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How to Choose the Right CDL Driving School near Opelika Alabama

Opelika Alabama truck stopped on of intestate roadCongratulations on your decision to become a trucker and enroll in a truck driving school near Opelika AL. Perhaps it has always been your dream to hit the open road while driving a monster tractor trailer. Or perhaps you have done some research and have found that an occupation as a truck driver offers excellent wages and flexible job opportunities. Whatever your reason is, it's important to obtain the appropriate training by enrolling in the right CDL school in your area. When assessing your options, there are various factors that you'll want to consider prior to making your final choice. Location will undoubtedly be an issue, especially if you need to commute from your Opelika residence. The expense will also be of importance, but picking a school based solely on price is not the best way to ensure you'll get the appropriate training. Don't forget, your goal is to master the knowledge and skills that will enable you to pass the CDL exams and become a professional truck driver. So keeping that purpose in mind, just how do you decide on a truck driving school? The answer to that question is what we are going to address in the rest of this article. But first, we are going to discuss a little bit about which commercial driver's license you will eventually need.

Which Commercial Drivers License Should You Get?

Opelika Alabama cement mixer truck

In order to drive commercial vehicles lawfully within the USA and Opelika AL, an operator must attain a CDL (Commercial Driver's License). The three classes of licenses that a driver 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 discuss 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). Below are brief descriptions of the two 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. 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 CDL 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 drive certain kinds of vehicles, such as school or passenger buses. And a Class A licensee, with the proper needed endorsements, may operate any vehicle that a Class B license holder is qualified to drive.

How to Evaluate a CDL School

Opelika Alabama truck driver school campus

When you have decided which CDL you wish to obtain, you can start the undertaking of researching the Opelika AL trucking schools that you are looking at. As already discussed, cost and location will certainly be your initial considerations. But it can't be emphasized enough that they should not be your only considerations. Other issues, such as the experience of the instructors or the reputations of the schools are similarly if not more important. So below are some more factors that you need to research while carrying out your due diligence before selecting, and particularly paying for, your truck driver training.

Are the Schools Accredited or Certified ? Not many truck driver schools in the Opelika AL area are accredited because of the stringent process and expense to the schools. On the other hand, certification is more typical and is offered by the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI). A school is not required to become certified, but there are a number of advantages. Interested students know that the training will be of the highest standard, and that they will receive an ample amount of driving time. As an example, PTDI requires 44 hours of actual driving time, not ride-alongs or simulations. So if a school's program is certified (the program, 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 indicator to help determine the quality of a truck driving school is how long it has been in business. A negatively ranked or a fly by night school typically will not stay in business very long, so longevity is a plus. However, even the top Opelika AL schools had to start from their first day of training, so use it as one of multiple qualifications. You can also learn what the school's history is pertaining to successful licensing and job placement of its graduates. If a school won't provide those numbers, search elsewhere. The schools should also maintain associations with regional and national trucking firms. Having a large number of contacts not only affirms an excellent reputation within the trade, but also boosts their job placement program for students. It also wouldn't hurt to get in touch with the Alabama licensing authority to verify that the CDL trucker schools you are reviewing are in good standing.

How Effective is the Training? As a minimum requirement, the schools should be licensed in Alabama and employ instructors that are trained and experienced. We will discuss more about the teachers in the following section. Also, the student to instructor ratio should be no greater than 4 to 1. If it's any greater, then students will not be obtaining the personal attention they will need. This is especially true regarding the one-on-one instruction for behind the wheel training. And watch out for any school that claims it can train you to be a truck driver in a comparatively short time period. Training to be an operator and to drive a tractor trailer skillfully takes time. The majority of Opelika AL schools offer training programs that run from three weeks to as long as two months, based on the class of license or kind of vehicle.

How Experienced are the Trainers? As previously mentioned, it's important that the teachers are trained to teach driving methods and experienced as both instructors and drivers. Although a number of states have minimum driving time prerequisites to qualify as a teacher, the more successful driving experience an instructor has the better. It's also important that the teachers stay current with industry developments or any new regulations or changes in existing laws. Evaluating instructors may be a bit more subjective than other standards, and possibly the best method is to visit the school and speak with the teachers in person. You can also speak with some of the students going through the training and ask if they are happy with the quality of instruction and the teacher's ability to train them.

Enough Driving Time? Most importantly, a good trucking 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 driving a truck. Even though the use of ride-a-longs with other students and simulators are essential training tools, they are no alternative for real driving. The more instruction that a student gets behind the wheel, the better driver she or he will become. Although driving time fluctuates between schools, a good standard is a minimum of 32 hours. If the school is PTDI certified, it will provide at least 44 hours of driving time. Get in touch with the Opelika AL schools you are researching and ask how much driving time they furnish.

Are they Captive or Independent ? You can receive free or discounted training from a number of truck driver schools if you make a commitment to drive for a particular carrier for a defined period of time. This is called contract training, and the schools that provide it are called captives. So rather than maintaining affiliations 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 be a driver wherever you have an opportunity. Obviously contract training has the potential to reduce your income opportunities when starting out. But for some it may be the best way to receive affordable training. Just make sure to find out if the Opelika AL schools you are considering are captive or independent so that you can make an informed decision.

Provide CDL Testing Onsite? There are several states that will permit third party CDL testing onsite of truck driving schools for its graduates. If onsite testing is available in Alabama, ask 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 competing schools for test times at Alabama testing facilities. It is also an indicator that the DMV views the authorized schools to be of a superior quality.

Are the Class Times Convenient? As formerly mentioned, CDL training is just one to two months in length. With such a brief duration, it's essential that the Opelika AL school you select offers flexibility for both the scheduling of classes and the curriculum. As an example, if you're having a hard time learning a certain driving maneuver, then the teacher should be willing to commit 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 Placement Offered? As soon as you have obtained your commercial driver's license after graduating from trucking school, you will be impatient to start your new profession. Make sure that the schools you are reviewing have job placement programs. Ask what their job placement percentage is and what average salary their grads start at. Also, ask which local and national trucking firms their graduates are referred to for employment. If a school has a poor job placement rate or not many Opelika AL employers hiring their graduates, it might be a sign to search elsewhere.

Is Financial Assistance Offered? Truck driving schools are comparable to colleges and other Opelika AL area technical or vocational schools when it comes to loans and other forms of financial assistance being available. Ask if the schools you are reviewing have a financial assistance department, or at a minimum someone who can help you navigate the options and forms that must be submitted.

Find Out More About Opelika CDL Training Schools

Choose the Right Opelika AL CDL Driver Training

Selecting the appropriate truck driving school is a critical first step to beginning your new occupation as a long distance or local truck driver. The skill sets that you will learn at school will be those that shape a new career behind the wheel. There are many options offered and understanding them is vital if you are going to succeed as an operator.  But first and foremost, you must get the proper training in order to operate a large commercial vehicle in a professional and safe manner. If you are short on money or financing, you might want to consider 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 CDL school and have the option of driving for the trucking firm of your choice, or one of several affiliated with the school. It's your choice. But no matter how you obtain your training, you will soon be entering a profession that helps America move as a professional truck driver in Opelika AL.