Students' Guide to Truck Driving Schools
|OK, you've decided to get your CDL and
become a professional truck driver! One of the most important decisions you will
make is where to get your training. There are literally hundreds of truck driving
schools across the country, each with different programs. As with any business,
there are good ones and there are bad ones. But you have to know what to look for in
a trucking school. This Guide is designed to give you the information you
need to evaluate the various features of truck schools and their CDL courses. Our
goal is to educate you so you can be selective. You will probably spend a
significant amount of your time and hard-earned money going to school. It's an
important decision. It's an investment in yourself. So ASK QUESTIONS. Make
sure that the school staff gives you answers that make common sense based on what you find
here. Your successful future could depend on it. And remember, you can always
contact TruckSchoolsUSA to Request Information. The most
frequently asked questions (FAQs) are set forth below.
|GETTING A CDL: The process of getting a Commercial
Driver's License (CDL) is basically the same in every state. States require
those that are learning to become commercial drivers to first obtain a state CDL
permit. To get the permit, a student has to take written exams at the state
department of motor vehicles (or Driver's License Bureau--each state has its own name for
the agency). These include the General Knowledge test, the Combination Vehicle test
and an Air Brakes test. Most truck drivers also usually take the optional
endorsement tests for Hazardous Materials ("Hazmat"), Double and Triple Trailers
("Doubles/Triples") and Tankers. These endorsements are marked on the
permit so that the driver is authorized to operate this type of equipment. After a
permit is issued, a student driver can only drive a tractor-trailer when there is a
CDL-licensed driver accompanying him or her in the passenger's seat. Permits
usually expire after six months. Once you have the Permit, you have to learn how to
drive a truck. That's where truck driving schools come in. A primary
objective for a school is to give you the driving instruction so that you can maneuver a
truck and pass the driving skills exam.
After the driver is trained and learns to maneuver
the truck, a driving skills exam is administered by the state (some states allow
private "third party testers" to administer the test on behalf of the
state). The driver must demonstrate he/she knows how to inspect the vehicle prior to
operating it, how to conduct an air brake test and then demonstrate basic parking, backing
and other driving skills. The driving skills test takes place on a closed driving
range as well as public roads. Although the process of getting a CDL is straight
forward, it takes time to learn the information necessary to pass the written knowledge
tests, the inspection and air brake exams and the driving skills test. Plus there is
a lot of information beyond what is needed to get your CDL that you need to know.
Good schools focus on this.
It is very important to get as much good classroom
instruction as you can for the written CDL tests. This is the fundamental
information upon which your career will be built. It is your starting point, so be
sure to find a school that offers a course which includes a good basic CDL preparation
class. Some schools require you to take the tests after self-study (in other words,
you have get your CDL permit on your own). And other schools may only give you the
bare minimum instruction necessary to pass the test. We don't recommend these types
of programs. You may get your license this way, but you probably won't have the
knowledge you need to drive safely. "Quick and dirty" schools like this
focus only on minimum driving skills so that you pass the driving test to get your
CDL. That way you are "out the door" faster. These schools graduate
a lot of students and are known as "CDL Mills". We definitely recommend a
more complete course that offers a combination of live instructors, video or
computer-based training and practice CDL tests. You should be able to ask questions
of instructors and review your tests with them.
TYPES OF SCHOOLS: There are
essentially three different types of truck driver training programs. The first is a
private school, the second is a public institution and the third is a training program run
by a motor carrier. That being said, there are typically significant differences
that we'll explain below.
Private Schools: These schools are owned and operated by
private, for-profit entities (such as a corporation or a partnership). Their
business is to provide training for students interested in the trucking industry.
The advantage to going to a private school is that they are there for one purpose only: to
train drivers for America's trucking companies. They will only make money and be in
business if they do this well. Private schools that have minimal or poor training
standards will not be in business for very long. So their incentive is to make sure
that students are satisfied. However, the flip side to this point is that as a
for-profit school, the "bottom line" (financial condition) is important.
Some private schools may try to cut costs and improve profit. This is usually done
by cutting the quality of the training by skimping on skill training or by providing only
the minimal amount of training necessary to get the student a CDL. The good news is
that reputations form easily in the trucking school business. Schools that
compromise safety or skill development for the sake of profit usually develop a poor
reputation (See our discussion of CDL Mills). The other factor to consider is that
private schools are usually required to be licensed and are regulated by most
states. This means that there is an independent third party that enforces the laws
and regulations that govern schools of this type in that state (see State Regulation
below). If you have a complaint, you should let the state agency know. Let us
Public Institutions: These are schools
that are chartered, owned, operated and funded by a state or local government. They
are frequently called "publicly funded" truck driving schools for this
reason. Examples of these types of schools include local community colleges,
vocational-technical schools (Vo-Techs) or state colleges. At publicly funded truck
driving schools, the truck driving program is only one of many courses that are taught at
the school. For example, a public school may offer computer training, welding,
automotive technology, accounting, and many other courses in addition to truck
driving. So a key question to answer for yourself is this: will you get the
attention you need in this program or is truck driving just one of the 250 courses they
offer? Often an advantage to a publicly funded school, however, is the cost.
Since these schools are "publicly funded," the cost of programs may be
subsidized in some manner by the state or local government. Costs are supposed to be
lower as a result. But you need to compare prices (and the curriculum) to determine
if this is the case. Sometimes these programs accept only a few students per class,
so the charge per student remains high. Another issue is that public
institutions are sometimes less flexible than private schools. If you want a more
customized program or need flexibility with class hours, for example, a private school can
be easier to work with. Public schools usually have a set number of classes per
year, and that's it. If you miss the first class, you may have to wait 10 or 15
weeks to start. Whereas a private school is in a better position to alter the
schedule to fit your needs. Lastly, public school programs are sometimes much longer
than private schools. This can be good if the training is more thorough. But
if you are out of work and want to start driving and earning a paycheck quickly, a longer
program may not be the best answer for you.
Motor Carrier Training Watch
out! This is training where -- literally -- "the rubber meets the
road." These are truck driving "schools" that are being run for one
reason only: the company doing the training wants as many drivers as possible, usually in
as short a period as they can. The objective is simply to get drivers on the road
hauling freight so the company can make more money. We do not recommend this type of
training and warn that you be VERY careful if you choose this route. This type of
training is not really a school at all. It is really an on the job training program.
It is designed to give an individual minimal driving skills necessary to pass the
CDL test. Then the driver can begin running freight with a
"driver-trainer," who is usually just another driver with a little more
STATE REGULATION: As discussed above, privately owned truck
driving schools (and sometimes carrier-owned schools) are usually licensed or registered
by a state agency. You should always ask whether a school is licensed, ask for the
name of the agency, and ask for the telephone number. A good school will be happy to
have you call the agency to determine whether they have had complaints or any adverse
enforcement actions against them for violations of the state's school laws. Some
states do not regulate schools, although this is unusual. Don't confuse
"licensing" with a school being "accredited." A state license
means the school has been approved by the state because it meets the minimum standards.
Accreditation is a much more comprehensive and meaningful process. (see our
discussion on Accreditation).
Why are schools regulated? To protect the consumer (the
student). As with any business, some unscrupulous schools have cheated students --
although many school owners and management are honest and hard-working in our
opinion. But most states correctly believe that consumers that spend money to
improve themselves by getting an education or gaining a skill should be protected from
sales tactics that are unfair.
