How to Enroll in the Best CDL Training Classes near Fort Smith Arkansas
Congrats on your decision to become a truck driver and enroll in a trucking school near Fort Smith AR. Perhaps it has always been your goal to hit the open road while operating a monster tractor trailer. Or possibly you have conducted some research and have discovered that an occupation as a truck driver provides excellent pay and flexible work prospects. Whatever your reason is, it's imperative to get the appropriate training by selecting the right CDL school in your area. When reviewing your options, there are various variables that you'll want to think about prior to making your ultimate selection. Location will no doubt be an issue, especially if you have to commute from your Fort Smith home. The expense will also be important, but choosing a school based exclusively on price is not the best way to make sure you'll get the proper 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 goal in mind, just how do you pick 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 review a little bit about which commercial driver's license you will ultimately need.
Which CDL Is Required?
To drive commercial vehicles legally within the United States and Fort Smith AR, a driver needs to get a CDL (Commercial Driver's License). The 3 license classes that one can apply for are Class A, Class B and Class C. Since the topic of this article is how to choose a truck driver 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). Following are short descriptions for 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 greater than 10,000 lbs. A few 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 needed 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. Several 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 might also need endorsements to operate certain kinds of vehicles, for instance passenger or school buses. And a Class A license holder, with the proper required endorsements, may operate any vehicle that a Class B license holder is authorized to operate.
How to Assess a Truck Driver School
When you have determined which CDL you wish to obtain, you can begin the undertaking of researching the Fort Smith AR truck driving schools that you are looking at. As already mentioned, cost and location will no doubt be your initial considerations. But it can't be emphasized enough that they should not be your only concerns. Other variables, including the reputations of the schools or the experience of the instructors are equally if not more important. So following are some additional things that you should research while conducting your due diligence before enrolling in, and especially paying for, your truck driver training.
Are the Schools Certified or Accredited ? Very few truck driving schools in the Fort Smith AR area are accredited due to the stringent process and cost 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 certain advantages. Potential students recognize that the training will be of the highest standard, and that they will be given plenty of driving time. As an example, PTDI requires 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 curriculum and training will meet the very high standards set by PTDI.
How Long in Business? One indicator to help measure the quality of a truck driver school is how long it has been in business. A negatively ranked or a fly by night school normally will not stay in business very long, so longevity is a plus. Having said that, even the top Fort Smith AR schools had to begin from their opening day of training, so use it as one of several qualifications. You can also ask what the school's track record is regarding successful licensing and employment of its graduating students. If a school won't provide those stats, look elsewhere. The schools should also have associations with regional and national trucking companies. Having numerous contacts not only points to a superior reputation within the trade, but also boosts their job placement program for graduates. It also wouldn't hurt to check with the Arkansas licensing department to confirm that the CDL trucking schools you are considering are in compliance.
How Effective is the Training? At a minimum, the schools should be licensed in Arkansas and employ instructors that are experienced and trained. We will talk more about the teachers in the following segment. Also, the student to instructor ratio should not be greater than 4 to 1. If it's any greater, then students will not be getting the personalized attention they will need. This is particularly true regarding the one-on-one instruction for behind the wheel training. And be critical of any school that claims it can teach you to be a truck driver in a relatively short time period. Training to be an operator and to drive a tractor trailer skillfully requires time. Most Fort Smith AR schools offer training programs that run from 3 weeks to as long as two months, depending on the license class or kind of vehicle.
How Good are the Teachers? As previously stated, it's essential that the teachers are trained to teach driving techniques and experienced as both drivers and instructors. Although 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 crucial that the instructors keep current with industry advancements or any new laws or changes in regulations. Assessing teachers may be a little more intuitive than other standards, and perhaps the ideal approach is to visit the school and talk to the instructors in person. You can also talk to some of the students completing the training and ask if they are satisfied with the quality of instruction and the teacher's ability to train them.
Enough Driving Time? Most importantly, a good truck driving school will furnish sufficient 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. While the use of ride-a-longs with other students and simulators are necessary training tools, they are no alternative for actual driving. The more instruction that a student receives behind the wheel, the better driver she or he will be. Although driving time differs among schools, a good standard is a minimum of 32 hours. If the school is PTDI certified, it will furnish at least 44 hours of driving time. Get in touch with the Fort Smith AR schools you are researching and ask how much driving time they furnish.
Are they Captive or Independent ? You can receive discounted or even free training from certain trucking schools if you enter into an agreement to be a driver for a particular carrier for a defined amount of time. This is called 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 work with one company. The benefit is receiving less expensive or even free training by surrendering the freedom to initially work wherever you have an opportunity. Naturally contract training has the potential to restrict your income opportunities when starting out. But for some it may be the only way to get affordable training. Just be sure to inquire 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 several states that will allow 3rd party CDL testing onsite of truck driving schools for its graduates. If onsite testing is available in Arkansas, find out if the schools you are reviewing are DMV certified to offer it. One advantage is that it is more convenient than contending with graduates from other schools for test times at Arkansas testing centers. It is also an indicator that the DMV views the authorized schools to be of a higher quality.
Are the Classes Convenient? As formerly noted, truck driver training is only about one to two months in length. With such a short term, it's important that the Fort Smith AR school you choose offers flexibility for both the curriculum and the scheduling of classes. For example, if you're having a hard time learning a certain driving maneuver, then the teacher should be prepared to spend 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 obligations.
Is Job Placement Offered? As soon as you have acquired your CDL license after graduating from truck driving school, you will be anxious to begin your new career. Confirm that the schools you are considering have job assistance programs. Ask what their job placement ratio is and what average salary their graduates start at. Also, ask which local and national trucking firms their graduates are placed with for employment. If a school has a low job placement rate or not many Fort Smith AR employers recruiting their graduates, it might be a sign to search elsewhere.
Is Financial Assistance Offered? Trucking schools are similar to colleges and other Fort Smith AR area technical or vocational schools when it comes to loans and other forms of financial assistance being available. Find out if the schools you are assessing have a financial assistance department, or at least someone who can help you get through the options and forms that must be completed.
Choose the Right Fort Smith AR CDL Training
Picking the ideal truck driver school is a critical first step to beginning your new occupation 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 a number of options available and understanding them is critical to a new driver's success. However, you must receive the proper training in order to drive a large commercial vehicle in a professional and safe manner. If you are lacking cash or financing, you may want to think about a captive school. You will pay a reduced or even no tuition by agreeing to drive for their contracted carrier. Or you can select an independent trucking school and have the option of driving for the trucking company of your choosing, or one of many affiliated with the school. It's your choice. But regardless of how you obtain your training, you will soon be entering an industry that helps our country move as a professional trucker in Fort Smith AR.