How to Decide on a CDL Driving School near Helena Alabama
Congrats on your decision to become a truck driver and enroll in a CDL school near Helena AL. Perhaps it has always been your dream to hit the open road while operating a monster tractor trailer. Or maybe you have done some analysis and have found that an occupation as a truck driver offers good pay and flexible work prospects. Regardless of what your reason is, it’s imperative to obtain the proper training by enrolling in the right CDL school in your area. When reviewing your options, there are various factors that you’ll need to examine prior to making your final choice. Location will certainly be an issue, particularly if you have to commute from your Helena home. The expense will also be important, but choosing a school based exclusively on price is not the optimal method to make sure you’ll obtain the right training. Just remember, your objective is to learn the skills and knowledge that will allow you to pass the CDL examinations and become a professional truck driver. So keeping that purpose in mind, just how do you select a truck driving school? That is what we are going to discuss in the rest of this article. But first, we are going to discuss a little bit about which commercial driver’s license you will ultimately need.
Which CDL Will You Need?
In order to operate commercial vehicles lawfully in Alabama and within the United States, a driver must attain a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License). The three classes of licenses that a driver can qualify for are Class A, Class B and Class C. Since the topic of this article is how to pick a truck driving school near Helena AL, we will highlight Class A and Class B licenses. What distinguishes each class of CDL is the type of vehicle that the driver can operate together with the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) or GCWR (Gross Combination Weight Rating). Below are short descriptions of the 2 classes.
Class A CDL. A Class A Commercial Drivers License is required to drive any vehicle that has a GCWR of greater than 26,000 lbs., including a towed vehicle of greater than 10,000 lbs. A few of the vehicles that operators may be able to drive with Class A licenses are:
- Interstate or Intrastate Tractor Trailers
- Trucks with Double or Triple Trailers
- Tanker Trucks
- Livestock Carriers
- Class B and Class C Vehicles
Class B CDL. A Class B CDL is needed to operate single vehicles having a GVWR of greater than 26,000 lbs., or a GCWR of greater than 26,000 lbs. including a towed vehicle weighing up to 10,000 lbs. Some of the vehicles that drivers may be qualified to operate with Class B licenses are:
- Tractor Trailers
- Dump Trucks
- Cement Mixers
- Large Buses
- Class C Vehicles
Both Class A and Class B Commercial Drivers Licenses might also need endorsements to drive specific types of vehicles, such as passenger or school buses. And a Class A license holder, with the proper required endorsements, can operate any vehicle that a Class B license holder is authorized to operate.
How to Evaluate a Trucking School
After you have determined which CDL you want to obtain, you can begin the process of evaluating the Helena AL truck driver schools that you are considering. As already discussed, cost and location will no doubt be your primary concerns. But it can’t be emphasized enough that they should not be your only considerations. Other variables, including the reputations of the schools or the experience of the instructors are similarly if not more important. So below are some additional factors that you should research while performing your due diligence prior to selecting, and particularly paying for, your truck driving training.
Are the Schools Accredited or Certified ? Not many Helena AL truck driving schools are accredited because of the rigorous process and cost to the schools. However, certification is more commonplace and is provided by the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI). A school is not obligated to become certified, but there are a number of advantages. Potential students recognize that the training will be of the highest caliber, and that they will get an ample amount of driving time. As an example, PTDI mandates 44 hours of real driving time, not ride-alongs or simulations. So if a school’s course is certified (the course, not the school is certified), students know that the training and curriculum will comply with the very high benchmarks set by PTDI.
How Long in Operation? One clue to help evaluate the quality of a truck driving school is how long it has been in operation. A poorly reviewed or a fly by night school usually will not be in business very long, so longevity is a plus. However, even the best of Helena AL schools had to start from their first day of training, so consider it as one of several qualifiers. You can also find out what the school’s history is relating to successful licensing and employment of its graduates. If a school won’t share those numbers, look elsewhere. The schools should additionally have relationships with local and national trucking firms. Having a large number of contacts not only affirms an excellent reputation within the profession, but also boosts their job assistance program for graduates. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to get in touch with the Alabama licensing authority to make sure that the CDL trucking schools you are researching are in good standing.
How Effective is the Training? As a minimum requirement, the schools must be licensed in Alabama and hire instructors that are trained and experienced. We will discuss more about the instructors in the following section. Also, the student to instructor proportion should not be higher than 4 to 1. If it’s any higher, then students will not be receiving the individual attention they will need. This is particularly true concerning the one-on-one instruction for behind the wheel training. And be critical of any school that professes it can teach you to drive trucks in a relatively short period of time. Training to be a truck driver and to drive a tractor trailer skillfully takes time. The majority of Helena AL schools offer training courses that range from three weeks to as long as two months, depending on the license class or type of vehicle.
How Experienced are the Teachers? As already mentioned, it’s essential that the teachers are trained to teach driving techniques and experienced as both instructors and drivers. Although a number of states have minimum driving time requirements to be certified as an instructor, the more successful driving experience an instructor has the better. It’s also crucial that the teachers stay current with industry developments or any new laws or changes in regulations. Assessing teachers may be a bit more subjective than other criteria, and possibly the best approach is to pay a visit to the Helena AL school and speak with the instructors face to face. You can also speak with a few of the students going through the training and find out if they are happy with the quality of instruction and the teacher’s qualification to train them.
Adequate Driving Time? Above all else, a good trucking school will provide ample driving time to its students. Besides, isn’t that what it’s all about? Driving time is the real time spent behind the wheel driving a truck. Although the use of simulators and ride-a-longs with other students are essential training tools, they are no replacement for actual driving. The more instruction that a student receives behind the wheel, the better driver he or she will be. Although driving time varies among schools, a reasonable benchmark is a minimum of 32 hours. If the school is PTDI certified, it will provide no less than 44 hours of driving time. Get in touch with the Helena AL schools you are looking at and ask how much driving time they provide.
