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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.


             Drive Safely
What is the process for getting a CDL?
Are there different types of truck driving Schools?

What government agencies regulate schools?
What does "Certification" mean?
What does "Accreditation" mean?
I've heard of a "CDL Mill."  What's that?
I see offers of "Free" Training.  What does that mean?
What facilities should a school have?
What kind of truck equipment should a school have?
Is audio/video training important? Is it OK?
What is an "Externship"?
Some schools have simulators.  Do they work?
I have military experience.  Will that be helpful?
Do I have to do warehouse/lumping work while I train?
What kind of driving practice will I get?

What are the school's admission requirements?
Are textbooks provided?
What training aids does the school have?
What is the training curriculum?  Does it matter?
What will the school catalog tell me?
How long should the training take?

What is the student to instructor ratio?
What is the student to truck ratio?
What is "Observation Time"?  Is it OK?
What training records should a school have?

Is employment with a trucking company guaranteed?
Will trucking company employers interview me?
What is a school's employer placement rate?
Do I receive a diploma or certificates at the end of training?
Will there be tests and homework?
Is there home study or independent study included?

Where do schools advertise?

How do I pay for training?
What should training cost?
Are there loans available?
Do I sign a contract to go to a school?
What is a tuition reimbursement plan?  Who offers it?
How do I know the instructors are qualified?
Do employers ever pay for training?

Is there computer-based training? Is it any good?

What if I have a poor driving record?
What are the drug and alcohol requirements?
What kind of jobs will be available after training?
How much can I expect to earn after training?
Will I have more training after truck driving school?


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.

:  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 know too!

     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 experience.


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 training.
     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 free.
    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 don’t 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 workplace.
     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 driver’s 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 truck’s 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 Veteran’s Affairs and the Department of Labor’s 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 driving.
     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 school’s 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 is lower.
     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, which’s just what you’ll 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 drivers.

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 school’s 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.

Basic Preparation for the CDL: General Knowledge, Air Brakes, Combination Vehicles, Doubles & Triples, Tank Trucks, Hazardous Materials.
Other Topics: 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 requirements.
     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 school’s 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 use.

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 follow.
     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. It’s 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.

Most 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 driver’s 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. It’s a question of safety and value for the student.

STUDENT-TO-TRUCK RATIO:   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 training!

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: "observing".
     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 an employer.
     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 worth.

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 pay cash. 

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 "observation hours."

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).

On 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.

The 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.

TRUCK DRIVING 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 is affordable.

SCHOOL CONTRACTS: 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.

INSTRUCTOR QUALIFICATIONS: 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.

EMPLOYER-PAID TRAINING: 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.

COMPUTER-BASED TRAINING:  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. 











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