As a result, most states have passed laws and regulations
that seek to place restrictions on (and penalties for) the improper conduct of school
staff. This is basically to prevent unfair sales and enrollment tactics. For
example, the laws are intended to make sure schools advertise their programs honestly,
don't exaggerate the jobs or income available to graduates, have clear, written contracts,
catalogs and policies for students, and are financially responsible and fair to students
(for example refund policies).
CERTIFICATION: In the truck driving school
business, Certification is different from state licensing. A certified truck driving
school is one that has been "certified" to meet the trucking industry's training
standard. Certification means that an independent third party (in other words
someone unrelated to the school) has inspected the school and "certified" that
the training should result in a graduate that has the basic skills to be an entry-level
truck driver. It has nothing to do with state licensing or accreditation.
Certification is becoming increasingly important to employers and state agencies that fund
training for students.
There is only one organization that currently certifies
truck driving courses: The Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI), located in
Alexandria, Virginia. PTDI certification is voluntary. A school is
not required to become certified. But a certified school is probably the best
guarantee that a truck driving school maintains high truck driver training standards.
PTDI has developed three sets of strict standards that
they apply to truck driving schools that want to be certified. PTDI will inspect the
school and determine whether the standards are met. If they are met, the school's course
is certified (schools are not certified) and the school can advertise that it teaches a
course certified by PTDI. The three standards are for Skills, Knowledge and
Curriculum. Skill standards are the basic skills an entry level driver should have
(shifting, backing, vehicle inspection, etc.). As you might guess, knowledge standards
describe the basic information a driver should know (how to plan a trip, licensing
requirements, accident procedures and cargo documentation, for example). Finally,
PTDI's curriculum standards identify the minimum course of instruction a truck driving
school must present, including topics addressed and hours required for class, truck lab
and driving. PTDI's standards for a school in this regard are very high. For
example, PTDI requires that every student individually have at least 44 hours of driving
instruction behind the wheel. That's a lot of driving time, and it cannot include
any hours observing. (See Observation Time below).
There a number of advantages to PTDI certification.
Students know that the training should be high quality, that they will receive a lot of
driving experience and that the school has made the extra effort to demonstrate it is
committed to the best training. Plus, the trucking industry has great respect for
PTDI graduates because they know they are getting the best. They also know that
their own company "finishing training" training costs will be lower because the
student is well trained already. So, students that graduate from a top quality
program benefit in the wallet as well because they require less training by the
employer. Therefore they can drive solo sooner and earn more money faster. New
drivers that attend short programs or get inadequate training can get stuck in the
carrier's training program at a low weekly pay rate for a long time. We think PTDI
sets a great standard that benefits everyone!
Even if a school is not certified, you can ask one
important question to see if they adhere to higher standards: exactly how many hours of
actual driving is provided to every student? Remember that PTDI requires 44 hours
for every student. And that does not mean you're simply "in the truck" for
44 hours. Some schools place 3-5 students in the truck at the same time for full day
drives and simply rotate the students into the driver's seat for one or two hours; they
may call all this time "behind the wheel." PTDI requires 44 hours of
actual driving. So make the school tell you the specific number of hours you
will be driving, and ask them to show you their guaranteed driving time in writing.
Don't accept answers like "we give you as much time as you need". A good
school will identify driving hours in their catalog or informational brochure. After
all, you are attending a truck driving school -- driving is the basic skill and
you should expect a lot of practice driving!
ACCREDITATION: There are very few truck driving schools
that have been accredited. That's because accreditation standards are very tough and
the process is expensive for a school. But there is no doubt that accredited truck
driving schools have met the highest standards for educational institutions providing
truck driver training.
Schools can only be accredited by an agency that has been
approved by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit schools. Only schools that
have been accredited are entitled to have access to federal student loans and grants (such
as Stafford Loans and Pell Grants). Schools that are accredited by either a regional
or a national accrediting agency have demonstrated to the accrediting agency that they
have met strict standards not only for the type of training they provide, but also for
school administration, staff quality, financial strength and overall educational quality.
You'll find some of these schools on our Editors' Choice list of
the best truck driving schools in the country.
"CDL MILLS": The term CDL Mill refers to a truck driving
course that is so "quick and dirty" that students are like kernels of corn
shoved into a grinding mill and kicked out the other side. These schools are
sometimes referred to as "Cattle Chutes" because so many drivers are funneled in
and drive out, like a herd of cattle. But how do you tell if a course is a CDL Mill? There are a few
ways to tell. First, look at the length of the course. Any course that is
less than three weeks long is most likely a CDL Mill. There is simply no way you can
teach someone with no experience how to drive an 18 wheel tractor trailer in two to three
weeks without missing critical skills and information. Some schools are as short as
ten days or two weeks! Students who take these courses will be very disappointed
because when they finish they will have virtually no information about tractor trailers,
the trucking industry or safety. More important, they won't know how to drive.
You may learn a few basic skills like driving forward on a highway or making a simple
turn, but that's about it. The bottom line is that it takes hours of driving to
learn the basic skills you need to be a good entry level driver. Find a program that
is at least four or five weeks long.
CDL Mill courses also usually have a lot of
students in the truck training at one time. This way the trainer can rotate every
student into the driver's seat for a little bit of driving. This is done because the
school has advertised, for example, "50 hours behind the wheel training".
What they don't tell you is that for 35 of the 50 hours the students will be sitting in
the back of the truck cab watching other students drive.
FREE TRAINING: This is a very important
issue! You've heard the saying "Nothing is for free"? That
is true for truck driver training as well. Some trucking companies have placed very
misleading advertisements that claim you can be trained for free or for almost no money
(maybe $100-$1000). Don't fall for it. There is no such thing as free
The term "free" means there should be no
conditions and no obligations. In other words, if something is free it is
being given away with no cost, no conditions and no obligations. Truly free
training would mean you could go through the training and then walk away and owe
nothing. But ask yourself this question: Why would a company offer expensive
training to drive a tractor trailer for free? The short answer is that they wouldn't
because it makes no sense.
Here is what really happens: Companies need
drivers because there is so much demand for freight in the American economy. The
more drivers a company has, the more freight they move. Some companies that need a
lot of drivers have decided to start training drivers to meet this need. To get a
lot of people to go into the training, some companies claim that the training is free.
They tell you it will cost you little or no money. But then they tell you to
sign an agreement with a lot of fine print (sometimes you won't see this agreement until
after you have quit your job or have traveled to the training location -- so your stuck!).
The agreement usually has two important catches: (1) that you have to work for the
company for some period after training and (2) that if you leave early you owe the company
for the costs of training.
These agreements can require one or two years
of work with the company before you can take another job. That is a huge part of
your life to in debt to one company. Many times the company will also try to make
you pay for the training by either taking back part of your pay every week or by providing
a reduced pay scale until you have paid them back for training. Either way, it's not
Then there are the problems if your employment is
terminated prior to the required time period. What if you have to quit because you
are injured or you decide trucking is not for you? What if, like many drivers, you
are good at what you do and you are offered a better and higher paying job? What if
they fire you? In all these situations, you could owe a lot of money. Most of
these agreements require you to repay the costs of the training if you leave for any
reason. Sometimes the stated value of the training is automatically doubled if
you leave, meaning you could owe $6,000-$7,000. Then to get their money the company
can legally report you to all collection bureaus, ruin your credit and turn the case over
to collection agencies and lawyers. You and all the references you provided can be
harassed for years.
