placement percentage 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 lower job placement rate or few Decatur AL employers recruiting their graduates, it might be a clue to look elsewhere.

Is Financial Assistance Offered? Truck driving schools are comparable to colleges and other Decatur AL area vocational or trade schools when it comes to loans and other forms of financial aid being available. Find out if the schools you are evaluating have a financial assistance department, or at a minimum someone who can help you get through the options and forms that need to be completed.

Find Out More About Decatur CDL Schools

Choose the Right Decatur AL CDL Training

Choosing the ideal truck driver school is an important first step to beginning your new vocation as a long distance or local truck driver. The skills taught at school will be those that forge a new career behind the wheel. There are several options offered and understanding them is vital to a new driver's success.  However, you must receive the proper training in order to drive a large 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 lower or in some cases no tuition by agreeing to drive for their contracted carrier. Or you can choose an independent truck driver school and have the option of driving for the trucking firm of your choice, or one of many associated with the school. It's your choice. But regardless of how you get your training, you will in the near future be entering an industry that helps America move as a professional trucker in Decatur AL.