Are you thinking of attending one of the many truck driver training schools throughout the country to start your career as a professional truck driver?
If so, there are some things you need to know before you enroll.
While the school you select will be only the first of your truck driving schools, you need to be adequately prepared for life on the road.
With the information below, you'll be well on the way to a long and profitable career as a successful professional driver.
Vicki once visited a site on the Internet that attempted to answer the question, "Why Become a Truck Driver?"
On that site, she saw advertisements from different truck driver training programs.
Excerpts from some of them were:
Ok, time out. Let's skip the hype, shall we?
Learning to drive a commercial vehicle with a gross combination weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more and trailer exceeding 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight rating simply cannot be done adequately in three weeks or less!
Any school promising to do so will skip teaching you critical skills that you need to know.
The truck driver training school program we attended back in 1992 was 8 weeks long and we were grateful for every day of it.
It took that long for us to adjust to the size of the vehicle and the scope of the jobs that we would be doing.
We recommend schools that utilize the standards of the Professional Truck Driver Institute.
As we describe on our become a truck driver page, "Every prospective truck driver must first acquire the knowledge (via classroom training) and skills (via driving range training) to get a CDL (commercial driver's license)" in order to get a job.
A really good reason for you to consider going to an independent training school instead of getting company paid CDL training is to keep from being exploited by an unscrupulous trucking company.
There is no sense in learning how to drive a heavy truck if no trucking company will hire you once you "graduate."
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) lists Part 391: Qualifications of drivers and longer combination vehicle (LCV) driver instructors.
Review this and linked lists to make sure that you're eligible to be hired by a motor carrier by meeting all of the qualifications.
If you're not, it's better to know early on.
Trucking company applications will ask questions like these:
If there's any doubt in your mind about what's on your record:
Once you know you're hirable, proceed with selecting a suitable school.
The U.S. Department of Education has prepared a section on its website entitled "Career Colleges and Technical Schools - Questions to Ask Before Enrolling."
Additionally, the FMCSA lists "Entry-level driver training requirements." Before you can even take a road test, you will be required to pass a DOT physical.
Read more about the DOT Medical Exam and CMV Certification and see the "Medical Examination Report for Commercial Driver Fitness Determination."
The three basic types of truck driver training schools are:
For every "pro" (favorable aspect) of a particular type of truck driving school, there is a reverse "con" (unfavorable aspect).
For example, a school that has a longer length of course may be more thorough in what it taught, but it will most likely be more expensive than a school with a shorter length of course.
Very soon, we will provide a list of pros and cons for private for-profit trucking schools and motor carrier CDL training, aka "paid CDL training" or "company paid CDL training."
When we were looking at truck driver training schools in 1992, we contacted a number of private schools in our general area and were not impressed by their set-ups.
Frankly, their rinky-dink set-ups never gained traction and they went out of business pretty quickly.
Of course, you will need to evaluate all of your options and we'll tell you how farther down on this page.
We attended truck driver training school at a public institution in Charleston, SC.
Because of the quality of the training program, they were able to provide us with access to financial aid, which we accepted through the form of federal student loans.
We have worked for trucking companies that had both entry level truck driver training (Swift and Schneider) as well as refresher truck driver training (Schneider and Epes Transport) for experienced drivers with non-recent OTR experience.
In Aiken County, SC, a technical college has partnered with a truck driver training school within the state to provide quality CDL truck driver training.
Have you ever seen a website listing CDL training schools without telling you how they evaluated them?
Or a website that claims that they only list "the best" truck driver schools without telling you how they determined that?
Since this is your education and your career, for your own sake, evaluate the schools yourself.
When we went to truck driver training school, we didn't know what to look for and took a lot of things on faith.
If we had to do it over again, you can rest assured, we'd go into it with our eyes wide open.
Recruiters for truck driver training schools, similar to recruiters for truck driving companies, are looking for students to fill seats.
Filled seats mean more revenue for them.
Don't fall for their well-rehearsed lines.
Ask about the school's
Get the truck driver training school's catalog and do some preliminary fact-finding regarding
Arrange to visit the school when a class of truck driver training students is in session (preferably so you can visit both the classroom and driving range areas).
When you inspect the classroom, look at or for
When we were in truck driver training school in 1992, we saw some videos to supplement the training from our classroom instructor. Technology has come a long way since then.
When you inspect the driving range, look at or for
Besides the tuition for attending truck driver training school (and any associated "allowance" that student drivers may receive), you may incur other costs, including but not limited to:
Make sure you know all of these costs in advance.
Ask for a list.
Also, although you may not be planning for it when you plan to attend truck driver training school, emergencies can arise.
If you have to leave the school for any reason (such as for medical reasons or a family crisis), find out if you can:
This may be especially important for those who embark on company-paid CDL training.
If you need financial aid, you may want to read our page on federal student loans.
Book knowledge by itself will not adequately prepare you for your road test or your career as a professional driver.