Not all company training programs are this bad. But
we've never seen one that doesn't require the trainee to commit to a lot of time working
with the company. Our advice is to avoid this type of training unless you've really
looked into it and you know it is right for you. The bottom line is that there are a
lot of hidden risks with this type of training and you are probably going to pay for the
training somehow -- either by being stuck in a job or by being pursued for the money.
In the long run it's smarter to find a good, reputable school that will help you
get the best job they can.
TRAINING FACILITIES: The basic
facilities a school should have are classrooms and a driving practice area that is closed
to public traffic. The classroom should be clean, well lit, and heated and air
conditioned adequately. The classroom should have enough comfortable seating and
desk space for each student. Most schools will also have a student break area,
vending machines and clean bathrooms. A good school will also have a library of
videos and books and other training materials for student reference. Training and
visual aids are also important, such as truck parts, tools, and emergency equipment.
The driving area will vary by school. Some will be paved,
others gravel and others will simply be packed dirt. The surface is less important
as long as it is level and large enough for the trucks to maneuver safely. The area
should probably be at least a half acre per truck. If night driving will be
conducted then the area must be sufficiently lighted. During winter months the
practice yard should be clear of snow. Traffic should be controlled so that other
vehicles do not interfere or cause a driving hazard.
TRUCK DRIVER TRAINING SCHOOL VEHICLES: One of the most common
complaints we get from students is about the quality of the trucks that are used for
training. However, most students do not realize how much a truck costs to maintain,
especially a truck that are used for student driving. Students are very tough on trucks
when they are learning to drive. Students grind gears when shifting, they dont know
how to use a clutch, they go over curbs, and sometimes bump other objects. All of this
wear and tear takes its toll on a truck. So don't expect a brand new shiny truck to
be waiting for you. That is unrealistic.
That being said, a truck driving school should have "late
model" equipment that is safe and well maintained. Late model means that the
equipment should not be out of date. It should be close to what the student can expect to
drive with a company. But most companies buy new tractors every few years, so their
equipment is basically new (or only a few years old). A school usually cannot do this.
Although schools cannot have ALL new equipment, they should have at least one truck that
is only four to five years old for use in street driving. For driving maneuvers on a
practice driving yard (backing, coupling, parking etc.) most schools will have equipment
that is up to 10 years old (or older). That is OK as long as the vehicle is used just for
private driving yard practice.
We also note that ALL trucks should be safe and well maintained.
You should get an idea of the maintenance just by looking at and listening to the truck.
Ask the school how often the truck is inspected. Ask to see when the last inspection was
conducted. The truck should have basic items for safety such as a fire extinguisher,
traffic warning triangles and an accident report kit. If you have questions about truck
safety, ask the school staff. You can also check with the state and federal Department of
Transportation regarding the safety record of a company. Always ask to see a copy of the
truck insurance before you drive on public streets. An insurance card must always be with
any vehicle driven on the road.
AUDIO & VIDEO EQUIPMENT AT TRUCK SCHOOLS: All schools
will have some amount of classroom training, and most will use audio and video equipment
as a part of the classroom presentation. This will typically include overhead projectors,
VCR tapes, powerpoint, DVD or other devices. These are helpful to demonstrate many of the
concepts of truck driving, to show photos and images of equipment or to present summaries
as a guide to the students. This kind of equipment should not be the only classroom
training, however. It should be used to help students learn and assist the instructor in
presenting the information. Videos are especially popular because students see and hear
the lesson. There are many videos available on a variety of topics. Some are a little old
but the information can still be useful. Others need to be updated because certain
principles of truck driving have changed over the years (the principles of braking, for
example). Ask schools to describe what resources they have and show you their library of
tapes and other materials. How much is used in the truck driving course? Can you use these
resources on your own time? Are they new or old?
TRUCK DRIVING SCHOOL EXTERNSHIPS: An externship (also sometimes
called an internship) is a truck driving program that allows a student to conduct the
first part of the training at the school and then complete the program with a trucking
company. It is a training program that is provided jointly by both a school and an
employer. The student attends the school to learn basic professional driver knowledge and
skills in a training environment. Then the student continues to practice and train on the
job in a paid position. It is a structured, supervised training experience that involves
the practical application of skills and knowledge acquired during school-based
instruction. Externships can offer a smooth transition from the training facility to the
Be careful: externships must be a formal arrangement between a
school and an employer. A training program that is run by a company and simply includes
on-the-job-training as a part of that is NOT an externship. Some companies offer quick
training to get the trainee a CDL, and then put them right into a truck as a driver and
call that "on-the-job-training". These programs are really just a way for the
company to start earning money on the trainee quickly. The goal is not to train the
driver, but to get the driver in the seat as soon as possible.
Note that externships should include the student being paid for
the externship phase of the course. Usually the student is paid at a trainee rate for the
length of the externship. Externships will usually be anywhere from 5 to 15 weeks long,
depending on the company.
TRUCK DRIVER TRAINING SIMULATORS: Simulators have been around for
a long time, and there has always been a debate about whether they are effective or not.
Simulators basically come in two types - driving simulators and shifting
simulators. They are very different, and each has advantages and disadvantages.
Driving simulators put the trainee in a drivers seat
of a stationary vehicle cab that has screens that project video or simulated driving
environment, including traffic, weather, pedestrians and a variety of terrain and road
conditions. The "driver" attempts to operate the vehicle in a safe manner under
various conditions. But they are always two-dimensional screens, so they lack depth and the
capability to test distance and depth perception. The
video is always just two-dimensional, so there is no depth and it looks
fake. Most students can only drive on a simulator for a few minutes
because they get dizzy and disoriented. Some students get sick or get
headaches. A few schools have lower cost simulators that use video
screens to introduce student drivers to different scenarios, but, again, the
quality is poor and the video graphics are unrealistic. The
best simulators have actual sound, vibrations and are somewhat realistic.
Of course, these simulators are very expensive (up
to $1 million), and there are few in the country. We are not aware of any schools that
have these. The bottom line is that these simulators have some value, but they are so
sophisticated that no schools can afford them!
Shifting simulators are designed only to familiarize a
trainee with the movements required to shift a truck transmission and operate a clutch. An
advantage is that they provide practice on a machine instead of an actual truck. So there
is no wear and tear on the truck and the student can practice without having to
concentrate on anything other than shifting. There is reduced stress for most trainees in
this environment. Shifting simulators usually have a trucks seat, a basic dashboard,
a gear shift lever and pedals (clutch, brake and accelerator). Computerized transmission
simulators can be programmed to simulate many different types of truck transmissions. The
problem with these simulators is they are usually only effective as an instructional
resource for a little while for most drivers. Most students learn how to shift within a
relatively short period of time. Then they need to get into the truck and learn how to
shift and drive at the same time. This includes being aware of a lot of activity
inside and outside of the cab while driving and shifting together. The only way to do this
is to start driving. So most schools do not use them and many people believe they have
limited value because they only focus on shifting, not driving. This is why so many
trainers joke that "the best simulator is a truck"!
