How to Select the Right Truck Driving Classes near Birmingham Alabama
Congrats on your decision to become a trucker and enroll in a trucking school near Birmingham AL. Perhaps it has always been your dream to hit the open road while operating a big ole tractor trailer. Or perhaps you have done some research and have found that an occupation as a truck driver provides good wages and flexible work opportunities. Regardless of what your reason is, it's imperative to receive the proper training by enrolling in the right CDL school in your area. When assessing your options, there are a number of factors that you'll need to think about prior to making your ultimate selection. Location will undoubtedly be an issue, especially if you have to commute from your Birmingham home. The cost will also be of importance, but picking a school based exclusively on price is not the best means to make sure you'll obtain the proper education. Don't forget, your goal is to learn the knowledge and skills that will enable you to pass the CDL exams and become a professional truck driver. So keeping that purpose in mind, just how do you choose a truck driving school? That is what we are going to discuss in the rest 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 Will You Require?
In order to operate commercial vehicles legally within Birmingham AL and throughout the United States, an operator needs to get a CDL (Commercial Driver's License). The 3 license classes that one can qualify for are Class A, Class B and Class C. Given that the topic of this article is how to select a truck driving school, we will discuss Class A and Class B licenses. What differentiates 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 brief 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 more than 10,000 lbs. Some 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 operators may be qualified to drive 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 may also require endorsements to operate specific types of vehicles, for instance passenger or school buses. And a Class A licensee, with the proper required endorsements, may operate any vehicle that a Class B license holder is qualified to operate.
How to Research a Trucking School
After you have determined which CDL you want to obtain, you can start the process of evaluating the Birmingham AL truck driver schools that you are considering. As already discussed, location and cost will undoubtedly be your initial considerations. But it can't be stressed enough that they should not be your sole considerations. Other variables, for instance the experience of the instructors or the reputations of the schools are equally or even more important. So following are several more points that you need to research while carrying out your due diligence prior to enrolling in, and especially paying for, your truck driving training.
Are the Schools Certified or Accredited ? Not many trucking schools in the Birmingham AL area are accredited due to the rigorous process and expense to the schools. On the other hand, 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. Interested students know that the training will be of the highest caliber, and that they will get an ample amount of driving time. For example, PTDI calls for 44 hours of actual driving time, not simulations or ride-alongs. So if a school's course is certified (the course, 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 determine the quality of a truck driving school is how long it has been in operation. A negatively reviewed or a fly by night school usually will not be in business very long, so longevity is a plus. Having said that, even the best of Birmingham AL schools had to start from their opening day of training, so use it as one of multiple 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 supply those numbers, look elsewhere. The schools should additionally maintain associations with regional and national trucking companies. Having a large number of contacts not only confirms a quality reputation within the trade, but also boosts their job assistance program for students. It also wouldn't hurt to check with the Alabama licensing department to make sure that the CDL trucker schools you are reviewing are in compliance.
How Effective is the Training? As a minimum requirement, the schools must be licensed in Alabama and hire instructors that are trained and experienced. We will talk more about the teachers in the following segment. In addition, the student to instructor ratio should not be higher than 4 to 1. If it's any greater, then students will not be receiving the personalized 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 insists it can teach you to be a truck driver in a comparatively short period of time. Training to be an operator and to drive a tractor trailer skillfully takes time. Most Birmingham AL schools provide training programs that run from 3 weeks to as long as two months, based on the license class or type of vehicle.
How Experienced are the Instructors? As already mentioned, it's important that the instructors are trained to teach driving techniques and experienced as both instructors and drivers. Even though a number of states have minimum driving time criteria to be certified as a teacher, the more successful driving experience an instructor has the better. It's also vital that the instructors keep up to date with industry developments or any new regulations or changes in existing laws. Evaluating teachers might be a little more subjective than other standards, and perhaps the best method is to check out the school and talk to the teachers face to face. You can also speak with some of the students going through the training and ask if they are happy with the level of instruction and the teacher's ability to train them.
Enough Driving Time? Most importantly, a great trucking 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. Although the use of ride-a-longs with other students and simulators are essential training methods, they are no alternative for actual driving. The more training that a student receives behind the wheel, the better driver he or she will become. Although driving time differs among schools, a reasonable benchmark is 32 hours at a minimum. If the school is PTDI certified, it will furnish at least 44 hours of driving time. Check with the Birmingham AL schools you are looking at and ask how much driving time they furnish.
Are they Independent or Captive ? It's possible to get free or discounted training from a number of truck driving schools if you make a commitment to drive for a specified carrier for a defined time period. This is what's known as contract training, and the schools that offer it are called captives. So rather than maintaining affiliations with numerous trucking lines that they can refer their students to, captives only work with one company. The tradeoff is receiving less expensive or even free training by giving up the freedom to initially work wherever you choose. Clearly contract training has the potential to restrict your income opportunities when beginning your new career. But for many it may be the best way to obtain affordable training. Just make sure to inquire if the Birmingham AL schools you are contemplating are captive or independent so that you can make an informed decision.
Provide CDL Testing Onsite? There are some states that will allow third party CDL testing onsite of truck driving schools for its grads. If onsite testing is allowed in Alabama, ask if the schools you are looking at are DMV certified to provide it. One benefit is that it is more convenient than competing with graduates from other schools for test times at Alabama testing locations. It is also an indicator that the DMV believes the authorized schools to be of a higher quality.
Are the Class Times Flexible? As formerly mentioned, truck driving training is only about 1 to 2 months in length. With such a short duration, it's imperative that the Birmingham 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 certain driving maneuver, then the instructor should be willing to dedicate more time with you until you are proficient. And if you're still working while attending training, then the class scheduling must be flexible enough to fit in working hours or other obligations.
Is Job Assistance Provided? The moment you have obtained your CDL license after graduating from truck driver school, you will be eager to begin your new career. Make sure that the schools you are considering have job assistance programs. Find out what their job placement ratio is and what average salary their grads start at. Also, ask which national and local trucking firms their graduates are referred to for employment. If a school has a low job placement rate or few Birmingham AL employers hiring their graduates, it may be a clue to look elsewhere.
Is Financial Aid Available? Trucking schools are comparable to colleges and other Birmingham 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 examining have a financial aid department, or at least someone who can help you understand the options and forms that need to be submitted.
Choose the Best Birmingham Truck Driver Training
Selecting the appropriate truck driving school is an essential first step to launching your new profession as a local or long distance truck driver. The skills taught at school will be those that forge a new career behind the wheel. There are several options offered and understanding them is crucial to a new driver's success. However, you must receive the appropriate training in order to drive a big commercial vehicle in a safe and professional manner. If you are lacking cash or financing, you might need to consider 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 driving school and have the the freedom to drive for the trucking company of your choosing, or one of several associated with the school. It's your decision. But regardless of how you get your training, you will soon be joining a profession that helps our country move as a professional truck driver in Birmingham Alabama.