How to Choose the Best CDL Driving School near Phoenix Arizona
Congrats on your decision to become a truck driver and enroll in a truck driving school near Phoenix AZ. Perhaps it has always been your goal to hit the open road while operating a big ole tractor trailer. Or perhaps you have done some analysis and have found that an occupation as a truck driver provides excellent income and flexible work prospects. Whatever your reason is, it's imperative to get the proper training by picking the right CDL school in your area. When assessing your options, there are various variables that you'll need to examine prior to making your final choice. Location will no doubt be an issue, particularly if you have to commute from your Phoenix home. The cost will also be of importance, but picking a school based solely on price is not the optimal way to make certain you'll receive the appropriate training. Don't forget, your objective is to master the knowledge and skills that will enable you to pass the CDL examinations and become a qualified 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 discuss a little bit about which CDL license you will ultimately need.
Which CDL Will You Need?
In order to drive commercial vehicles lawfully within Phoenix AZ and throughout the United States, an operator must attain 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 focus on Class A and B licenses. What differentiates each class of CDL is the kind of vehicle that the driver can operate together with the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) or GCWR (Gross Combination Weight Rating). Below are brief summaries for the 2 classes.
Class A CDL. A Class A Commercial Drivers License is required to operate any vehicle that has a GCWR of more 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 Commercial Drivers License is required to drive single vehicles having a GVWR of more than 26,000 lbs., or a GCWR of greater 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 need endorsements to operate certain types of vehicles, for instance school or passenger buses. And a Class A license holder, with the proper required endorsements, can drive any vehicle that a Class B license holder is qualified to operate.
How to Evaluate a Trucking School
Once you have decided which CDL you want to obtain, you can start the process of evaluating the Phoenix AZ truck driver schools that you are considering. As previously discussed, location and cost will certainly be your primary considerations. But it can't be stressed enough that they should not be your only concerns. Other factors, for example the experience of the instructors or the reputations of the schools are similarly or even more important. So following are some more things that you should research while carrying out your due diligence before enrolling in, and particularly paying for, your truck driving training.
Are the Schools Certified or Accredited ? Very few truck driver schools in the Phoenix AZ area are accredited because of the stringent process and cost to the schools. However, certification is more common and is offered by the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI). A school is not obligated to become certified, but there are a number of advantages. Prospective students recognize that the training will be of the highest caliber, and that they will receive lots of driving time. As an example, PTDI mandates 44 hours of real driving time, not ride-alongs or simulations. So if a school's course is certified (the course, not the school is certified), students know that the training and curriculum will meet the very high benchmarks set by PTDI.
How Long in Business? One clue to help evaluate the quality of a truck driving school is how long it has been in business. A poorly ranked or a fly by night school typically will not be in business very long, so longevity is a plus. However, even the best of Phoenix AZ schools had to start from their first day of training, so consider it as one of multiple qualifiers. You can also ask what the school's track record is concerning successful licensing and employment of its graduates. If a school won't supply those numbers, look elsewhere. The schools should also have associations with local and national trucking companies. Having a large number of contacts not only points to a superior reputation within the profession, but also bolsters their job assistance program for students. It also wouldn't be a bad idea to check with the Arizona licensing department to verify that the CDL trucking schools you are researching are in good standing.
How Effective is the Training? As a minimum requirement, the schools should be licensed in Arizona and hire instructors that are experienced and trained. We will discuss more about the instructors in the following section. In addition, the student to instructor ratio should be no higher than 4 to 1. If it's any greater, then students will not be getting the personal attention they will need. This is particularly true concerning the one-on-one instruction for behind the wheel training. And watch out for any school that insists it can teach you to be a truck driver in a relatively short time frame. Learning to be an operator and to drive a tractor trailer professionally takes time. The majority of Phoenix AZ schools offer training programs that run from 3 weeks to as long as two months, based on the class of license or kind of vehicle.
How Good are the Teachers? As earlier mentioned, it's imperative that the instructors are trained to teach driving methods and experienced as both instructors and drivers. Even though a number of states have minimum driving time requirements to qualify as an instructor, the more successful driving experience an instructor has the better. It's also crucial that the instructors keep current with industry advancements or any new regulations or changes in existing laws. Evaluating instructors may be a bit more subjective than other standards, and perhaps the ideal approach is to pay a visit to the school and speak with the instructors face to face. You can also speak with some of the students completing the training and find out if they are satisfied with the quality of instruction and the teacher's ability to train them.
How Much Driving Time? Above all else, an excellent truck driving school will provide plenty of driving time to its students. Besides, isn't that what it's all about? Driving time is the actual time spent behind the wheel operating a truck. Even though 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 he or she will be. And even though driving time can vary between schools, a good benchmark is 32 hours at a minimum. If the school is PTDI certified, it will provide at least 44 hours of driving time. Check with the Phoenix AZ schools you are considering and ask how much driving time they provide.
Are they Independent or Captive ? You can get discounted or even free training from certain truck driving schools if you make a commitment to drive for a particular carrier for a defined amount of time. This is referred to as contract training, and the schools that offer it are called captives. So rather than maintaining associations with a wide range of trucking lines that they can refer their students to, captives only work with one company. The benefit is receiving free or less expensive training by surrendering the flexibility to initially work wherever you choose. Clearly contract training has the potential to reduce your income opportunities when beginning your new career. But for some it may be the best way to receive affordable training. Just make sure to find out if the Phoenix AZ schools you are contemplating are captive or independent so that you can make an informed decision.
Provide Onsite CDL Testing? There are several states that will permit 3rd party CDL testing onsite of truck driver schools for its students. If onsite testing is allowed in Arizona, find out if the schools you are considering are DMV certified to provide it. One advantage is that it is more convenient than contending with graduates of other schools for test times at Arizona testing facilities. It is also an indication that the DMV considers the approved schools to be of a higher quality.
Are the Class Times Flexible? As previously mentioned, CDL training is only about 1 to 2 months long. With such a short term, it's essential that the Phoenix AZ school you choose offers flexibility for both the scheduling of classes and the curriculum. For example, if you're having a hard time learning a particular driving maneuver, then the instructor 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 fit in working hours or other commitments.
Is Job Assistance Provided? Once you have attained your CDL license after graduating from truck driver school, you will be impatient to start your new career. Verify that the schools you are considering have job assistance programs. Ask 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 hiring. If a school has a poor job placement rate or not many Phoenix AZ employers recruiting their grads, it might be a clue to search elsewhere.
Is Financial Aid Provided? Trucking schools are much like colleges and other Phoenix AZ 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 reviewing have a financial assistance department, or at least someone who can help you navigate the options and forms that need to be completed.
Enroll in the Right Phoenix CDL Training
Choosing the right truck driving school is a critical first step to beginning your new profession as a long distance or local truck driver. The skill sets taught at school will be those that forge a new career behind the wheel. There are a number of options available and understanding them is crucial to a new driver's success. However, you must receive the necessary training in order to operate a big commercial vehicle in a professional and safe fashion. If you are short on money or financing, you might want to look into a captive school. You will pay a lower or even no tuition in exchange for driving for their contracted carrier. Or you can choose an independent CDL school and have the the freedom to drive for the trucking firm of your choosing, or one of many affiliated with the school. It's your decision. But regardless of how you receive your training, you will soon be entering a profession that helps our country move as a professional truck driver in Phoenix Arizona.