MILITARY EXPERIENCE: As you would expect, there are a
lot of drivers that have spent time in the service. The military provides a very good
source for drivers for the trucking industry. There are a variety of reasons for this.
Veterans are usually mature and responsible. They are used to discipline and often can
work well on their own as well as with others. Many vets are also experienced with heavy
equipment, transportation and logistics so trucking is a good fit. In fact, some
service-members have obtained a military CDL. Although this cannot be transferred to a
civilian CDL, it usually means that reduced training is necessary to get a CDL.
The military also has several programs to assist service members
separating from the service. For example, the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is
administered jointly by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of
Labors Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS). Under TAP, service members
are provided workshops and information on employment and training options after leaving
the service. Disabled vets have a special DTAP program available in addition to local
Vocational Rehabilitation (VocRehab) office assistance. Finally, service members with
veterans educational benefits may be able to have certain costs of truck driver training
funded. Ask the truck driving school if they accept VA funding. Schools must be in
business for two years prior to VA approval, which is handled by state VA representatives.
LUMPING AND WAREHOUSE WORK: Some trucking companies that run their
own training put conditions on the training. One of the most complained about is
"Lumping". Lumping is a phrase used to describe the loading and unloading of
trucks and warehouses. Some companies, especially those that claim they offer
"free" or low cost training, require the students to work while they are not
training. So a student might go through some training for a few hours during the day, but
the rest of the time they would have to do lumping work for no pay. This is just a way of
making the trainee pay for training.
PRACTICE DRIVING AT TRUCKING SCHOOLS: We often get the
question "how much driving practice would/should I get at a truck driving
school?" This varies considerably from school to school, but it is a very
important question. There is only one set of national standards for truck driving
schools, and those are the standards developed by The Professional Truck Driver Institute
(PTDI), located in Alexandria, Virginia. According to PTDI, every new entry-level truck
driving student should receive at least 44 hours of actual driving time. This is a lot of
time to drive, and many schools do not offer this much driving time because it is too
expensive for the school. Most students can only learn some very basic driving skills in
less time than this. PTDI believes 44 hours is necessary for new drivers to learn more
than just how to move the truck forward. Students should have learned enough to handle
more difficult maneuvers with the truck on their own.
A word of caution: be very specific when you ask school staff how
many hours you will be driving. How many hours will you drive on the practice range? How
many on public streets? Almost all schools describe their training in terms of clock hours
("our program is 148 hours long", for example). Some schools will describe the
time in the truck as the hours of training "behind the wheel" (BTW). But be
careful. Make sure that BTW time is the same thing as student driving time. Many truck
driving schools include all time that a student is physically sitting behind the wheel as
BTW time. This includes the time you are sitting in the cab watching another student
drive. Although you are literally "behind the wheel," you are not actually
Unfortunately, some schools are dishonest about this. They
describe BTW hours as if they are all driving hours. A school may state that every student
will get 75 hours "behind the wheel." A natural conclusion is that each student
will actually hold on to the steering wheel and drive for 75 hours. This may not be true
if the school includes student observation time in the 75 hours. For example, a school may
include two hours of observation time for every 1 hour of driving. So a student will spend
two out of every three hours sitting in the back watching another student drive. Using the
example of 75 hours, that means that a student is watching for about 50 hours and only
driving for about 25 hours. This falls far short of the PTDI standard of 44 hours,
although a student that did not know about observation time might enroll in the school
thinking that he would get 75 hours of practice driving.
Including observation time can be OK if there is enough actual
driving time and the rest of the truck driving course has a sufficient amount of class and
truck lab. A problem arises when the course is short and includes observation time.
For example, a course might be only 120 hours long and be described as having 75 hours of
"behind the wheel" training. But if 50 hours are simply student observation,
there are only 25 hours of driving and 45 hours of class and truck lab. The course would
not provide adequate training.
The other issue is how much a student is paying for a course. A
program that includes observation time can cause students to overpay for training. As a
general rule, the more driving time, the better the value of the program. For example, a
160 hour program that costs $3,800 and includes the PTDI-recommended 44 hours of driving
is a much better value than a 160 hour course that only includes 20 or 30 hours of actual
driving. This is because driving is the basic skill that truck driving schools teach - it
is the heart of the schools course, and it is what a student is really paying for.
But a school that includes student observation in its curriculum may describe it as
"50 hours behind the wheel" even though actual driving time is a lot less than
50 hours. So when comparing truck driving courses, you have to ask how much driving time
is included. Demand a guarantee of driving hours in writing. While 44 hours
of driving time is the highest industry standard, anything less than 30
hours per student is probably insufficient.
ADMISSION REQUIREMENTS FOR TRUCK DRIVER TRAINING:
Most schools set a few guidelines for admission into school. Usually these guidelines are
the same as the guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Transportation for drivers to be
licensed. However, some schools will let almost anyone enroll, and this is a scary fact.
Most schools look at three things: age, physical health and driving record. Some school
also review education level.
Age: Because you have to be 21 to drive a truck interstate
(over-the-road from state to state), most schools will require students to be 21 by the
time they graduate if they are learning to drive a tractor-trailer. An exception to this
is if the student is only going to drive only within one state where the age requirement
Health and Drugs: In order to work for a trucking company
you must pass a U.S. DOT physical examination and a drug screen. Most schools require this
as well. The medical exam will be conducted by a doctor in accordance with DOT
requirements. Results are documented on a DOT form. Drivers must always have in their
possession the certificate showing the results of the exam. Most schools also require a
controlled substance test. This is a urinalysis test that detects the use of controlled
substances. If you are on legal medication, talk with the administering physician. A WORD
OF CAUTION: if you use illegal drugs or have an alcohol use problem, stop and get
assistance now. Driving an 80,000 pound truck is not the job for you if you are impaired
by drugs or alcohol!
Driving Record: Every trucking company has its own rules
about acceptable driving records for their drivers. As a result, schools will usually
review your driving record to see whether there are any problems that would prevent you
from getting a job (or make it difficult finding a job). The main issues are any
violations that involve driving and alcohol or drugs, excessive speeding or recent
accident problems. Schools should review your driving record and discuss any potential
problems with you. The last thing a student should do is spend money training to be a
professional driver if no companies will hire them because of a motor vehicle record.
Also, never lie about your driving record. If a company determines that you lied about
your driving history, whichs just what youll be - history. Trucking
companies will usually fire a driver immediately for failure to disclose driving problems.
Education: Regulations that govern the qualifications of
drivers require that all drivers be able to speak, read and write the English language
sufficiently to accomplish the basic duties of a driver. These include speaking with
dispatchers and customers and the public, reading street signs and the motor carrier
regulations, and completing basic reports such as logbooks, bills of lading and other
written records and documents. As a result, schools with the highest standards require
applicants to either (1) be a high school graduate or (2) have a Graduate Equivalency
Degree (GED) or (3) take an "ability-to-benefit (ATB) test." An ATB test is used
to make sure the student has the educational level to understand and learn from the
training. Other schools do not have this requirement and will admit almost anyone. It is
safe to say that schools with higher standards will usually graduate smarter, better
TEXTBOOKS FOR TRUCK DRIVER TRAINING: There is
quite a bit of information to learn at a truck driving school. Especially if the
school is five weeks or longer. Since the instructor will cover a lot, most schools
provide text books to assist students with learning. Books provided usually include
(1) a truck driving manual or textbook that provides basic information and explanations,
(2) a copy of the federal motor carrier safety regulations (FMCSR) which are the rules
that trucking companies and drivers have to comply with, (3) a road atlas for planning
trips, and (4) a driver's logbook that is used by drivers to record the amount of time
they have worked and driven. Other books that might be provided include driver
guides that are written to help drivers understand the more difficult regulations, such as
guides to hazardous materials regulations, the FMCSRs, vehicle inspections and
logbooks/hours of service. Schools may also have handouts or articles about current
events. Most students are also provided writing paper, pens and a ruler.
