Truck Driver Training: How To Handle The Time On The Road With Your Trainer

by Brett Aquila

When you're becoming a truck driver, the training you will go through can be broken down into three main stages - classroom time at CDL school, time in the yard and on the road at CDL school, and time on the road with a trainer after you get your first truck driving job. Now if you go through training with a trucking company that offers CDL training, the same things I will be talking about here will apply. The month or two you will spend at truck driving school is going to teach you the basics of what you need to know in order to pass your CDL exam. The real training will begin once you get out on the road with a trainer - and the rest you will have to learn on your own. A lot of people coming out of school have the wrong attitude and take the wrong approach to their time with a trainer, so I'm gonna talk a little bit about the right way to handle it.

First and foremost, in my 15 years of OTR driving I have repeatedly seen students come out of school with this arrogant attitude like they know so much about truck driving and they don't need to listen to anyone. I understand that most CDL schools have a rather intense training program for a few weeks and it feels like you've learned a ton, but I'm telling you that coming out of school you only know about 2% of what you're going to need to know to be consistently safe and successful in your truck driving career. Just because you know how to shift gears and back up between some cones does not mean you know how to handle life on the road any more than knowing how to shoot a shotgun at a tin can means you know enough to head over to Iraq and safely handle yourself in Baghdad in a war zone - ya got me? Good. Now please listen closely. This is very important stuff.

By far the number one complaint you'll hear from truck driver trainers is that the students don't listen - they think they know it all. The second most common complaint you'll hear is that the student's expectations of what life will be like on the road is not even close to the reality of it. This arrogant, know-it-all attitude is one of the biggest problems facing the trucking industry today. This is the main reason why you can go to many of the trucking forums out there and see nothing but complaints about how horribly everyone has been treated by their company - and I challenge you to find a company that isn't singled out somewhere as the villain. So are all trucking companies terrible to work for or is the root of the problem to be found elsewhere?

Let me tell you about a few things I've had happen to me on the road:

  • I've had the tractor kick almost completely sideways on an invisible patch of ice at 50 mph when grossing 60,000 pounds. In a flash the tractor was facing out into the field next to the highway while the trailer was still pushing straight down the highway.
  • I've had a car stop dead in front of me - completely blocking my lane - after starting a left-hand turn in front of me - while I was doing 55 mph on a 4 lane highway in a 79,000 pound tanker full of sloshing liquid. I was in the left lane and there was a car in the right lane next to me.
  • I've taken an empty trailer down slick roads in the wintertime in very high winds and watched in my mirror as the rear of the trailer was tracking in the left lane and my tractor was still tracking in the right lane. It wasn't for just a moment - it kept doing that over and over for about an hour.
  • I've been riding along on icy roads in Wyoming while 60 mph gusts blew my rig from the right-hand shoulder where I started out - clear across both lanes onto the left-hand shoulder before I could finally get it to grip again and bring it back to the right-hand shoulder for the next gust - and did this over and over again on my way to California.
  • I've had the Phoenix city police shut down all four one-way roads around City Hall in the center of downtown at 6:00 p.m. on a Friday so that I could come the wrong way around the building and get setup to back in underneath the building to deliver furniture for their renovation project while hundreds of construction workers watched me and thousands of people waited and wondered why all of the traffic in the center of the city had come to a complete standstill.

I got out of every single one of those situations without a scratch - and the same goes for dozens, if not hundreds of other scary situations throughout my career. Do you think I learned how to handle all of that stuff by backing up between cones in a gravel lot? Do you think I studied the CDL manual to find those answers? Most veteran truck drivers won't want to be within a mile of anyone who has less than 3 years experience in a big rig. Why? Because they still haven't learned enough to be considered truly trustworthy yet. It takes years and years to really achieve the status of an excellent truck driver. Many years. Just ask the other veteran writers we have on our site - Pappy, Rhonda, and Tumbleweed. They'll tell you - it takes years.

So when you get in that truck with your trainer and you head out on the highway, you remember to show that driver and the company that hired you the proper respect. That trainer is literally risking his/her life to teach you how to drive that truck and get your career off to a good start. That company hired you knowing that you know next to nothing about driving - but they're going to give you the benefit of the doubt that you'll do your best to learn all you can so that you can become an outstanding, safe driver.

A lot of people take a lot of risk and put tons of time, energy, money, and effort into helping you get your trucking career off to a good start - because somewhere in the past, a lot of people did the same for them - and they want to pass on their knowledge to help you. That's why I built this website. That's why all of our writers are doing what they do. That's why your trainer is taking you out on the road in his/her truck. So that when your turn comes to get behind that wheel, you can do it safely, efficiently, and hopefully really enjoy your new career as a truck driver.

Please do not be the next one in a long line of people to make the mistake of thinking they know more than they do. I know how it feels to be fresh out of school, and I know how it feels to have 1.5 million safe miles under your belt. So take my word for it - be humble, be appreciative, and take advantage of the tremendous opportunity you're being given to start a great new career under the guidance of an experienced driver with the backing of a company that was good enough to take a chance on you.

CDL:

Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.

OTR:

Over The Road

OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

by Brett Aquila

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TruckingTruth was founded by Brett Aquila (that's me!), a 15 year truck driving veteran, in January 2007. After 15 years on the road I wanted to help people understand the trucking industry and everything that came with the career and lifestyle of an over the road trucker. We'll help you make the right choices and prepare for a great start to your trucking career.

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