How to Choose the Best CDL Driving Classes near Northport Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to become a trucker and enroll in a truck driving school near Northport AL. Maybe it has always been your fantasy to hit the open highway while operating a monster tractor trailer. Or perhaps you have done some research and have discovered that an occupation as a truck driver provides good wages and flexible job prospects. Regardless of what your reason is, it's important to get the appropriate training by enrolling in the right CDL school in your area. When evaluating your options, there are a number of factors that you'll need to think about before making your ultimate selection. Location will no doubt be an issue, especially if you have to commute from your Northport residence. The cost will also be of importance, but picking a school based exclusively on price is not the ideal means to make certain you'll receive the appropriate training. Just remember, your objective is to master the skills and knowledge 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 balance of this article. But first, we are going to talk a little bit about which commercial driver's license you will eventually need.
Which Commercial Drivers License Will You Need?
In order to drive commercial vehicles legally within the United States and Northport AL, a driver needs to attain a CDL (Commercial Driver's License). The three classes of licenses 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 driving school, we will focus on Class A and Class B licenses. What distinguishes each class of CDL is the type of vehicle that the driver can operate in addition to 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 CDL 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. Some 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 CDL is needed to drive 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 Commercial Drivers Licenses might also need endorsements to drive certain types of vehicles, such as passenger or school buses. And a Class A license holder, with the appropriate needed endorsements, may operate any vehicle that a Class B licensee is authorized to operate.
How to Research a Trucker School
When you have determined which CDL you wish to obtain, you can start the process of assessing the Northport AL truck driver schools that you are considering. As already discussed, location and cost will certainly be your initial concerns. But it can't be stressed enough that they must not be your sole concerns. Other factors, such as the experience of the instructors or the reputations of the schools are equally if not more important. So following are a few additional points that you need to research while performing your due diligence prior to choosing, and especially paying for, your truck driving training.
Are the Schools Certified or Accredited ? Very few trucking schools in the Northport AL area are accredited because of the stringent process and expense to the schools. On the other hand, certification is more common 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 know that the training will be of the highest caliber, and that they will be given an ample amount of driving time. For 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 comply with the very high standards set by PTDI.
How Long in Operation? One clue to help measure the quality of a trucking school is how long it has been in business. A poorly rated or a fly by night school usually will not be in business very long, so longevity is a plus. However, even the best of Northport AL schools had to begin from their opening day of training, so use it as one of multiple qualifiers. You can also ask what the school's history is pertaining to successful licensing and job placement of its graduates. If a school won't provide those stats, look elsewhere. The schools should also have associations with regional and national trucking companies. Having a large number of contacts not only confirms an excellent reputation within the industry, but also boosts their job assistance program for students. It also wouldn't hurt 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 should be licensed in Alabama and hire instructors that are experienced and trained. We will discuss more about the instructors in the next section. Also, 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 personalized instruction they will need. This is especially true concerning the one-on-one instruction for behind the wheel training. And look out for any school that claims it can train you to be a truck driver in a comparatively short time period. Learning to be an operator and to drive a tractor trailer professionally requires time. Most Northport AL schools provide training programs that range from three weeks to as long as two months, based on the class of license or type of vehicle.
How Good are the Trainers? As previously mentioned, it's imperative that the instructors are trained to teach driving techniques and experienced as both instructors and drivers. Even though a number of states have minimum driving time prerequisites to be certified as a teacher, the more professional driving experience an instructor has the better. It's also crucial that the teachers keep up to date with industry developments or any new laws or changes in regulations. Evaluating teachers may be a bit more intuitive than other standards, and perhaps the ideal method is to visit the school and talk to the instructors 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 ability to train them.
How Much Driving Time? Above all else, a great truck driver school will provide plenty 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 operating a truck. Although the use of ride-a-longs with other students and simulators are necessary training tools, they are no alternative for real driving. The more training that a student gets behind the wheel, the better driver he or she will be. Although driving time varies between schools, a reasonable standard is 32 hours at a minimum. If the school is PTDI certified, it will furnish no less than 44 hours of driving time. Check with the Northport AL schools you are looking at and ask how much driving time they furnish.
Are they Independent or Captive ? It's possible to get discounted or even free training from certain truck driving schools if you make a commitment to be a driver for a specified carrier for a defined time period. 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 refer their students to, 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 have an opportunity. Clearly contract training has the potential to reduce your income prospects when beginning your new career. But for some it may be the ideal way to receive affordable training. Just be sure to ask if the Northport AL schools you are looking at are captive or independent so that you can make an informed decision.
Offer 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 available in Alabama, ask if the schools you are considering are DMV certified to provide it. One advantage is that it is more convenient than contending with graduates of other schools for test times at Alabama testing facilities. It is also an indication that the DMV believes the approved schools to be of a superior quality.
Are the Classes Flexible? As formerly mentioned, truck driving training is only about one to two months in length. With such a brief term, it's important that the Northport AL school you enroll in provides flexibility for both the curriculum and the scheduling of classes. For example, if you're having a hard time learning a particular driving maneuver, then the teacher should be willing to spend more time with you until you are proficient. And if you're still holding a job while attending training, then the class scheduling needs to be flexible enough to fit in working hours or other obligations.
Is Job Assistance Provided? Once you have received your CDL license after graduating from truck driving school, you will be impatient to start your new career. Verify that the schools you are contemplating have job placement programs. Find out what their job placement rate is and what average salary their graduates start at. Also, find out which national and local trucking firms their graduates are placed with for hiring. If a school has a lower job placement rate or few Northport AL employers hiring their grads, it might be a clue to look elsewhere.
Is Financial Aid Offered? Truck driving schools are similar to colleges and other Northport 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 least someone who can help you navigate the options and forms that need to be submitted.
Select the Right Northport AL Truck Driver Training
Choosing the ideal truck driving school is an essential first step to starting your new vocation 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 many options offered and understanding them is critical if you are going to succeed as an operator. However, you must obtain the proper training in order to operate a big commercial vehicle in a professional and safe manner. If you are short on money or financing, you may want to consider a captive school. You will pay a reduced or even no tuition in exchange for driving for their contracted carrier. Or you can select an independent trucker 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 decision. 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 Northport AL.