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How to Pick the Best CDL Driving Classes near Northport Alabama

Northport Alabama tractor trailer on side of intestate roadCongrats on your decision to become a trucker and enroll in a CDL school near Northport AL. Perhaps it has always been your goal to hit the open highway while driving a big ole tractor trailer. Or possibly you have conducted some research and have discovered that an occupation as a truck driver offers good wages and flexible work opportunities. Regardless of what your reason is, it's imperative to receive the proper training by enrolling in the right CDL school in your area. When assessing your options, there are several factors that you'll need to think about before making your ultimate selection. Location will certainly be an issue, particularly if you need to commute from your Northport residence. The cost will also be important, but choosing a school based solely on price is not the best method to make sure you'll get the proper training. Just remember, your goal is to master the knowledge and skills that will enable you to pass the CDL examinations and become a professional truck driver. So keeping that purpose in mind, just how do you decide on a truck driving school? That is what we are going to discuss in the remainder of this article. But first, we are going to talk a little bit about which CDL license you will eventually need.

Which CDL Will You Need?

Northport Alabama concrete mixer truck

In order to operate commercial vehicles legally within the United States and Northport AL, a driver must get a CDL (Commercial Driver's License). The 3 license classes that a person can qualify for are Class A, Class B and Class C. Given that the topic of this article is how to choose a truck driving school, we will address Class A and B licenses. What distinguishes 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 brief summaries 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 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 Commercial Drivers License is needed 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. 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 Commercial Drivers Licenses might also need endorsements to drive certain types of vehicles, including school or passenger buses. And a Class A license holder, with the appropriate required endorsements, can drive any vehicle that a Class B license holder is qualified to operate.

How to Assess a Truck Driver School

Northport Alabama trucker school campus

When you have determined which Commercial Drivers License you would like to pursue, you can start the undertaking of assessing the Northport AL truck driving schools that you are looking at. As previously discussed, cost and location will no doubt be your initial considerations. But it can't be stressed enough that they must not be your sole considerations. Other variables, including the reputations of the schools or the experience of the instructors are similarly if not more important. So following are some more factors that you need to research while conducting your due diligence before choosing, and particularly paying for, your truck driver training.

Are the Schools Accredited or Certified ? Very few truck driver schools in the Northport AL area are accredited due to the rigorous process and cost to the schools. However, certification is more commonplace and is provided by the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI). A school is not required to become certified, but there are a number of advantages. Interested students recognize that the training will be of the highest standard, and that they will get an ample amount of driving time. For example, PTDI calls for 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 comply with the very high standards set by PTDI.

How Long in Business? One clue to help assess 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. On the other hand, even the best of Northport AL schools had to start from their first day of training, so use it as one of several qualifications. You can also learn what the school's track record is relating to successful licensing and employment of its graduates. If a school won't share those numbers, search elsewhere. The schools should also maintain associations with local and national trucking companies. Having a large number of contacts not only confirms a quality reputation within the profession, but also boosts their job assistance program for graduates. It also wouldn't be a bad idea to check with the Alabama licensing department to verify that the CDL trucking schools you are considering are in compliance.

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 segment. In addition, the student to instructor ratio should not be greater than 4 to 1. If it's any greater, then students will not be receiving the personalized 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 teach you to be a truck driver in a comparatively short time frame. Learning to be an operator and to drive a tractor trailer skillfully requires time. Most Northport AL schools provide training programs that run from three weeks to as long as 2 months, depending on the class of license or kind of vehicle.

How Good are the Trainers? As earlier mentioned, it's imperative that the teachers are qualified to teach driving techniques and experienced as both drivers and instructors. Although several states have minimum driving time prerequisites to qualify as an instructor, the more professional driving experience a teacher has the better. It's also vital that the instructors stay up to date with industry developments or any new regulations or changes in existing laws. Assessing teachers may be a little more subjective than other criteria, and possibly the best approach is to visit the school and talk to the teachers face to face. You can also speak with some of the students completing the training and find out if they are happy with the level of instruction and the teacher's qualification to train them.

Plenty of Driving Time? Above all else, an excellent truck driving school will furnish ample 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. Although the use of simulators and ride-a-longs with other students are important training methods, they are no alternative for actual driving. The more instruction that a student gets behind the wheel, the better driver he or she will become. Although driving time varies among schools, a good benchmark is 32 hours at a minimum. If the school is PTDI certified, it will provide no less than 44 hours of driving time. Check with the Northport AL schools you are considering and ask how much driving time they furnish.

Are they Independent or Captive ? It's possible to receive discounted or even free training from some truck driver schools if you make a commitment to drive for a particular carrier for a defined period of time. This is what's known as contract training, and the schools that offer it are called captives. So rather than maintaining associations with many different trucking lines that they can place their graduates with, captives only refer to one company. The tradeoff is receiving less expensive or even free training by giving up the flexibility to initially work wherever you choose. Clearly contract training has the potential to reduce your income prospects when starting out. But for some it may be the only way to get affordable training. Just be sure to find out if the Northport AL schools you are considering are captive or independent so that you can make an informed decision.

Is there Onsite CDL Testing? There are some states that will permit third party CDL testing onsite of truck driver schools for its students. If onsite testing is permitted in Alabama, find out if the schools you are reviewing are DMV certified to offer it. One benefit is that it is more accommodating than competing with graduates of other schools for test times at Alabama testing locations. It is moreover an indication that the DMV considers the authorized schools to be of a higher quality.

Are the Classes Accessible? As earlier mentioned, truck driving training is only about 1 to 2 months in length. With such a short term, it's essential that the Northport AL school you enroll in offers flexibility for both the scheduling of classes and the curriculum. As an example, if you're having difficulty learning a certain driving maneuver, then the teacher should be prepared to commit more time with you until you have it mastered. And if you're still working while going to training, then the class scheduling must be flexible enough to accommodate working hours or other obligations.

Is Job Placement Offered? As soon as you have attained your CDL license after graduating from truck driver school, you will be keen to begin your new career. Verify that the schools you are reviewing have job assistance programs. Find out what their job placement rate is and what average salary their grads start at. Also, ask which local and national trucking firms their graduates are placed with for hiring. If a school has a low job placement rate or not many Northport AL employers recruiting their graduates, it may be a sign to look elsewhere.

Is Financial Aid Provided? Truck driver schools are much like colleges and other Northport AL area vocational or trade schools when it comes to loans and other forms of financial aid being offered. Find out if the schools you are evaluating have a financial aid department, or at least someone who can help you navigate the options and forms that must be completed.

Find Out More About Northport CDL Driver Schools

Enroll in the Right Northport AL CDL Training

Selecting the appropriate trucking school is an essential first step to beginning your new vocation as a long distance or local truck driver. The skills that you will learn at school will be those that forge a new career behind the wheel. There are many options available and understanding them is vital if you are going to succeed as an operator.  However, you must obtain the necessary training in order to operate a large commercial vehicle in a professional and safe fashion. If you are lacking money or financing, you might need to think about a captive school. You will pay a reduced or even no tuition by agreeing to drive for their contracted carrier. Or you can select an independent truck driving school and have the the freedom to drive for the trucking company of your choice, or one of many affiliated with the school. It's your decision. But no matter how you obtain your training, you will in the near future be joining a profession that helps our country move as a professional trucker in Northport AL.