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How to Choose the Right Truck Driver School near Birmingham Alabama

Birmingham Alabama tractor trailer carrying cargoCongrats on your decision to become a truck driver and enroll in a trucking school near Birmingham AL. Maybe it has always been your ambition to hit the open highway while operating a huge tractor trailer. Or perhaps you have done some research and have discovered that an occupation as a truck driver provides excellent income and flexible work prospects. Regardless of what your reason is, it's essential to obtain the appropriate training by picking the right CDL school in your area. When evaluating your options, there are certain variables that you'll want to consider prior to making your ultimate selection. Location will no doubt be important, particularly if you need to commute from your Birmingham residence. The expense will also be important, but picking a school based exclusively on price is not the optimal means to make certain you'll obtain the proper education. Don't forget, your objective is to master the knowledge and skills that will allow you to pass the CDL exams and become a professional truck driver. So keeping that target in mind, just how do you choose a truck driving school? That 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 eventually need.

Which CDL Will You Require?

Birmingham Alabama truck driving down expressway

In order to drive commercial vehicles legally within Birmingham AL and throughout the USA, an operator must obtain a CDL (Commercial Driver's License). The 3 license classes that one can apply for are Class A, Class B and Class C. Given that the subject of this article is how to pick a truck driver school, we will focus on Class A and Class B licenses. What distinguishes each class of CDL is the kind of vehicle that the driver can operate in addition to the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) or GCWR (Gross Combination Weight Rating). Below are short descriptions for the 2 classes.

Class A CDL. A Class A CDL is needed to drive any vehicle that has a GCWR of greater than 26,000 lbs., including a towed vehicle of greater than 10,000 lbs. Several 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 may also need endorsements to operate specific kinds of vehicles, including passenger or school buses. And a Class A license holder, with the appropriate required endorsements, can operate any vehicle that a Class B licensee is qualified to drive.

How to Evaluate a Trucking School

Birmingham Alabama concrete truck with flag paint job

Once you have decided which CDL you want to pursue, you can begin the undertaking of researching the Birmingham AL truck driver schools that you are looking at. As previously discussed, cost and location will undoubtedly be your initial concerns. But it can't be emphasized enough that they must not be your only considerations. Other issues, for example the reputations of the schools or the experience of the instructors are similarly or even more important. So below are a few additional points that you need to research while conducting your due diligence prior to choosing, and especially paying for, your truck driver training.

Are the Schools Accredited or Certified ? Not many trucking schools in the Birmingham AL area are accredited because of the stringent process and cost to the schools. On the other hand, certification is more commonplace and is provided 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 caliber, and that they will be given an ample amount of driving time. For example, PTDI requires 44 hours of real 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 benchmarks set by PTDI.

How Long in Operation? One indicator to help evaluate the quality of a trucking school is how long it has been in business. A negatively rated or a fly by night school normally will not be in business very long, so longevity is a plus. Having said that, even the best of Birmingham AL schools had to begin from their opening day of training, so consider it as one of several qualifiers. You can also ask what the school's history is relating to successful licensing and job placement of its graduating students. If a school won't provide those numbers, look elsewhere. The schools should additionally have associations with local and national trucking firms. Having a large number of contacts not only points to a quality reputation within the trade, but also bolsters their job placement program for graduates. It also wouldn't hurt to get in touch with the Alabama licensing authority to confirm that the CDL trucking schools you are considering are in good standing.

How Effective is the Training? As a minimum requirement, the schools should be licensed in Alabama and hire instructors that are trained and experienced. We will discuss 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 higher, then students will not be getting the individual attention they will need. This is especially true concerning the one-on-one instruction for behind the wheel training. And look out for any school that professes it can teach you to be a truck driver in a comparatively short time period. Learning to be a truck driver and to drive a tractor trailer professionally requires time. The majority of Birmingham AL schools provide training programs that range from 3 weeks to as long as 2 months, based on the license class or kind of vehicle.

How Good are the Teachers? As already stated, it's imperative that the teachers are qualified to teach driving techniques and experienced as both drivers and instructors. Even though a number of states have minimum driving time criteria to be certified as an instructor, the more professional driving experience a teacher has the better. It's also crucial that the instructors keep up to date with industry advancements or any new laws or changes in regulations. Evaluating instructors might be a little more subjective than other standards, and possibly the best approach is to pay a visit to the school and speak with the teachers in person. 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.

Sufficient Driving Time? Above all else, an excellent truck driving school will provide lots of driving time to its students. After all, isn't that what it's all about? Driving time is the actual time spent behind the wheel driving a truck. While the use of simulators and ride-a-longs with other students are essential training tools, they are no replacement for actual driving. The more instruction that a student receives behind the wheel, the better driver he or she will be. And even though driving time can vary among 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 Birmingham AL schools you are considering and ask how much driving time they furnish.

Are they Captive or Independent ? It's possible to receive discounted or even free training from some truck driver schools if you make a commitment to drive for a specified 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 relationships 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 surrendering the freedom to initially be a driver wherever you choose. Naturally contract training has the potential to restrict your income prospects when beginning your new career. But for some it may be the ideal way to obtain affordable training. Just remember to find out if the Birmingham AL schools you are looking at are captive or independent so that you can make an informed decision.

Offer CDL Testing Onsite? There are some states that will permit third party CDL testing onsite of truck driving schools for its graduates. If onsite testing is permitted in Alabama, ask if the schools you are looking at are DMV certified to offer it. One benefit is that it is more convenient than contending with graduates of other schools for test times at Alabama testing facilities. It is also an indicator that the DMV views the authorized schools to be of a higher quality.

Are the Class Times Accessible? As previously noted, truck driving training is only about one to two months in length. With such a brief duration, it's important that the Birmingham AL school you enroll in offers flexibility for both the curriculum and the scheduling of classes. For example, if you're having a hard time learning a particular driving maneuver, then the teacher should be prepared to spend more time with you until you have it mastered. And if you're still working while attending training, then the class scheduling needs to be flexible enough to fit in working hours or other responsibilities.

Is Job Assistance Offered? The moment you have received your CDL license after graduating from truck driving school, you will be keen to begin your new profession. Make sure that the schools you are reviewing have job placement programs. Ask what their job placement ratio is and what average salary their graduates start at. Also, ask which local and national trucking companies their graduates are referred to for hiring. If a school has a low job placement rate or few Birmingham AL employers recruiting their graduates, it might be a clue to look elsewhere.

Is Financial Assistance Available? Trucking schools are much like colleges and other Birmingham 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 examining have a financial assistance department, or at a minimum someone who can help you understand the options and forms that must be submitted.

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Picking the ideal trucking school is an important first step to launching your new occupation as a long distance or local truck driver. The skills taught at school will be those that shape a new career behind the wheel. There are several options available and understanding them is crucial to a new driver's success. However, you must get the appropriate training in order to drive a large commercial vehicle in a safe and professional fashion. If you are lacking money or financing, you might 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 select an independent trucking school and have the the freedom to drive 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 Birmingham Alabama.

 

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