Are they Independent or Captive ? You can receive discounted or even free training from certain Helena AL trucking schools if you enter into an agreement to drive for a specific carrier for a defined time period. This is referred to as contract training, and the schools that provide it are called captives. So instead of having relationships with a wide range of trucking lines that they can place their graduates with, captives only refer to one company. The benefit is receiving less expensive or even free training by surrendering the flexibility to initially work wherever you have an opportunity. Obviously contract training has the potential to limit your income opportunities when beginning your new career. But for many it may be the best way to receive affordable training. Just make sure to ask if the schools you are looking at are independent or captive so that you can make an informed decision.
Provide CDL Testing Onsite? There are several states that will permit 3rd party CDL testing onsite of trucking schools for its grads. If onsite testing is allowed in Alabama, find out if the Helena AL schools you are looking at are DMV certified to provide it. One advantage is that it is more convenient than contending with graduates from competing schools for test times at Alabama testing locations. It is also an indication that the DMV regards the authorized schools to be of a superior quality.
Are the Class Times Accessible? As previously mentioned, truck driving training is only about one to two months long. With such a brief term, it’s imperative that the Helena AL school you enroll in provides flexibility for both the curriculum and the scheduling of classes. For example, if you’re having difficulty learning a certain driving maneuver, then the teacher should be willing to devote more time with you until you are proficient. And if you’re still holding a job while going to training, then the class scheduling needs to be flexible enough to fit in working hours or other commitments.
Is Job Placement Offered? As soon as you have acquired your CDL license after graduating from trucking school, you will be impatient to start your new career in Helena AL. Verify that the schools you are contemplating have job placement programs. Ask what their job placement percentage is and what average salary their grads start at. Also, find out which national and local trucking companies their graduates are referred to for hiring. If a school has a low job placement rate or not many employers hiring their grads, it might be a clue to look elsewhere.
Is Financial Assistance Given? Truck driving schools are comparable to colleges and other vocational or trade schools when it comes to loans and other forms of financial assistance being offered. Find out if the schools you are reviewing have a financial aid department, or at a minimum someone who can help you get through the options and forms that must be completed in Helena AL.
Why Did You Choose to Become a Truck Driver?When preparing to interview for a Trucking job, it's helpful to review questions you might be asked. One of the questions that interviewers typically ask truck driving applicants is "What compelled you to choose trucking as a career?". What the interviewer is hoping to uncover is not only the personal reasons you might have for being a trucker, but also what characteristics and abilities you have that make you outstanding at your profession. You will likely be asked questions pertaining primarily to trucking, as well as a certain number of standard interview questions, so you need to ready several strategies about how you want to address them. Because there are so many factors that go into selecting a career, you can answer this primary question in a variety of ways. When preparing an answer, try to include the reasons the profession appeals to you in addition to the talents you have that make you an outstanding truck driver and the leading candidate for the job. Don't make an effort to memorize a response, but take down several concepts and talking points that pertain to your personal experiences and strengths. Reviewing sample responses can assist you to prepare your own concepts, and give you ideas of what to include to impress the recruiter.
Choose the Best Trucking School Helena AL
Picking the ideal truck driver school is a critical first step to starting your new profession as a local or long distance truck driver. The skill sets that you will learn at school will be those that forge a new career behind the wheel. There are many options offered and understanding them is critical if you are going to succeed as an operator. But first and foremost, you must get the appropriate training in order to operate a big commercial vehicle in a professional and safe fashion. If you are short on cash or financing, you might need to consider a captive school. You will pay a lower or even no tuition in exchange for driving for their contracted carrier. Or you can select an independent school and have the option of driving for the trucking firm of your choice, or one of many associated with the school. It’s your choice. But regardless of how you obtain your training, you will soon be joining an industry that helps our country move as a professional truck driver in Helena AL.
A Bit About Helena Alabama
Helena (pronunciation hel-LE-nah) is a city in Jefferson and Shelby Counties in the state of Alabama. Helena is considered a suburb of Birmingham and part of the Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Area. As of the 2010 census, the population was 16,793. Helena is highly regarded as a place to live and raise children; Business Week named Helena the 13th "Best Place to Raise Your Kids" in 2007. It has the eighth-lowest crime rate per population in the U.S., and the city was ranked in Money magazine's 2007 list of "Best Places to Live: Top 100" in the U.S., placing at number 91. The Alabama League of Municipalities awarded Helena the 2008 Municipal Achievement Award (population 10,001 to 20,000).
Helena initially incorporated in 1877, but reincorporated in 1917 after errors were discovered in the initial incorporation papers. It did not first appear on the U.S. Census until 1920, giving credence to the later date of incorporation.
The initial settlers to Helena, initially named Cove, were veterans of the final campaigns of the War of 1812. Members of Andrew Jackson’s army who cut through the brush were attracted to the quiet, peaceful valleys and streams after the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. These first settlers were reported to arrive in 1849 and were predated by the Creek Indian tribes who these settlers had battled. By 1856, the Cove post office opened. Shortly thereafter, the settlers changed the name of the town to Hillsboro.
The onset of the Civil War brought the need for the South to increase it’s manufacturing output and add industrialization where there was none prior. Coal and iron ore mines were dug all throughout the area and the addition of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad infrastructure made Helena a center point for the wartime efforts. Around 1864 a rolling mill was built on Buck Creek, near the rail lines to process the Iron from Selma. Peter Boyle, an engineer for the railroad working on a new line, met and courted Helen Lee. He would name the burgeoning rail station that fed the rolling mill after her and, eventually, changing the town name to Helena.
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