Ask the school if textbooks are included in the
tuition or if there is an extra fee for the books. Also ask what books are included
in the course. A good book pack can cost about $50, but may be less. Some
schools choose not to sell books. Instead, they are maintained at a library at the
school for students to use. This is a good idea for two reasons: first, it saves the
student the money. Plus, some new drivers complain that books used at truck driving
school are necessary to learn the basics, but once the driver gets a little experience
they never use the books again. Whether you have to buy the books or just use them,
books are a great resource to help new drivers learn all the information they need to be a
smart, safe driver.
TRAINING AIDS: Generally, a "training
aid" is anything an instructor uses to help teach the information to students.
For truck driving, the best raining aids are usually the tractor and the trailer.
The best schools also have truck parts inside the school's classroom so that when the
instructor describes the measurement of a tire tread, for example, he can roll out a tire
and demonstrate the tread depth to the students. Schools sometimes also have very
innovative training aids, like a "cutaway" of a truck engine, or mock-ups of air
brake systems and electrical systems, dashboards that show gauges, demonstrations of fuel
jelling in cold weather, various tires that show tread wear, "glad hand connectors,
examples of worn or broken parts and many others. All of these items help students
see, feel and learn, which is what a school is all about. Ask to see the training
aids a school will use.
TRAINING CURRICULUM: A schools curriculum is very important because it is the outline and content
of what the school will teach. It is the plan of what you will learn about truck driving.
The curricula at truck driving schools can be very different however, not only in the
content, but also in the amount of time allocated to each topic. A school that only lasts
two weeks or 18 days simply cannot cover all the topics that can be covered by a course
that takes 4-5 weeks. Keep in mind that there is a lot to learn to become a professional
driver of commercial motor vehicles. What you learn in school will help you get a better
job, move you to solo driving faster and hopefully make you more money. The Professional
Truck Driver Institute has a recommended curriculum that has to include at least 148 hours
of training for every trainee. PTDI requires 44 hours of driving time for every student,
and 104 hours of class and lab (non-driving truck instruction). The topics that are taught
at a truck driving school will usually include some time in class/lab, as well as some
time driving the truck. For example, you may learn about backing techniques in a classroom
by listening to the instructor and watching a video. Then, after you watch the instructor
back the truck up, you would try it yourself with the instructor coaching you. At a
minimum, a basic curriculum should have the topics listed below. We highly recommend
that you attend a school that has a PTDI-certified curriculum. Even if the school has
not been certified, it should at least follow the PTDI standards.
Preparation for the CDL:
General Knowledge, Air Brakes, Combination Vehicles, Doubles & Triples, Tank
Trucks, Hazardous Materials.
Orientation to School and Trucking, Control
Systems, Vehicle Inspection, Basic Control, Shifting, Backing, Coupling & Uncoupling,
Special Rigs, Visual Search, Communication, Speed Management, Space Management, Night
Operation, Extreme Driving Conditions, Hazard Perception, Emergency Maneuvers, Skid
Control & Recovery, Vehicle Systems, Preventive Maintenance & Servicing,
Diagnosing & Reporting Malfunctions, Handling Cargo, Cargo Documentation, Hours of
Service Requirements, Accident Procedures, Personal Health & Safety, Trip Planning,
Public & Employer Relations, Career Planning and Job Search, Railroad Crossing
Procedures, Driver-Dispatcher Relations, DOT Rules, and Defensive Driving Techniques.
You should never attend a school that does not have a school catalog. Every
school must have a written catalog or other informational materials to distribute to
students and applicants. The catalog will have most of the information you need to
evaluate the school. Nationally accredited schools and PTDI certified schools are required
to list specific information in their catalogs. Some state licensing agencies also have
Unfortunately, some schools simply issue a sheet of paper
describing their course and the price. This is unfair to students and totally inadequate.
Why, you might ask? Because students that are paying to be trained should have all the
information about the school, its policies, its training and financial obligations. A good
catalog will provide information in several areas:
General Information: This includes topics such as basic information
about the school, its history, approvals and licensing, the trucking industry, job
placement assistance services, class size and schedule, policies concerning student
conduct, prohibited activities, complaints, dress code, attendance, the schools equipment
and facilities, and any required paperwork.
Academic Information: Topics such as how you will be tested
and graded, passing and failing and what you need to do to graduate should be covered.
Training Information: All the schools admission policies
and procedures, as well as a complete description of the training programs and their
objectives should be described.
Financial Information: This section should describe the
cost of each course in detail. A student should be able to see every cost the school
charges, including tuition, books, motor vehicle records, CDL permit, CDL license, CDL
test, DOT physical and drug screen, application/registration fees and any other costs. A
very important issue is the schools refund policy. This should be in writing and
describe what happens if you have to quit or you are terminated by the school. How much
money do you get back and how much will the school keep for the training they already
provided. Most state licensing agencies will have a refund policy that the school must
LENGTH OF COURSE:
There is no set rule about how many weeks or hours a training
program should provide. But there are some definite warning signs for programs you should
avoid. You really need to look at several issues, and there are some good guidelines to
First, a school should tell
you how many hours of training you will receive. This means you need to confirm how many
hours and days you will receive of classroom and truck lab training. Make them show you on
paper the topics covered and the total number of hours. You also must be very specific
about how much actual driving time YOU will personally receive. Be careful of schools that
include "observation time" in the total number of "behind the wheel"
hours! Your goal is to learn to drive, not watch other students learn how to drive. Time
spent in observation is not the same as driving. Its OK, but you need at least
30 to 44
hours of driving in addition to any observation.
As a general rule, any school that runs a program that is only
14-18 days is definitely too short. This is known as a "CDL Mill" because such
large numbers of students are pumped through. There is really no way to safely train
someone to drive a tractor-trailer in such a short amount of time. There is too much to
learn, and there are too many driving skills to be developed. After a short school, most
people will barely know anything about driving a truck. More importantly, they will hardly
know how to drive the truck forward and shift the truck, let alone handle heavier traffic
or more difficult backing and parking maneuvers.
Schools that train students for about three weeks are also
probably too short as well. Again, actual student driving time is the key. If each student
is provided close to the recommended PTDI training program of 104 hours of class and lab
and 44 hours of driving, the course would be acceptable. Unfortunately many schools
provide far less training than is required in a three week program, especially if a lot of
time is spent observing other students.
experts agree that the average new driver needs at least 4-6 weeks of daily training to
learn enough information to be considered a safe entry-level driver. Some schools run even
longer programs that cover many topics in detail and provide more hours of driving. There
is a difference between schools that train for 3 weeks or less and those that train for 4
weeks or more: It usually comes down to schools with longer courses striving for high
quality training, dedication to safety and an interest in the student, not simply a "graduate". Shorter schools cater to the
biggest companies that want as many drivers as they can get. These companies are less
interested in the long-term welfare of the student than the short-term need to fill the
drivers seat with someone that has a CDL. This is not always the case, but it is
usually the case.
