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Are there different types of truck driving Schools?
TYPES OF SCHOOLS: 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.
What kind of driving practice will I get?
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.