Truck Driving School and CDL Testing
Now that you are comfortable and confident in your decision to become a professional truck driver, and you've done your homework on truck driving schools, it's time to focus on learning the basic skills required to drive a tractor-trailer professionally.
The training at most truck driving schools will consist of three parts, classroom instruction, vehicle training (behind-the-wheel time) and CDL testing preparation. All are equally important to your primary goal of landing a truck driving job with a reputable and stable trucking company.
Much of your classroom time will consist of learning the paperwork involved in driving a truck and studying for the written portion of your CDL testing.
Classroom instruction typically covers the following topics:
- DOT rules and carrier safety regulations relating to the operation of trucks, commercial cars,
commercial tractors, trailers and semi-tractors, and motor vehicles transporting flammable and/or hazardous cargo.
- Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations relating to vehicle brake systems, lighting, and display of emergency equipment
- Registration and licensing laws
- Special taxes such as the International Registration Plan (IRP), the International Fuel Tax Alliance (IFTA), and the Single State Registration System (SSRS)
- Accident reporting and responsibility laws
- The effects of driver fatigue
- Safe and courteous driving practices
- Pre-trip safety inspections and routine vehicle maintenance
- Sharing the road with other vehicles
- Drug and alcohol testing requirements and procedures
- Commercial driver license requirements
Your attendance and your attention during the classroom training will make all the difference in your ability to pass the written portion of the CDL exam.
During vehicle training you will learn how to operate a truck safely and efficiently. Your behind-the-wheel instruction will include:
- Starting and stopping
- Shifting and turning
- Braking and parking
- Backing and docking
- Hooking and unhooking trailers
- Display of emergency equipment
- Use of hazard lighting systems
- Checking and servicing the vehicles
- Railroad crossing procedures
- Sharing the road and safe driving practices
Try to get as much individual behind-the-wheel time as possible. Your behind-the-wheel time will pay off during the skills testing portion of your CDL examination. The more comfortable you are behind the wheel, the more likely you are to pass the skills test on your first attempt.
Most truck driving schools will allow students to practice during breaks and off-hours. Spend as much time backing up as you possibly can, learning proper backing techniques will save you more time than you can imagine and will also help protect your safety record. A trailer-door ding at a customer dock is a preventable accident and could affect your safe driving bonus.
Once you have completed the classroom and driver training classes, you will need to take the Commercial Drivers License Examination.
There are several tests you will be required to take depending on the type of vehicle you plan on driving.
CLASS A - This classification applies only to "combination" vehicles with a Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR) exceeding 26,000 pounds, provided the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed exceeds 10,000 pounds.
CLASS B - This class includes single or combination vehicles where the GVWR of the single vehicle exceeds 26,000 pounds. The vehicle in tow must not exceed 10,000 pounds.
CLASS C - Vehicles designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver, and vehicles placarded for hazardous materials, that do not meet the criteria for Class A or B above fall under this classification.
All drivers are required to take the General Knowledge test. Again, depending on what class of vehicle you plan on driving, you may need to take one or more 'endorsement' tests as well.
CDL Endorsements are required for double/triple trailers, tanker vehicles, passenger vehicles and vehicles placarded for hazardous materials.
After you pass the required knowledge tests, you will need to the driving skills test. You must take these tests in the type of vehicle for which you wish to be licensed.
There are three parts to the skills test:
1. Pre-Trip Vehicle Inspection: You will be tested to see if you know whether your vehicle is safe to drive. You will be asked to do a pre-trip inspection of your vehicle and explain to the examiner what you would inspect and why.
2. Basic Vehicle Control: You will be tested on your skill to control the vehicle. You will be asked to move your vehicle forward, backward, and turn it within a defined area. These areas may be marked with traffic lanes, cones, barriers, or something similar. The examiner will tell you how each control test is to be done.
3. On-Road Test: You will be tested on your skill to safely drive your vehicle in a variety of traffic situations. The situations may include left and right turns, intersections, railway crossings, curves, up and down grades, and single or multi-lane roads, streets, or highways. The examiner will direct you where to drive.
Once you have your CDL in hand, you are ready to go to work. The question is, which trucking company will you choose, and more importantly, which trucking company will hire you.
The fact that you have obtained a CDL does not guarantee you a truck driving job with the trucking company of your choice. Not all trucking companies offer entry-level truck driver training programs. Your driving school should be able to assist you with job placement.