STUDENT-TO-INSTRUCTOR RATIOS: This is a measure
of how much personal attention each student will receive. A high ratio (like 20 to 1)
means that there are 20 students enrolled in training for every one instructor. A low
ratio (like 5 to 1) means one instructor will be teaching only five students. The
student:instructor ratio is less important in a classroom setting, more important for
truck lab, and most important for driving. In the classroom, the ratio can be fairly high
(for example, 15:1 or 20:1) because most students will be listening and taking notes while
the instructor teaches and answers questions. Anything greater than 20:1 in the classroom
would be too many people for one instructor to handle without sacrificing some personal
attention. During truck labs (non-driving instruction around the truck), a lower ratio
(for example 5:1 or 10:1) is appropriate so that students can see and hear and ask
questions. For driving, a low student:instructor ratio is essential. The best
schools in the country provide 2:1 training on the practice driving yard and 1:1 on public
roads. Some schools put 3-6 students in the truck at the same time when driving on public
streets. The students all periodically switch from observer to driver for short periods.
This means that 5 or 6 students might spend all day driving, but each student individually
may only drive the truck for less than two hours. We strongly disagree with this approach
to truck driver training. First, it presents potential driving hazards because the
instructor has to pay attention to so many people at one time. Second, the talking and
comments in the cab may distract the student driver. Third, the other student drivers
observing can cause a new driver to be nervous. Fourth, the students that are not driving
will be bored and potentially tired when they have to drive because they have had to wait
so long. Finally, this is a waste of student time and money. Students should not have to
pay a school to sit for hours and watch other students drive. While some amount of
observation time might help certain students learn, it should be in an un-crowded truck
and it should be limited. Schools that include 30, 40 or 50 hours of observation time are
"taking the students for a ride," literally and figuratively. Students should
confirm what the typical student:instructor ratio is, especially for the driving.
Its a question of safety and value for the student.
This is another measure of the personal attention a school provides each student.
This ratio is only important for actual driving instruction. In other words,
is the school allowing each student a lot of personal attention in the truck, or is the
school trying to "pack" as many students in a single truck as possible to save
money? Like the student-to-instructor ratio, a higher ratio means LESS attention for
each student. For example, schools that place 3 to 5 students in a truck at the same
time with only one instructor in the truck would have a ratio or 3:1 or 4:1 or 5:1.
This means that all of the students have to be trained at the same time in that one
truck. On the other hand, a low ratio such as 2:1 means that there are only two
students learning in a single truck at one time. Obviously, the most outstanding
ratio is 1:1, but we only know one school that provides this ratio (see our Editor's Choice list). Why is this ratio important?
The fact is, when there are 3, 4 or 5 students trying to learn how to drive in one
truck, the quality of training is compromised. Think about it. Let's say you
pay $3,500 to learn how to drive a truck. Would you rather spend your time and money
competing for driving time with with 4 or 5 other students? Or would you prefer to
have most of the time dedicated to YOU learning how to drive. Most people say they'd
rather get their money's worth by having a student-to-truck ratio of 2:1 or, best of all,
1:1. This means that every hour you spend in the truck is just for you.
You don't have the inconvenience of other students taking turns driving. You
don't have the disruption of the other students talking and joking. You don't have
the problems of different students learning and progressing at different rates. You
don't have the boredom of sitting for hours watching other students drive. And you
get much more instruction from the driving instructor because they are focusing on you,
not other students. That's the key to learning how to drive: getting experience
driving and learning from your instructor. It's hard to get that when you compete
with 4 or 5 other students for driving time and the instructor's attention. The
bottom line is that many schools try to put as many students in the truck at one time so
that they can count those hours as "behind the wheel training." But if you
are sitting and watching, we don't think that's training. So ask the school how many
students are assigned to a truck for driving instruction. Make them tell you what
the maximum ratio is. That will give you an idea how serious they are about your
OBSERVATION TIME: O.K., this is a pet
peeve of our editors! What is "observation time"? It means that
there are certain hours of the training program where the students will be spending time
"observing" other students driving.
For example, the school will place 4 students in
the truck with one instructor. One student will be in the driver's seat, the
instructor is in the passenger seat and the other 3 students will be sitting in the
sleeper area, usually in uncomfortable bench seats. The instructor takes the truck
out for a training run and rotates the 4 students into the driver's seat. So if the
truck goes on an 8 hour drive with 4 students, each student will actually drive for only 2
hours. What are they doing for the other 6 hours? You guessed it:
We think observation time is basically a waste of
the students' time and money. The real reason schools do this is to pump up the
hours of what would otherwise be a short course. It's a marketing gimmick. It
allows a school to claim, for example, that their course is 160 hours because they have 80
hours of class, 40 hours "behind the wheel" on the practice range and 40 hours
"behind the wheel" driving on public roads. So they claim they have 80
hours behind the wheel. What they may not tell you is that 30 out of 40 hours on the
range and 30 out of 40 hours on the road will be "observation" (in other words
NOT driving). In our view it is deceptive to call all 80 hours "behind the
wheel time". When a student is sitting in the sleeper bench seat for 6 out of 8
hours in a day, they may be located behind the wheel -- but they are WAY BEHIND THE WHEEL!
Many applicants to truck driving schools are
tricked into thinking that they will have extensive driving practice at a school because
the school advertises a lot of "behind the wheel time". Most people that
are told "you'll get 80 hours behind the wheel" would reasonably interpret that
to mean they will receive 80 hours of actual driving time. Unfortunately, many
schools use "observation time" to hide the fact that their course is really a
short course. In the example above, the course is really only 100 hours long (80
class, 10 range and 10 road). So it is really only 20 hours of actual driving, not
80 hours. This is a huge difference, especially if a student thinks they are paying
$3,500 for 160 hours of training that includes 80 hours of driving.
TRUCK DRIVING SCHOOL TRAINING RECORDS:
All schools should maintain records of the training that they provide. These will
usually include records of classroom study and tests, as well as driving records.
Classroom records would provide information on attendance (how many hours of class a
student received), grades (how did the student score on different tests and topics), and
academic progress (were there any problems with academic performance). Driving
records will identify all of the drive sessions the student had, indicate the skills that
were practiced and learned, provide comments on progress or problems and show the results
of driving tests administered by the school. This basic school information should
be maintained on a "student transcript." The Transcript is a record of
training progress and completion of school. A student should be able to request a
transcript from the school at any time in order to demonstrate completion of training to
Other student records that are important include
all records of job placement assistance. A good school will work with the student
individually to develop a resume and complete job applications with carriers that fit the
student's needs. The school should have a record of this job placement assistance.
GUARANTEED EMPLOYMENT AT TRUCK SCHOOLS:
You should be very careful with schools or companies that "guarantee" a
job. First, no school can guarantee a job. Schools don't employ drivers, they
train them. Only a company can agree to and guarantee a job. So stay away from any school that says they guarantee you a job.
