Commercial driver's license training

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A CDL training truck on the range

Commercial driver's license training (or CDL training) is a specialized instructional program or course designed to prepare a student to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL). A CDL is required for a career as a truck driver. During training, students are taught the necessary knowledge and skills to pass a series of tests to obtain their CDL. CDL training normally begins with classroom instruction geared towards passing the written exams for a CDL permit. The CDL permit is a learner's permit that allows a student truck driver to practice driving skills on public roads with a CDL licensed driver or instructor. A student graduates CDL training once he or she receives a CDL and proves that he or she can comfortably and safely drive and maneuver a truck. Most CDL training schools train drivers for a class A CDL, which allows the holder to drive a tractor trailer that weighs over 26,000 pounds.

There are three basic types of truck driving schools: programs offered through community colleges, private truck driving schools and schools operated by trucking companies. Each type of program has different characteristics, so prospective students need to evaluate which type of school is right for them. The length of CDL training programs varies from school to school. Programs can range from a few weeks up to 6 months to complete, depending on whether the program is part-time or full-time.

Each type of school can have advantages and disadvantages, too. For example, community college programs are often less expensive than private schools, but the programs may take longer to complete and enrollment schedules may be limited. Community colleges may also offer more advanced facilities since campuses are developed and supported by the state in most cases.

Private truck driving schools are in business to provide training, so they are often "results-oriented." But like buying any service, consumers should carefully evaluate claims and quality for a private school. Most private truck driving schools offer financial aid and job placement assistance. Some private schools work only with certain employers and provide training on behalf of those employers. This is known as "sponsored" or "contract" training. In this situation, some or all of the up-front costs of training are paid to the school by the employer, and the student reimburses the employer during a period of employment as a driver. This may be an option for students who wish to avoid up-front payment, but students should understand the legal and financial implications of this type of training. As with all financial commitments for CDL training schools, potential students should inquire about tuition and fees, loans, credit checks, and other terms and conditions that apply to attending any truck driving school.

Schools operated by trucking companies can allow students to learn to drive with lower up-front costs, but there are conditions and obligations that go along with this arrangement. These programs are usually quicker than both private schools and community colleges (2-4 weeks). Drivers usually agree to drive for the carrier for at least a year in exchange for the training, and there can be tuition reimbursement costs and penalties for drivers who fail to complete this legal obligation. One advantage is that usually employment with the carrier that operates the school is guaranteed (as long as the student obtains a CDL and meets all hiring requirements upon completion of the training).

Types of CDL Training Courses[edit]

CDL training programs have three basic types of approval categories: licensed, certified, or accredited. Licensed schools have been reviewed by a state agency and have met the state’s minimum school requirements (such as facilities, curriculum, instructors, financial, etc.). The school is regulated and licensed by the state agency, and must meet those requirements. Certified schools have been reviewed and inspected by a third party, usually an independent group that measures the school against industry standards. One example of certification is the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI)[1]. Graduates are expected meet the minimum skills and knowledge standards for both the U.S. Department of Transportation and the trucking industry. Accreditation is an approval process conducted by an accrediting agency that has been authorized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit schools that meet certain federal standards. There are only a handful of accredited CDL training programs in the United States. Trucking companies use these three categories to determine which schools they will hire from.

Skills Learned During CDL Training[edit]

  • Map reading
  • Trip planning
  • Managing log books
  • Backing (with trailer)
  • Turning (with trailer)
  • Coupling and uncoupling trailer
  • Shifting
  • Road driving
  • Performing pre-trip inspections and post-trip inspections

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