How to Pick the Best Truck Driving Classes near Tuscaloosa Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to become a truck driver and enroll in a trucking school near Tuscaloosa AL. Perhaps it has always been your goal to hit the open highway while driving a big ole tractor trailer. Or maybe you have done some research and have found that a career as a truck driver offers excellent pay and flexible job opportunities. Whatever your reason is, it's essential to get the appropriate training by selecting the right CDL school in your area. When assessing your options, there are certain factors that you'll want to examine before making your final choice. Location will certainly be an issue, especially if you have to commute from your Tuscaloosa residence. The cost will also be of importance, but choosing a school based exclusively on price is not the best method to guarantee you'll get the appropriate education. Don't forget, your goal is to learn the skills and knowledge that will allow you to pass the CDL examinations and become a professional truck driver. So keeping that target in mind, just how do you decide on a truck driving school? The answer to that question is what we are going to discuss 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 Should You Get?
In order to operate commercial vehicles legally within the USA and Tuscaloosa AL, a driver must attain a CDL (Commercial Driver's License). The three classes of licenses that a person can apply 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 highlight Class A and Class B licenses. What differentiates each class of CDL is the type of vehicle that the driver can operate as well as the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) or GCWR (Gross Combination Weight Rating). Below are short explanations for the two classes.
Class A CDL. A Class A CDL is required 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 operate 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. Some 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 operate specific types of vehicles, for example passenger or school buses. And a Class A licensee, with the proper needed endorsements, may drive any vehicle that a Class B license holder is qualified to drive.
How to Evaluate a Truck Driver School
Once you have determined which CDL you want to pursue, you can start the undertaking of evaluating the Tuscaloosa AL truck driving schools that you are looking at. As already mentioned, location and cost will undoubtedly be your primary concerns. But it can't be stressed enough that they must not be your only considerations. Other issues, for instance the reputations of the schools or the experience of the instructors are equally or even more important. So below are several additional points that you need to research while carrying out your due diligence prior to choosing, and especially paying for, your truck driver training.
Are the Schools Accredited or Certified ? Very few trucking schools in the Tuscaloosa AL area are accredited because of the rigorous process and expense to the schools. However, certification is more prevalent and is provided by the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI). A school is not obligated to become certified, but there are several advantages. Prospective students recognize that the training will be of the highest caliber, and that they will get lots of driving time. As an example, PTDI calls for 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 curriculum and training will measure up to the very high standards set by PTDI.
How Long in Operation? One indicator to help measure the quality of a truck driving school is how long it has been in operation. A negatively rated or a fly by night school typically will not stay in business very long, so longevity is a plus. On the other hand, even the top Tuscaloosa AL schools had to start from their first day of training, so consider it as one of multiple qualifiers. You can also find out what the school's track record is regarding successful licensing and job placement of its graduating students. If a school won't supply those numbers, look elsewhere. The schools should also maintain associations with regional and national trucking firms. Having numerous contacts not only points to an excellent reputation within the profession, but also bolsters their job placement program for graduates. 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 researching are in good standing.
How Good is the Training? As a minimum requirement, the schools must be licensed in Alabama and hire instructors that are experienced and trained. We will cover more about the teachers in the next segment. In addition, the student to instructor ratio should be no greater than 4 to 1. If it's any greater, then students will not be getting the personal instruction they will need. This is especially true regarding the one-on-one instruction for behind the wheel training. And look out for any school that claims it can train you to drive trucks in a relatively short time frame. Training to be a truck driver and to drive a tractor trailer skillfully takes time. Most Tuscaloosa AL schools offer training courses that run from 3 weeks to as long as 2 months, based on the class of license or type of vehicle.
How Experienced are the Trainers? As already stated, it's imperative that the teachers are qualified to teach driving methods and experienced as both instructors and drivers. Even though several 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 instructors keep current with industry advancements or any new laws or changes in regulations. Assessing instructors may be a little more subjective than other criteria, and possibly the best approach is to visit the school and talk to the teachers in person. You can also speak with a few of the students going through the training and find out if they are happy with the quality of instruction and the teacher's ability to train them.
Plenty of Driving Time? Above all else, a great truck driver school will provide 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. Even though the use of ride-a-longs with other students and simulators are necessary training tools, they are no replacement for actual driving. The more instruction that a student gets behind the wheel, the better driver he or she will become. And even though driving time can vary among schools, a good benchmark is a minimum of 32 hours. If the school is PTDI certified, it will furnish a minimum of 44 hours of driving time. Contact the Tuscaloosa AL schools you are considering and find out how much driving time they provide.
Are they Captive or Independent ? It's possible to receive free or discounted training from a number of trucking schools if you make a commitment to drive for a specific carrier for a defined time period. This is referred to as contract training, and the schools that offer it are called captives. So instead of having affiliations with many different 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 freedom to initially be a driver wherever you have an opportunity. Clearly contract training has the potential to limit your income prospects when starting out. But for many it may be the best way to get affordable training. Just make sure to ask if the Tuscaloosa AL schools you are considering are independent or captive so that you can make an informed decision.
Offer Onsite CDL Testing? There are some states that will allow 3rd party CDL testing onsite of trucking schools for its students. If onsite testing is permitted in Alabama, ask if the schools you are looking at are DMV certified to provide it. One advantage is that it is more convenient than contending with graduates from competing schools for test times at Alabama testing locations. It is moreover an indicator that the DMV deems the approved schools to be of a higher quality.
Are the Classes Convenient? As previously noted, truck driving training is only about 1 to 2 months long. With such a brief duration, it's important that the Tuscaloosa AL school you select provides 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 teacher should be willing to spend more time with you until you have it mastered. And if you're still working while attending training, then the class scheduling must be flexible enough to fit in working hours or other responsibilities.
Is Job Assistance Offered? The moment you have obtained your CDL license after graduating from truck driver school, you will be anxious to start your new career. Make sure that the schools you are considering have job placement programs. Ask what their job placement ratio is and what average salary their graduates start at. Also, find out which local and national trucking companies their graduates are placed with for employment. If a school has a poor job placement rate or few Tuscaloosa AL employers recruiting their graduates, it may be a sign to search elsewhere.
Is Financial Assistance Given? Trucking schools are comparable to colleges and other Tuscaloosa AL area technical or vocational schools when it comes to loans and other forms of financial assistance being offered. Find out if the schools you are assessing have a financial aid department, or at least someone who can help you get through the options and forms that need to be submitted.
Choose the Best Tuscaloosa AL Truck Driver Training
Choosing the right truck driving school is an essential 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 many options available and understanding them is crucial if you are going to succeed as an operator. However, you must get the appropriate training in order to operate a big commercial vehicle in a professional and safe fashion. If you are lacking money or financing, you might need to look into a captive school. You will pay a reduced or in some cases no tuition in exchange for driving for their contracted carrier. Or you can select an independent trucking school and have the option of driving for the trucking firm of your choosing, or one of many associated with the school. It's your decision. But regardless of how you obtain your training, you will soon be part of a profession that helps America move as a professional truck driver in Tuscaloosa AL.