How to Pick the Right Truck Driving Classes near Fort Smith Arkansas
Congratulations on your decision to become a trucker and enroll in a trucking school near Fort Smith AR. Perhaps it has always been your fantasy to hit the open highway while driving a big ole tractor trailer. Or perhaps you have done some analysis and have found that a career as a truck driver offers good pay and flexible work prospects. Regardless of what your reason is, it's imperative to receive the proper training by selecting the right CDL school in your area. When assessing your options, there are a number of variables that you'll need to consider prior to making your ultimate selection. Location will certainly be important, particularly if you have to commute from your Fort Smith home. The cost will also be of importance, but choosing a school based entirely on price is not the ideal method to guarantee you'll get the appropriate training. Don't forget, your objective is to learn the skills and knowledge that will enable you to pass the CDL exams and become a qualified truck driver. So keeping that purpose in mind, just how do you select a truck driving school? The answer to that question is what we are going to address 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 Should You Get?
In order to operate commercial vehicles legally within the USA and Fort Smith AR, an operator must get a CDL (Commercial Driver's License). The three 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 pick a truck driver school, we will address Class A and Class B licenses. What differentiates 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). Following are short summaries of the 2 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. 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 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 require endorsements to operate certain types of vehicles, including passenger or school buses. And a Class A license holder, with the proper required endorsements, may operate any vehicle that a Class B licensee is authorized to operate.
How to Evaluate a Truck Driver School
When you have decided which Commercial Drivers License you wish to pursue, you can start the undertaking of evaluating the Fort Smith AR truck driving schools that you are looking at. As already discussed, location and cost will no doubt be your initial concerns. But it can't be stressed enough that they must not be your only concerns. Other variables, such as the reputations of the schools or the experience of the instructors are similarly if not more important. So below are some more things that you should research while performing your due diligence before selecting, and especially paying for, your truck driver training.
Are the Schools Accredited or Certified ? Not many trucking schools in the Fort Smith AR area are accredited due to the stringent process and expense to the schools. However, certification is more typical and is provided by the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI). A school is not required to become certified, but there are several advantages. Potential students know that the training will be of the highest standard, and that they will get plenty of driving time. As an example, PTDI mandates 44 hours of real 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 curriculum and training will fulfill the very high standards set by PTDI.
How Long in Operation? One indicator to help assess the quality of a truck driving school is how long it has been in business. A negatively reviewed or a fly by night school usually will not stay in business very long, so longevity is a plus. On the other hand, even the top Fort Smith AR schools had to start from their first day of training, so use it as one of multiple qualifiers. You can also ask what the school's track record is pertaining to successful licensing and employment of its graduating students. If a school won't provide those stats, search elsewhere. The schools should also maintain associations with local and national trucking companies. Having a large number of contacts not only points to a superior reputation within the industry, 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 trucking schools you are reviewing are in compliance.
How Good is the Training? As a minimum requirement, the schools must be licensed in Arkansas and employ teachers that are experienced and trained. We will cover more about the teachers in the next section. Also, the student to instructor proportion should not be greater than 4 to 1. If it's any greater, then students will not be getting the personal attention they will need. This is especially true concerning the one-on-one instruction for behind the wheel training. And watch out for any school that claims it can teach you to be a truck driver in a relatively short time frame. Training to be an operator and to drive a tractor trailer skillfully takes time. The majority of Fort Smith AR schools offer training courses that run from three weeks to as long as two months, depending on the class of license or type of vehicle.
How Good are the Trainers? As previously stated, it's essential that the teachers are trained to teach driving techniques and experienced as both drivers and instructors. Even though several states have minimum driving time requirements to qualify as a teacher, the more successful driving experience a teacher has the better. It's also important that the teachers keep up to date with industry advancements or any new laws or changes in regulations. Evaluating teachers might be a bit more intuitive than other standards, and perhaps the best method is to check out the school and speak with the instructors face to face. You can also speak with some of the students completing the training and ask if they are satisfied with the quality of instruction and the teacher's qualification to train them.
Adequate Driving Time? Most importantly, a good truck driving school will furnish ample driving time to its students. After all, 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 ride-a-longs with other students and simulators are necessary training methods, they are no substitute for actual driving. The more instruction that a student receives behind the wheel, the better driver she or he will become. Although driving time differs between schools, a good standard 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 Fort Smith AR schools you are considering and ask how much driving time they furnish.
Are they Captive or Independent ? It's possible to obtain free or discounted training from a number of truck driving schools if you make a commitment to drive for a specific 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 instead of having relationships with numerous trucking lines that they can place their graduates with, captives only refer to one company. The benefit is receiving less expensive or even free training by surrendering the flexibility to initially work wherever you choose. Obviously contract training has the potential to limit your income prospects when starting out. But for many it may be the only way to obtain affordable training. Just make sure to find out if the Fort Smith AR schools you are contemplating are independent or captive so that you can make an informed decision.
Offer Onsite CDL Testing? There are some states that will allow third party CDL testing onsite of trucking schools for its students. If onsite testing is available 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 other schools for test times at Arkansas testing facilities. It is moreover an indication that the DMV deems the approved schools to be of a superior quality.
Are the Classes Flexible? As formerly noted, truck driving training is just one to two months long. With such a short term, it's important that the Fort Smith AR school you enroll in provides flexibility for both the curriculum and the scheduling of classes. For example, if you're having difficulty learning a certain driving maneuver, then the teacher should be willing to dedicate more time with you until you have it mastered. 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 responsibilities.
Is Job Placement Offered? The moment you have obtained your commercial driver's license after graduating from truck driver school, you will be anxious to begin your new profession. Confirm that the schools you are considering have job assistance programs. Ask what their job placement percentage is and what average salary their graduates start at. Also, find out which national and local trucking firms their graduates are referred to for hiring. If a school has a low job placement rate or not many Fort Smith AR employers recruiting their graduates, it may be a clue to look elsewhere.
Is Financial Assistance Offered? Trucking schools are comparable to colleges and other Fort Smith AR area vocational or trade schools when it comes to loans and other forms of financial assistance being offered. 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 submitted.
Find Out More About Fort Smith Trucker Schools
Choose the Right Fort Smith AR Truck Driver Training
Picking the ideal trucking school is an essential first step to beginning your new profession as a local or long distance truck driver. The skills taught at school will be those that mold a new career behind the wheel. There are several options offered and understanding them is vital to a new driver's success. However, you must receive the necessary training in order to operate a big commercial vehicle in a safe and professional fashion. If you are lacking cash or financing, you may want to look into a captive school. You will pay a lower or in some cases no tuition in exchange for driving for their contracted carrier. Or you can enroll in an independent truck driver 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 part of a profession that helps our country move as a professional truck driver in Fort Smith AR.