To drive a commercial vehicle in Virginia, you must take and pass a general knowledge exam. It will test your familiarity with the operation of commercial vehicles, as well as safe driving techniques and motor vehicle laws. The questions on the exam are based on information in the Virginia Commercial Driver’s Manual, available at all DMV customer service centers.
That sounds fairly straightforward, right? Just study, pass the exam, get hired, and get on the road. But if you’ve never driven a commercial truck — particularly a tractor-trailer — there’s a lot to learn in order to ensure your own safety, as well as that of the other drivers you’ll be sharing the road with (not to mention, the safe arrival of the load you’re carrying).
The fact is, commercial truck driver education is a good investment.
Truck Driving and Maneuvering
Even if you’re already a good driver, without formal training in maneuvering a tractor-trailer, you won’t have the expertise you need to keep it on the road, park it, and avoid dangerous situations. A good program with a comprehensive driving module will teach you how to turn, tow, load, unload, reverse, and shift tractor-trailer vehicles.
The training should also teach how to couple and uncouple trailers, connect and disconnect air brakes, docking successfully in an alley, and entering a driveway. A truck-driving instructor typically teaches students how to drive in traffic, effectively use mirrors, operate a clutch, and control the truck at a high speeds, and enter and exit highways. Students may also learn how drive to safely on two-lane roads.
Hours of Service Restriction
As a commercial truck driver, you will be restricted as to how many hours you can drive. Safe operation of a commercial vehicle is compromised when the driver seeks to go over the legal restrictions for a shift. A truck-driving course should teach you about the rules and restrictions in your state, or the states that you might be driving through.
A commercial truck driver must be in good physical condition to be effective. Often drivers must help load or unload the trucks, or, they may have to be able to make adjustments to the load during the drive, or perform other physical maneuvers that require a certain degree of strength. A good truck driver training program will teach you how to perform these tasks safely, and will also address the need for a healthful lifestyle to maintain alertness and avoid stress and illness.
Transportation of Hazardous Materials
Many drivers will find work transporting hazardous materials. Although drivers for companies that transport hazardous materials will likely receive extensive training from their company for safe handling and transportation of the particular materials the company deals with, a comprehensive truck driver training course should provide some basic training in its classroom module on safely transporting hazardous materials.
Safe driving is good for you and it’s good for business. Your training should include a safety component that teaches you the fundamentals of safe driving, how to assess risk levels and driving conditions, as well as the most common causes of truck-related crashes.
Vehicle Maintenance and Operational Guidelines
Your training should teach you the components and parts of the tractor-trailer, such as the brakes, hydraulics, air brakes, and transmissions. You should also learn basic maintenance procedures, plus operational guidelines, such as these:
- maintaining a log book
- how to perform a pre-trip inspection
- trip planning
- how to use a truck atlas
A Good Time to be a Truck Driver
Truck drivers keep America moving. Long haul truckers move a variety of commercial goods — just about everything you can think of that Americans buy for their homes or businesses — on our nation’s highways. Food, water, gasoline — you name it, from essentials to luxuries, it wouldn’t be so easy to gain access to without our truckers.
Despite the ongoing demand, jobs in trucking companies often go unfilled. There just haven’t been enough people to meet the demand. The American Trucker Association has estimated there’s a need for as many as 35,000-40,000 truckers nationwide. As our economy expands, the need will only grow.