And carriers cannot guarantee a job to a student because the student is not yet qualified
(they don't have a CDL yet). Some companies will issue "pre-hire
letters." When a company issues this type of letter they are not hiring you or
promising to hire you. This is a letter that states that the company will hire you if
you apply and meet their requirements. It is a conditional letter because it is
conditioned upon the student completing all of the normal application paperwork
successfully. Assuming the student (1) has provided all "pre-hire"
information completely and accurately, (2) gets their CDL, and (3) otherwise meets all
company and USDOT standards, then the company will hire the student. Getting a
pre-hire letter is a good idea because it gives the student an idea about whether they
qualify for employment with a specific carrier, as well as what they have to do to be
hired. We recommend doing this, and a good school will help you with the
process. But don't think that you are guaranteed a job.
CARRIER INTERVIEWS AT TRUCK DRIVING
SCHOOLS: Getting a job after training at a school is a common concern of potential
driver trainees. The schools should provide a lot of assistance in finding the right
employer for you. Part of that employment assistance should include arranging for
recruiters to come in a provide presentations. They should also have a recruiter sit
down and interview you and determine whether you and their company are a good fit.
It's important that you get a reasonable selection of companies to choose from.
Schools that lock you in to a certain carrier, or that only allow carriers that pay a fee
to the school are doing the student a disservice.
EMPLOYER PLACEMENT RATE: Getting your CDL
is one thing. Finding a good job is another. Not all schools will assist you
with a job search. This is very important. Only the best schools offer
comprehensive employer placement assistance. These schools believe that it is their
job to not only train you, but to be sure that you can use your training. many of
the short 1-3 week schools concentrate only on getting you to pass the CDL test. They
don't really put any effort into finding you a job. And the reality is there is no
time to look for a job in these quick programs we talk about in this Guide. But good
schools that have programs that last 4-6 weeks (or more) will usually take the time to
work with their students to determine which companies fit your needs and which do not.
They will provide applications and help you with resumes and cover letters.
The best part is they provide guidance on the characteristics of each kind of company,
their reputation, their pay structure and benefits. All of this is really
important. The last thing you want is to take a job that you won't like.
You'll end up quitting and you will be back looking for a job again. So job
placement assistance should be something you really look for in a school. Good
schools take their "placement rate" very seriously. This is because they
know that carriers, job training agencies, students and the government take these numbers
seriously. In fact, schools are evaluated on this. So ask a school what their
placement rate is. It will usually be given in a percent (for example an 89%
placement rate means 89 out of 100 students that graduate typically find jobs right out of
school). A few top schools in the country provide lifetime job placement. This
means that no matter where you are or what happens, they will take the time to assist you
in finding another job. This can be really important in the trucking industry.
DIPLOMA OR CERTIFICATE AWARDED:
This is important. Most private truck driving schools and publicly-funded truck
driving programs (like community colleges) will provide a certificate or a diploma upon
graduation. However, a carrier-based training program or employer-paid contract
training course cannot offer a certificate. Why is this important? Because the
carrier is providing the training because they need a driver quickly. It is really
more like quick, on-the-job training. It is not a school.
As a result, the carrier that provides the training
is usually the only company that will accept drivers that were trained through
the program. Other companies will not recognize this as formal training at a school.
This is because most companies that accept entry level drivers are required by
their insurance companies to be sure that new drivers have had a minimum number of hours
of training. One way the carriers make sure that they meet this requirement is by
having the student obtain a certificate from a licensed school. That way they know
-- and so does the insurance company -- that the student graduated from a formal truck
driving program. But when a student goes through a training program offered by
"ABC Trucking Company," only ABC will usually accept that student.
Problems arise with these carrier-based training programs
because a student has nothing to prove he or she was trained. Here's a very common
example: Joe Driver will "graduate" from the ABC's carrier training course,
which takes about 2 weeks. He agrees to work for them for 2 years and they will
charge him $4,000 for the training if he leaves early. It is minimal training.
Joe starts working, but eight weeks later he quits for personal reasons (maybe he
has found a higher paying company that gets him home to his family more often). He
then wants to hire on with XYZ carrier. The problem is there is no record that the
driver actually received training. XYZ will need some proof that Joe is a trained
driver. ABC will usually not issue any record of training because it is not a formal
course. Plus, usually ABC is trying to get Joe to pay back the costs of the
"training," which can be several thousand dollars. So ABC is unlikely to
give any information to a competing company about a driver ABC feels has been trained for
free. Now Joe has ABC trying to collect $4,000 from him, he has no job, and XYZ
tells him he has to go to a recognized school in order to get training! Not only
does he owe money, but still needs to spend more money so he can get a job. This is
a very serious -- and often unspoken -- down-side to carrier and contract training.
HOMEWORK AND TESTS: We know these are two words
you probably DON'T want to hear! But the fact of the matter is that there is a lot
to learn to become a good professional truck driver. The only way a truck driving
school can assess whether students are learning is to test them. Plus, a good school
should be providing study materials and some basic homework so that students really learn
what truck driving is all about. Too many schools only give students a few short
lessons in the class. No wonder there are truck drivers on the road that have
trouble with basic duties like logbooks, trip planning and basic regulations. The
tests and homework don't need to be hard to be effective, they just need to reinforce what
students learn. So check into whether the truck driving schools you are evaluating
have homework assignments and tests. How many tests will be given and in what
topics? After all, you are paying for the training -- make sure you get your money's
HOME STUDY OR INDEPENDENT STUDY: Some schools
include home study and/or independent study as a part of their curriculum. This
means that part of the training will involve the students studying on their own (in other
words there will be no instructor directly leading the class). This may involve the
students reading on their own, the use of self-paced videos, computer-based training,
online (internet-based) training, workbooks, self-graded tests and other forms of
learning. These can be great training options that provide adult
students with a lot of flexibility. One concern with this type of
training is that some schools charge a large up-front fee to get access to
the materials. Just be careful about what the costs are and how much
of your money you get back if you terminate enrollment.
PAYING FOR TRAINING: For most people
interested in going to truck driving school, this is a critical
question. Often, people who want to go into trucking do not have lots
of excess income to pay for tuition. Luckily, there are quite a few
options for paying for CDL training. Some are good, and some are
clearly not so good. Believe it or not, one of the most common ways that
truck schools are paid is by a student's own private funds (cash, credit
card, check, for example). Some schools that have higher-priced
tuition for school loans ($6,000 to $7,000) may offer cash discounts.
The reason many students pay for the training themselves -- and the reason
it is probably one of the best options if you have access to the money -- is
it avoids the many issues that arise if you take out a loan or if you
consider a company-sponsored program. More on that below. The
bottom line is that you have the most freedom to choose what you want if you
COSTS OF TRAINING:
This is probably the number one question people ask -- "how much does truck
driving school cost?" Unfortunately, the answer is "it depends."
We've seen all sorts of answers on the internet from so called experts.
The reality is, tuition cost depends on a huge number of factors. As
we've discussed in other areas of this site, students should really look
more at value rather than cost. The value of a training
program is determined by the benefit that the program provides the student
in relation to the cost. More benefit at a lower cost, and the value
is higher. For CDL training, value is mostly determined by the amount
of driving time each student receives. Ultimately, a student needs to
learn how to drive a truck, and the primary factor influencing learning is exposure
to the experience of actually driving a truck. So, the average student will get the most
benefit from programs that provide more driving time. That means the
best value is from CDL schools that offer the highest number of driving hours at
the lowest cost.
