A modern tractor-trailer combination can be 84 feet long and weigh up to 80,000 pounds—40 tons of moving muscle. You do not get to drive a commercial truck just because you have a driver’s license. No, you need a commercial driver’s license (CDL) that you earned after getting a driving permit and professional truck driving training. Fortunately, the training does not require prior experience or a certain level of education. Becoming a professional commercial truck driver can be rewarding, both financially and personally, and open up parts of this country to you that few people get to see.
Commercial Trucking is a Regulated Industry
To preserve America’s roads and keeps its drivers safe, commercial trucking is a regulated industry, overseen by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Economic regulations have largely disappeared, making commercial trucking highly competitive, with carriers offering driver incentives and customer discounts. Safety, however, is never discounted. Drivers must:
- Pass drug and alcohol screenings
- Submit to criminal background checks
- Meet physical qualifications
- Know the rules and regulations of operating a commercial truck
Carriers may be very competitive but adhere closely to the authority of FMCSA and share information among themselves about drivers. Qualified drivers are highly desirable and sought after, while drivers who attempt to hide unfavorable backgrounds generally will not last long in the industry.
Finding a Truck Driving Training School
Commercial truck driving schools have sprouted up all over the country since the economic recession, but they are not all equally qualified, certified, or accredited. In fact, just about anybody can slap a magnetic sign to their cab and call themselves a truck driving school. Such “schools” will be only too happy to take several thousand dollars from you and leave you almost literally by the side of the road several weeks later, with no job, no prospects, and little likelihood of ever getting hired.
By contrast, an accredited, licensed commercial truck driving school will provide solid credentials; for example, here are some things to look for:
- Accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
- Licensed by the Department of Motor Vehicles of the Commonwealth of Virginia to teach truck driving
At a licensed, accredited school you can expect to spend at least eight weeks learning the skills to move a tractor-trailer safely:
- Vehicle systems—Many carriers have automatic transmission cabs, but many do not, and learning to drive 10 forward gears and two reverse gears takes time and concentration; vehicle systems includes learning about flatbeds, refrigerated trucks, and tankers
- Documentation—Sure, a lot is done by computer, but companies entrust expensive loads to you, and you have a legal responsibility to keep accurate records
- Operating systems—Do you know what an APU is? Auxiliary power units provide energy for all the comforts of home in your cab as you bed down in a rest area (no hotel bills for you!); operating systems also means satellite tracking, talking to dispatchers, and more
- Range and road operation—Learn how to back into loading docks, pass safely under overpasses and bridges and economize on fuel
An accredited, properly licensed school can also connect you to potential employers and potential career paths. Most schools provide financing options. Many schools help our country’s veterans gain financial help through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
As an alternative to a licensed, accredited, independent commercial driving school, you can attend a carrier-sponsored school, but remember, this is “sweat equity.” Instead of a school bill, you agree to work with the carrier for a specified time, usually a year.
Some carriers, naturally, are better at this type of training than others, with smaller companies generally providing less training than larger carriers. Some larger carriers will pay to bring in dozens of prospective drivers with little initial screening, a process that too often ends in turning students away after checking their criminal and medical backgrounds.
Are You Ready to Become a Truck Driver?
Whether you choose to pursue education with a licensed, accredited, independent commercial driving school or through a carrier’s school, when you are ready to make the call, take a tip from a driver recruiter working for one of the nation’s largest commercial carriers.
“You want to be a professional driver, so behave professionally when you call,” says Joan McKinsey, eight-year recruiting veteran. “Have some paper and a pencil ready. Be in a quiet place. Speak clearly; speak in short sentences. I can’t tell you how many potential drivers just talk right through me and ignore my directions. We want you to succeed, so don’t defeat yourself with that first call.”
An excellent call to make—have paper and pencil ready!—is to ATI. ATI is licensed by the state of Virginia and accredited to teach commercial driving. Call 800-468-1093 or contact ATI today for more information about its Norfolk, Virginia commercial driving campus and learn how you can earn a certificate in Heavy Vehicle Technology with Commercial Driving in as little as 16 months.
— ATI (@AdvTechInst) August 14, 2015
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