But there are certain fundamentals that you need to know before you can drive a big rig.
Your truck driver training school will most likely use a book like the one we used: Bumper to Bumper: The Complete Guide to Tractor-Trailer Operations
You can get a head start on learning by getting and reading the book before you go to school.
For your convenience, we have provided the link from Amazon.com, with which we have an affiliate relationship.
You will also want to familiarize yourself with a Motor Carriers' version of a road atlas, which includes invaluable information for professional drivers of commercial vehicles, such as:
Your truck driver training school will most likely provide you with a paperback atlas.
It doesn't take too much steady use by new drivers for a paperback atlas to completely go to shreds. (Both of ours did.)
For that reason, we greatly prefer -- and Mike uses -- a spiral-bound atlas with laminated pages, like the
Rand McNally Motor Carriers' Road Atlas Deluxe Edition
(laminated and spiral bound for heavy-duty users)
Older editions are kept at home or stowed in the car. (Imagine the great lessons on geography that a professional driver can give his family back home with an old atlas.)
If your truck driver training school is worth its salt, you will have a considerable number of commercial driver's license written exam practice tests.
When we were in school, we received a 46-page stapled handout entitled "Student Workbook and Study Guide for the Commercial Driver's License Written Exam."
This exam or test was packed full of questions for us to master in preparation for taking our own tests.
And speaking of tests...
When we were in school in 1992, our classroom instructor was an old tanker driver named Roger. He was serious as could be, but knew how to "pick on" his students, partly in fun, to see how they could handle the pressure of life on the road. Some students didn't do too well under this perceived persecution.
We recall one incident where he was grading a particular practice test. Roger graded Vicki's test first. When she made a perfect score, he wrote a big
at the top and circled it.
Next, he graded Mike's test.
When he made a perfect score, Roger wrote a tiny
at the top and circled it. He slid Mike's test across the desk to Mike and looked up. He said, "See? She still makes a bigger '100' than you do!"
We both just laughed. We could handle the humor.
Believe it or not, being able to laugh is a test. Some drivers take themselves way too seriously. They get offended at the least little thing.
On the last day of class, after everyone else had left, we asked Roger what he thought our chances of success were in trucking. He spoke very positively, saying that he knew from the very first day of truck driver training school that we would make it. When we asked him how he knew, he just said that he had been teaching long enough to know that there were some students who were going to make it and some who weren't.
In addition to classroom instruction, prospective commercial drivers should receive a certain amount of driving range instruction.
Your time on the driving range will include some driving time and non-driving time.
An example of non-driving time will be learning how to do your pre-trip inspection (which you can obtain through our Free Downloads page).
You need to be aware that there are differences in the definitions used by some truck driver training schools for driving range time:
Ask the school how much actual driving time you will be given during your training program.
You will not be paying money just to stand by or sit in the cab of a truck watching other students drive.
If you're not getting enough actual driving time or practice on a specific maneuver, speak up.
For additional information on skills needed to get your CDL, see our CDL road test page.
Professional drivers who have certain endorsements on their commercial driver licenses are able to haul cargo or equipment that drivers without those endorsements cannot haul.
Mike knows from personal experience that having a HazMat endorsement on his CDL has come in handy when being routed to an area where the only outgoing loads consist of hazardous materials.
He can pick up the paint load and go whereas a driver without the HazMat endorsement has to sit and wait on a non-HazMat load.
So, as long as you're going through truck driver training school and you're going to be tested, you might as well get these endorsements:
Consider making it your goal to have no restrictions -- other than corrective lenses, if you wear them -- on your commercial driver's license.
Look upon your time in truck driver training school as part of your professional trucking career.
When we went to truck driver training school, the school we chose promised us three things by the end of our course of study:
During the latter part of our time at the school, recruiters from various trucking companies came in and made their "pitch" to us.
In addition to listening to their spiels, we studied the material that the truck driver training school had on hand.
Since both of us had gone through exactly the same course of study at the same time, we felt that we were equally qualified to be hired by any trucking company hiring teams.
As it turned out, one of the trucking companies that offered Vicki employment did not offer employment to Mike.
Since we were interested only in working together as a team, that company was not among those that we considered.
The way that the trucking company we were considering being hired by worked the pay scale, the "first seat driver" got a one-cent-per-mile higher rate of pay than the "second seat driver."
We got kidded by a few of the student drivers in our class.
They would speak to us separately, asking, "Are you going to let him/her earn a penny more per mile than you are?"
Of course, we weren't concerned about that because every penny we planned to earn would go into our joint checking account.
Some truck driver training schools offer one-time job placement services (upon a student driver's graduation from school) while others offer lifetime job placement.
Only you will be able to determine if this is an issue for you.
Just because the training won't cost you money up-front, you can rest assured that there is a cost involved. Read our page for more information.
Money saving tip: Review the material on this page for the following tips before you go to truck driver training school:
Trucking Careers of America LLC: We put America's otr truck drivers to work and help you plan for a successful truck driving career.