How to Enroll in the Right CDL Driving School near Fort Smith Arkansas
Congrats on your decision to become a truck driver and enroll in a CDL school near Fort Smith AR. Maybe it has always been your ambition to hit the open road while driving a big ole tractor trailer. Or perhaps you have conducted some research and have discovered that a career as a truck driver offers good wages and flexible work opportunities. Whatever your reason is, it's important to obtain the proper training by choosing the right CDL school in your area. When reviewing your options, there are a number of variables that you'll need to examine before making your ultimate choice. Location will undoubtedly be important, particularly if you have to commute from your Fort Smith residence. The cost will also be important, but choosing a school based entirely on price is not the optimal method to guarantee you'll obtain the appropriate training. Just remember, your objective is to learn the skills and knowledge that will enable you to pass the CDL examinations and become a qualified 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 talk a little bit about which CDL license you will eventually need.
Which Commercial Drivers License Is Required?
To drive commercial vehicles lawfully within the United States and Fort Smith AR, a driver must get a CDL (Commercial Driver's License). The 3 license classes that a person can apply for are Class A, Class B and Class C. Since the topic of this article is how to select a truck driving school, we will address Class A and Class B licenses. What differentiates 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 short descriptions of the 2 classes.
Class A CDL. A Class A Commercial Drivers License is needed to drive any vehicle that has a GCWR of more than 26,000 lbs., including a towed vehicle of greater 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 Commercial Drivers License is required to operate single vehicles having a GVWR of more 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 Commercial Drivers Licenses might also need endorsements to operate specific types of vehicles, for instance passenger or school buses. And a Class A license holder, with the proper needed endorsements, can drive any vehicle that a Class B licensee is qualified to operate.
How to Research a Truck Driving School
After you have determined which CDL you want to obtain, you can start the undertaking of evaluating the Fort Smith AR truck driver schools that you are considering. As previously discussed, cost and location will undoubtedly be your primary considerations. But it can't be stressed enough that they must not be your only considerations. Other variables, such as the experience of the instructors or the reputations of the schools are equally or even more important. So following are some additional points that you should research while carrying out your due diligence prior to enrolling in, and particularly paying for, your truck driving training.
Are the Schools Accredited or Certified ? Not many trucking schools in the Fort Smith AR area are accredited due to the rigorous process and expense to the schools. On the other hand, 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 a number of advantages. Prospective students recognize that the training will be of the highest quality, and that they will get 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 curriculum and training will fulfill the very high standards set by PTDI.
How Long in Business? One indicator to help assess the quality of a truck driving school is how long it has been in business. A negatively rated or a fly by night school usually will not stay in business very long, so longevity is a plus. Having said that, even the best of Fort Smith AR schools had to start from their opening day of training, so use it as one of multiple qualifiers. You can also learn what the school's track record is concerning successful licensing and employment of its graduates. If a school won't supply those stats, look elsewhere. The schools should also maintain associations with local and national trucking firms. Having a large number of contacts not only confirms a superior reputation within the profession, but also boosts their job assistance program for graduates. It also wouldn't hurt to get in touch with the Arkansas licensing department to make sure that the CDL trucker schools you are considering are in compliance.
How Good is the Training? At a minimum, the schools must be licensed in Arkansas and employ teachers that are experienced and trained. We will discuss more about the teachers in the following segment. In addition, the student to instructor ratio should be no greater than 4 to 1. If it's any higher, 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 be critical of any school that professes it can train you to be a truck driver in a relatively short period of time. Learning to be a truck driver and to drive a tractor trailer skillfully takes time. Most Fort Smith AR schools provide training programs that run from three weeks to as long as 2 months, depending on the class of license or type of vehicle.
How Experienced are the Trainers? As already stated, it's imperative that the teachers are trained to teach driving methods and experienced as both instructors and drivers. Even though a number of states have minimum driving time criteria to be certified as an instructor, the more successful driving experience a teacher has the better. It's also important that the teachers keep current with industry advancements or any new laws or changes in regulations. Assessing teachers may be a bit more subjective than other criteria, and possibly the best approach is to check out the school and talk to the teachers in person. You can also talk to some of the students completing the training and ask if they are happy with the quality of instruction and the teacher's ability to train them.
Adequate Driving Time? Most importantly, a great truck driving school will furnish lots of driving time to its students. Besides, isn't that what it's all about? Driving time is the actual 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 substitute for real driving. The more instruction that a student gets behind the wheel, the better driver he or she will become. Although driving time differs between 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. Check with the Fort Smith AR schools you are researching and find out how much driving time they furnish.
Are they Captive or Independent ? It's possible to receive free or discounted training from some trucking schools if you enter into an agreement to drive for a specific carrier for a defined amount of time. This is what's known as contract training, and the schools that offer it are called captives. So rather than maintaining relationships with numerous trucking lines that they can refer their students to, captives only refer to one company. The tradeoff is receiving free or less expensive training by giving up the freedom to initially be a driver wherever you have an opportunity. Obviously contract training has the potential to reduce your income opportunities when beginning your new career. But for some it may be the only way to get affordable training. Just be sure to ask if the Fort Smith AR schools you are contemplating are captive or independent so that you can make an informed decision.
Is there CDL Testing Onsite? There are some states that will allow third party CDL testing onsite of truck driver schools for its students. If onsite testing is permitted in Arkansas, ask if the schools you are reviewing are DMV certified to provide it. One benefit is that it is more convenient than contending with graduates from competing schools for test times at Arkansas testing facilities. It is moreover an indication that the DMV deems the authorized schools to be of a higher quality.
Are the Classes Accessible? As formerly noted, truck driver training is just 1 to 2 months long. With such a brief term, it's imperative that the Fort Smith AR school you choose provides flexibility for both the curriculum and the scheduling of classes. As an 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 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 Placement Provided? The moment you have acquired your CDL license after graduating from truck driver school, you will be keen to begin your new career. Confirm that the schools you are contemplating have job assistance programs. Ask what their job placement rate is and what average salary their grads start at. Also, find out which national and local trucking companies their graduates are referred to for hiring. If a school has a low job placement rate or not many Fort Smith AR employers hiring their graduates, it might be a clue to look elsewhere.
Is Financial Aid Offered? Trucking schools are similar to colleges and other Fort Smith AR 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 a minimum someone who can help you understand the options and forms that need to be completed.
Select the Best Fort Smith AR Truck Driver Training
Picking the ideal truck driving school is an essential first step to beginning your new profession as a local or long distance truck driver. The skill sets that you will learn at school will be those that mold a new career behind the wheel. There are many options offered and understanding them is crucial if you are going to succeed as an operator. But first and foremost, you must receive the necessary training in order to operate a big commercial vehicle in a professional and safe fashion. If you are lacking money or financing, you may need 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 trucker school and have the option of driving for the trucking firm of your choosing, or one of several affiliated with the school. It's your choice. But regardless of how you get your training, you will in the near future be joining a profession that helps our country move as a professional truck driver in Fort Smith AR.