What You Need to Know Before Choosing
a Truck Driving School

6/30/2011 by Tanya Bons

I have been in the truck driver training industry for several years now and it still dumbfounds me as to "how" individuals choose their truck driving school.

A lot of people choose a school based on the price. If you call a truck driving school to see if you can afford the training and the price is more than you thought ask about financing, grants and how others pay for the class.

Truck driving schools in close proximity are usually comparable in price, under a $500 difference between them. If one school is vastly different in pricing, about a $1000 difference, you should find out why.

There are some people that decide to purchase items based strictly on price. I won't disagree, sometimes price is the best way to make a decision especially if the comparisons are generic, but pricing should be a consideration, not a decision decider when it comes to choosing a truck driving school. Not all truck driving schools are equal and if you base your enrollment on pricing alone you are making a very "snap" decision that could effect the rest of your career.

The second basis people use is location. Yes, people that plan on driving all around the country for a living won't consider a truck driving school that is an additional 20 minutes or so down the road. Just because a school's location is closer to you doesn't mean that it is the equivalent of the one farther from you. It is ludicrous to drive fifteen minutes to go to Walmart in the next town when there is a Walmart within walking distance but truck driving schools are not Walmarts. If you are comparing Walmart to Walmart by all means, shop at the one closest to you. If you are comparing truck driving schools make the decision based on your needs and the merit of the entity, not just the location; know what you are comparing.

Also, if you decide to attend a truck driving school outside of the state you reside in please check to make sure your new CDL is transferable. Individuals living in Illinois must be tested in Illinois to receive an Illinois CDL, there is no other way.

So those are the two craziest, yet common reasons, for enrolling in a particular school.

What are good reasons to choose one school over another? The basic answer is: drive time, quality training, placement and instructors.

Let's take drive time for starters. You may have been informed that one-on-one training is the best because if you're observing you are being cheated out of driving time. This advice is actually incorrect; the observation time is remedial time and does not count against your driving time. If you weren't in the truck observing another student you would be sitting at a computer or studying the pre-trip, you would not be driving. Students attending schools with remedial observation time actually spend more time in and around the trucks than students with one-on-one training.

Also, anyone who is learning a new skill knows that at times the repetition of practice can work against you. Sometimes you just have to step away, take a break and then come back refreshed and ready for action. When your time is scheduled for one-on-one training you can't jump in the back, renew and let someone else drive; regardless of how worn out, frustrated or exhausted you feel you must go on.

Drive time is the time behind the wheel actually driving, it does not include pre-trips, observation or simulator time. It is behind-the-wheel, in-charge of the truck, pushing in the clutch and turning the steering wheel - that's drive time.

Drive time is one of the most important factors when considering a school. Schools vary on drive time but 32 hours should be the minimum. Again, the more drive time, the better. I can guarantee that a student that receives more (instructed) drive time will be a better graduate and a better driver.

Quality training is another concern when looking for a truck driving school. The school you choose should have no more than four students to an instructor and all students should be instructed while behind the wheel.

Some schools will have several yards going and the instructors walk from yard to yard and check on the students. This sounds good, time behind the wheel, but if the instructor is monitoring many students at once you may be making the same mistakes over and over again without any council on how to correct yourself. In essence, you are making your mistakes into habits and that's not good.

When a student is behind the wheel the instructor should be monitoring the student and making suggestions. Instructors should be there to correct students when they make the mistakes. There is a lot to be said about self-learning but you are paying for an instructor and instruction and you should be receiving it.

Frequently students are surprised to find out that truck driving schools have placement assistance, many assume only trucking company owned schools have placement, this is not true.

Placement is a very important part of a truck driving school's program after all, the reason students attend school is for jobs and if a school can't or won't place students, well, something is up.

Sure, there are students that won't be able to find placement in the industry but it is the school's responsibility to let those students know that they may not find employment. Any school operating for more than six months knows the basics of what a company is looking for. Students with recent felonies, recent or multiple DUIs, multiple moving violations, accidents and sketchy job histories will most likely not find placement in the industry and truck driving schools know this. The turnover rate in the over the road trucking industry is extremely high, 100% at some companies. Trucking companies are always looking for students and will continue to hire students from schools that graduate good, safe drivers. If none or only one trucking company is recruiting from the school you are considering, consider another school.

The last point is the hardest to judge, the instructors. A good truck driving school will have instructors that are experienced, knowledgeable, caring and capable of teaching.

Obviously instructors that have spent less time on the road will have less experience and probably less knowledge about the industry. The Illinois Secretary of State requires a minimum of three verifiable years driving. I believe this is a good place to start but I personally think that truck driving experience is like driving time, the more the better.

I have been told that while you are driving you are learning something new every day and when you stop learning you should stop driving. If you are learning something new every day wouldn't it be more valuable to have an instructor with more experience?

Instructors should also be knowledgeable about the industry; keep up with the trends, changes and new regulations. A school should require their instructors to know what is going on and to share that with the students.

Instructors should care about the students, want to help them to succeed and enjoy the job of teaching. I believe a good majority of the schools do hire instructors on their desire to make a difference but there will always be people that value the paycheck more than the job and it is the school's responsibility to find those people and terminate them as soon as possible.

Instructors should also be capable of teaching. There are many great truck drivers out there with pins and patches for safety and years of following the rules but not all are teachers. Teaching is a mixed skill; you can teach a teacher to teach but he has to be a teacher first.

As I mentioned, it is hard to assess instructors' abilities but you should meet with one or two instructors or even students from the class and you will have a better idea of what to expect. Obviously if you get a bad feeling about an instructor or if students complain you will have some ammunition to help make your choice. I hope you will make the phone calls and send the emails asking the right questions; do your homework and evaluate the truck driving schools before you sign the dotted line.

Drive safe,
Tanya Bons

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