How to Choose a CDL Training School

By Mac Longacre, Veteran Truck Driver & Staff Writer
Article last updated on 9/18/2008

I get asked this question a lot – “How do I choose a truck driving school?” For many people, one of the hardest career decisions they will make is where to get training. There are a lot of options when it comes to learning to drive a truck. There are schools, trucking companies and even individuals willing to train you as a truck driver. Some choices are better than others. Here are some of my observations:

“Home Schooling” is the cheapest training and is usually taught by a friend or relative who is a truck driver or owner/operator. While you might feel more comfortable training with someone you know, this type of training is generally not very organized. I’ve met some drivers trained in this manner and I’m amazed at their lack of knowledge when it comes to non-driving parts of the job. A key to being a successful truck driver is maintaining a log book and understanding logging regulations and efficient trip planning. Uncle Dave might be great at teaching you when to double clutch, but that’s only part of the story.

MY RECOMMENDATION: Stay away from home schooling for truck driver training. Leave it to the professionals.

Truck Driving Schools – These are schools in business to make money, plain and simple. And because that’s their goal, they are focused on one thing getting your tuition money. Truck driver training is expensive. Most schools require large tuition down payments or require high interest loans. I’ve seen too many people pay thousands of dollars in tuition and find they can’t get a job in trucking after graduation. Here’s the deal folks – trucking companies have hiring standards just like any other business. They also have to follow federal regulations by conducting background checks on potential employees. Just because you graduated and got your CDL, that doesn’t entitle you to a job. Check out the school thoroughly before you pay anything. C1 Truck Driver Training is a highly regarded school with several campuses.

MY RECOMMENDATION: Be very careful. You are the one taking all the financial risk here. Ask potential schools about their job placement assistance.

Company-Paid Training - Trucking companies are willing to cover a major portion of the tuition cost at an approved truck driving school and provide an entry level driving position. These training programs are usually 3 weeks long with additionally paid on the job training after graduation. In order to qualify for this training, your application has to be pre-approved. Generally, you have to sign an employment contract with the company in exchange for the tuition assistance. But I don’t see that as a negative. You’ve got your tuition taken care of, you are getting good training and you have a good job lined up after graduation. I know several successful truck drivers who got their start in the trucking industry by attending a company-sponsored training program. It’s a win-win situation for both the driver and the trucking company. P.A.M. Transport offers one of the industry’s most well-known company-paid training programs thru the Driver Solutions Network.

MY RECOMMENDATION: This is the best option for someone looking to get started in a truck driving career. You get help paying for training and good job.

Preparing for Truck Driver Training

Once you’ve made the decision to begin a new career as a truck driver, you need to take some time to prepare for the training. Begin by reading the information and then trying to answer the sample test questions for each section. Most trucking companies will require you to hold a Class A CDL with Hazardous Materials and Air Brakes Endorsements. This means you will need to study 4 sections of the CDL manual; general knowledge, combination vehicles, air brakes and hazardous materials.

Before you can obtain a CDL permit for training, you must first pass a DOT (Department of Transportaton) physical. The US Department of Transportation regulated certain medical conditions for CDL drivers. The more reputable truck driver training schools administer the DOT physical as a part of their program. In the interest of public safety, you must meet all DOT physical requirements outlined below:

  • You must have 20/40 correctable vision in each eye. Glasses or contact lenses are permitted.
  • You cannot be a diabetic on needle-injected insulin; diabetes controlled through a diet or oral medication is permitted.
  • Your blood pressure must be under 160/90 or less. Prescription medication to control blood pressure is permitted.
Other factors or conditions which could prevent you from obtaining the required DOT clearance include: sleep apnea, back injury, recent major surgery, a current hernia, or the use of mind or mood altering drugs. If you have questions about your medical health, pleas consult your physician before beginning a training program.

In addition to the DOT physical, all drivers are subject to a DOT drug screen. The drug screen can detect small traces of illegal drug use including marijuana, cocaine and other narcotics. In addition, the DOT requires trucking companies to administer random drug screening for all CDL-licensed drivers throughout the driver’s employment.

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