Rule number one is therefore to determine the number of actual driving hours
per student. Ask the school. Good schools will describe the
program in detail and tell a prospective student how many truck driving hours are
included. Make sure these are guaranteed student driving hours and not
Truck driving school tuition cost can vary --
a lot! And just because you pay less does not mean you are getting a
better deal. Paying less can just mean you are not receiving much
training. For example, less experienced school staff, trucks in poor
condition, minimal student driving hours, inadequate (or no) job placement
assistance, an unsatisfactory facility, and other reasons may be the
explanation for why the school tuition is cheap. But sometimes public
and community colleges are subsidized by the state government, so their cost
can be lower (but not always).
the other hand, paying a higher tuition for truck driving school may
simply mean that you are paying too much. Some truck schools charge
a huge premium because they finance a lot of their students. Others
charge a lot because the trucking program is very instructor-intensive
with substantial one-on-one instruction.
average truck driving school cost is about $4,000. But, again, there
are good schools that cost $4,000 and there are schools you will want
nothing to do with that cost $4,000.
SCHOOL LOANS: Most truck driving schools cost a few thousand
dollars. But a lot of people who want to go into trucking do not have
a few thousand dollars of free cash lying around. As a result, some
truck driving schools offer student loans to assist with tuition.
School loans are typically somewhat more expensive that just paying in cash
for the CDL training program. But this makes sense since the school
will receive its payment over a few years in the future rather than up front
in cash. When a truck school takes a financial risk, they charge fees
and interest (like most lenders). Most truck school loans are
"credit-based," which means they will do a credit check to see if
the student is a good financial risk or a poor risk. Some students
with poor credit history may have to pay a higher amount or a higher
interest rate, or be required to put more funds down as a deposit. A
co-signer (someone who has better credit than the borrower) may also be
required. Truth-in-lending laws require schools to make several disclosures
to the student as to amount borrowed, the interest rate and the terms of the
loan. Borrowers should read these documents carefully and consult
someone with financial experience before signing any loan documents.
Be sure to understand the fees, penalties, prepayment terms, any bank
account drafts that you are authorizing, and the process if you are late in
your payments. Understand that a loan requires a monthly payment that
is due every month until the loan is fully repaid. You must pay on
time or you will usually be penalized. Loans can be a great resource
for students as long as the terms are reasonable, the interest rate and
payment are manageable to the student and the overall tuition of the program
Almost all schools will require the student to sign a contract. This
is typical for any trade or career training school. These contracts
are often called enrollment agreements. School enrollment contracts
are an important document if you are going to truck driving school.
The contract identifies the critical information you and the school are
agreeing to. Read it carefully and ask questions. It should
explain the program or course you are enrolling in, some information about
hours and location, the cost of tuition and any fees, and the school
policies such as the refund policy (if you have to drop out, how much
tuition will the school keep?). Other policies may also be included,
such as attendance rules, absences, necessary student progress, safety,
etc. Some enrollment agreements have disclosures or student
warnings/advisories. We think the enrollment agreement is a good idea
because it lays out the "rules" of the school in a format that
everyone sees, so hopefully it reduces surprises or confusion.
TUITION REIMBURSEMENT PLANS: Quite a few
carriers offer tuition reimbursement plans. These are a form of financial
aid offered by the trucking companies as an incentive to come work for
them. They can be a great resource for a new driver, but there are
some issues every entry-level truck driver should be aware of. The
plans typically will reimburse a student for tuition costs incurred
attending a truck driving school. There is often a limit to the total
amount reimbursed (for example, $5,000). In most cases, the trucking company
will provide a reimbursement payment each month starting after an initial
period. For example, once a driver has worked for the company for 60
days, the student is entitled to $100 per month up to a total of
$5,000. A student is only entitled to tuition reimbursement while
employed; when employment terminates, so does tuition reimbursement.
Usually, the trucking company will require some document (for example a loan
document, a school invoice, a college receipt, etc.) demonstrating that the
student paid for training. Many companies will only provide tuition
reimbursement for students who are hired immediately after school. So
if you hire on with a carrier, stay for 6 months getting tuition
reimbursement, and then switch to another company, the second company may
not offer tuition reimbursement since you are no longer an immediate
graduate. The bottom line is to ask questions about the various
tuition reimbursement policies, the limits and rules, before deciding on a
carrier after school.
Truck driving school instructor qualifications vary from school to school.
There is no national instructor "certification" process that an instructor
has to go through (some state agencies that license schools have certain
requirements). One question to ask a school is what are the school's
instructor qualification standards. How much driving experience do
they require? Does the instructor have to have a certain educational
background? What about safety and driving record? Does the
school provide professional development programs for their instructors?
These questions may help you decide whether the school takes the training
process seriously, or do they just hire any truck driver to be an
instructor. Keep in mind, just because someone can drive as truck does
not mean they have the temperament or skill or attitude to be an instructor.
Having good instructors who really want the student to succeed as a safe and
knowledgeable professional driver can mean a huge, positive difference.
On the other hand, instructors who yell or intimidate or are lazy can mean a
difficult experience for a student truck driver.
Some employers claim they will pay for CDL training for their employees.
There are not many employers that will do this, but there are some.
Most companies that agree to pay for truck driving school require the
employee to stay with the company as an employee for a year or so, or re-pay
the company if the employee terminates employment. For example, some
companies will train their dock workers or warehouse workers in exchange for
an employment commitment. This may be a reasonable solution if the
employee is sure they want to remain employed with the company. But
there are situations where the employee may want to leave or the employer
may lay off the worker. If this happens, the employee may have to
reimburse the training costs. Again, this is an area that is usually
only a good option if the student has exhausted all other alternatives.
It should go without saying that you cannot learn to drive a truck just by using a
computer. However, there are more and more computer -based resources
available to help learn about trucking and the skills and knowledge that are
required. Computer-based training (CBT) is a catchall phrase for any
training that is delivered by computer. Usually, CBT involves a
process whereby the student logs in to a computer that has lessons or videos
or tests or other tools to help the student learn. As technology has
developed these tools are becoming more and more sophisticated and useful.
Some of the best schools in the country are using CBT, which can have
several advantages. For example, it is usually self-paced. This
means the student can learn the material at their own pace. They are
not rushed or forced to go at the instructor's pace. It can also be
more flexible in that the student decides when they want to learn instead of
having to show up at a specified time for class. CBT can also be more
effective than a class lecture because CBT lessons often have a lot of
visual diagrams and photos that are helpful for some adult learners.
CBT also usually gives immediate feedback. Students can take a test
and immediately grade it and learn what they got wrong. A word of
warning about on-line sites that claim to provide CDL training. There are many
sites that claim to prepare someone to take the CDL test. We've
actually tested quite a few sites, and you should be careful. Some are
over-priced. Others have outdated or incorrect information. Some
sites are just selling a list of questions, but the questions will not help
you pass the test. Just be careful.
DRUGS AND ALCOHOL:
JOBS AVAILABLE AFTER TRAINING:
DRIVER PAY AFTER TRAINING:
TRAINING AFTER SCHOOL: