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How to Pick the Right Truck Driver School near Northport Alabama

Northport Alabama truck carrying cargoCongratulations on your decision to become a truck driver and enroll in a CDL school near Northport AL. Maybe it has always been your ambition to hit the open road while driving a huge tractor trailer. Or maybe you have conducted some analysis and have discovered that an occupation as a truck driver offers good income and flexible work prospects. Whatever your reason is, it's essential to obtain the proper training by selecting the right CDL school in your area. When reviewing your options, there are certain factors that you'll want to consider prior to making your final choice. Location will certainly be important, particularly if you need to commute from your Northport residence. The expense will also be important, but picking a school based solely on price is not the ideal means to make certain you'll get the proper training. Don't forget, your objective is to master the skills and knowledge that will enable you to pass the CDL examinations and become a professional truck driver. So keeping that goal in mind, just how do you decide on a truck driving school? The answer to that question is what we are going to cover in the balance of this article. But first, we are going to discuss a little bit about which CDL license you will ultimately need.

Which Commercial Drivers License Will You Need?

Northport Alabama tractor trailer driving down expressway

To operate commercial vehicles legally within Northport AL and throughout the United States, an operator needs to get a CDL (Commercial Driver's License). The three license classes that a person can qualify for are Class A, Class B and Class C. Given that the topic of this article is how to choose a truck driver school, we will address Class A and Class B licenses. What distinguishes 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). Below are short explanations for the two classes.

Class A CDL. A Class A CDL is needed to operate any vehicle that has a GCWR of greater than 26,000 lbs., including a towed vehicle of more than 10,000 lbs. A few 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 needed 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. A few 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 CDLs might also require endorsements to drive certain types of vehicles, for example passenger or school buses. And a Class A license holder, with the appropriate required endorsements, can drive any vehicle that a Class B license holder is qualified to operate.

How to Evaluate a Truck Driving School

Northport Alabama concrete mixer truck with patriotic paint job

After you have determined which CDL you wish to obtain, you can start the process of assessing the Northport AL truck driver schools that you are considering. As already discussed, cost and location will no doubt be your initial considerations. But it can't be stressed enough that they must not be your only concerns. Other variables, for instance the reputations of the schools or the experience of the instructors are equally or even more important. So following are some additional factors that you should research while carrying out your due diligence prior to choosing, and especially paying for, your truck driving training.

Are the Schools Certified or Accredited ? Not many truck driver schools in the Northport AL area are accredited because of the stringent process and expense to the schools. However, certification is more commonplace 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 know that the training will be of the highest standard, and that they will receive an ample amount of driving time. As an example, PTDI calls for 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 fulfill the very high benchmarks set by PTDI.

How Long in Business? One indicator to help determine the quality of a trucking school is how long it has been in operation. A poorly reviewed 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 Northport AL 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 relating to successful licensing and employment of its graduating students. If a school won't share those numbers, search elsewhere. The schools should additionally have relationships with local and national trucking firms. Having numerous contacts not only affirms a superior reputation within the industry, but also boosts their job assistance program for students. It also wouldn't be a bad idea to check with the Alabama licensing department to make sure that the CDL trucker schools you are researching are in compliance.

How Good is the Training? At a minimum, the schools should be licensed in Alabama and hire instructors that are experienced and trained. 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 higher, then students will not be receiving the personalized instruction they will need. This is particularly true regarding the one-on-one instruction for behind the wheel training. And watch out for any school that insists it can train you to drive trucks in a relatively short period of time. Learning to be a truck driver and to drive a tractor trailer skillfully takes time. Most Northport AL schools provide training programs that range from 3 weeks to as long as two months, depending on the class of license or kind of vehicle.

How Experienced are the Trainers? As previously mentioned, it's important that the instructors are trained to teach driving methods and experienced as both drivers and instructors. Although several states have minimum driving time requirements to qualify as an instructor, the more professional driving experience a teacher has the better. It's also crucial that the teachers keep current with industry developments or any new regulations or changes in existing laws. Evaluating instructors might be a bit more subjective than other criteria, and possibly the best method is to visit the school and talk to the instructors face to face. You can also talk to a few 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.

Plenty of Driving Time? Above all else, a good truck driving school will provide ample 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. While the use of simulators and ride-a-longs with other students are important training tools, they are no replacement for real driving. The more instruction that a student gets behind the wheel, the better driver he or she will be. Although driving time can vary between schools, a reasonable benchmark is a minimum of 32 hours. If the school is PTDI certified, it will provide no less than 44 hours of driving time. Get in touch with the Northport AL schools you are looking at and find out how much driving time they furnish.

Are they Captive or Independent ? It's possible to receive free or discounted training from certain truck driving schools if you enter into an agreement to drive for a specific carrier for a defined period of time. This is called contract training, and the schools that offer it are called captives. So instead of having affiliations 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 flexibility to initially be a driver wherever you choose. Naturally contract training has the potential to restrict your income opportunities when starting out. But for some it may be the ideal way to get affordable training. Just be sure to find out if the Northport AL 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 permit third party CDL testing onsite of truck driver schools for its students. If onsite testing is allowed in Alabama, find out if the schools you are considering are DMV certified to offer it. One advantage is that it is more accommodating than battling with graduates from competing schools for test times at Alabama testing locations. It is moreover an indicator that the DMV deems the authorized schools to be of a superior quality.

Are the Classes Flexible? As earlier mentioned, truck driver training is just one to two months long. With such a brief term, it's imperative that the Northport AL school you select provides 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 instructor should be willing to dedicate more time with you until you have it mastered. And if you're still employed while attending training, then the class scheduling must be flexible enough to accommodate working hours or other commitments.

Is Job Assistance Provided? Once you have attained your commercial driver's license after graduating from trucking school, you will be keen to start your new profession. Make sure that the schools you are looking at have job assistance programs. Find out what their job placement ratio is and what average salary their graduates start at. Also, find out which national and local trucking firms their graduates are referred to for employment. If a school has a low job placement rate or not many Northport AL employers hiring their graduates, it may be a clue to look elsewhere.

Is Financial Assistance Available? Trucking schools are comparable to colleges and other Northport AL area vocational or trade schools when it comes to loans and other forms of financial assistance being offered. Ask if the schools you are reviewing have a financial aid department, or at least someone who can help you get through the options and forms that need to be submitted.

Learn More About Northport Truck Driving Classes

Choose the Right Northport CDL Training

Picking the ideal truck driver school is a critical first step to starting your new occupation as a long distance or local truck driver. The skill sets taught at school will be those that mold a new career behind the wheel. There are several options offered and understanding them is vital if you are going to succeed as an operator. But first and foremost, you must get the appropriate training in order to drive a big commercial vehicle in a safe and professional manner. If you are lacking money or financing, you may want to think about a captive school. You will pay a reduced or even no tuition in exchange for driving for their contracted carrier. Or you can select an independent truck driver school and have the the freedom to drive for the trucking company of your choice, or one of many associated with the school. It's your decision. But no matter how you receive your training, you will in the near future be part of an industry that helps America move as a professional trucker in Northport Alabama.

 

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