My Swift Driving Academy Experience.

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Daniel H.'s Comment
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Swift Transport driver standing in front of his truck

I started the Swift Driving Academy in Lewiston, ID on 1-06-14. On this thread I will do my best to inform everyone what I am going through and how they teach us to drive these big trucks.

A little background on me, I'm 38 and spent the last 20 years doing residential construction. After the last few years of little work, a friend of mine threw the Washington state CDL drivers guide at me and told me to read it. After studying it a little I got online for a little research and almost immediately came across TruckingTruth.com. I have truthfully barely even glanced at the state book since. With the help of The High Road Training Program I easily passed all of my permit and endorsement tests, I have even amazed some of the instructors with the knowledge that I have coming in and not having any trucking background at all.

Coming into Swift I was required to have my CDL permit with the combination vehicle endorsement and air brake restriction removed. I was also required to have my DOT Medical Card and Social Security Card.

Day 1. Bussed from the Motel to swift at 5:45am. Class starts at 6:00am in the winter. We started out with paperwork, personal info check, SDA (Swift Driving Academy) pre-enrollment check, SDA enrollment agreement, SDA photograph and video release form, Tuition loan agreement ($3,500 at 0% interest paid back by weekly payroll deduction over 13 months with a weekly tuition reimbursement paid to me over 26 months), student housing loan agreement ($500 at 0% interest paid back by weekly payroll deduction over 6 months), and the SDA driving range rules.

Next we went over to the terminal for the wiz quiz, no hair test. When we got back we were given 3 open book tests on shifting, hours of service, and trip planning. We then started our logbooks, BTW (behind the wheel) form which keeps track of our classroom, backing, shifting, and driving hours.

Then we were given a copy of our state pre-trip inspection guide and our homework, write out the pre-trip inspection guide WORD FOR WORD, yea that's right word for word. It turns out that some people in previous classes had only been scanning it and not actually reading the thing. Took me until Wednesday and 23 pages but I got it done.

Day 2. Had a lesson on log book rules and the proper way to fill them out, then was tested on it. Then went to the WA DMV to pick up the CDL test sheet ($100) and spent the rest of the day writing out the Pre-trip.

Day 3. Started the day with 3 hours of learning how to pre-trip a truck including the sequence that the tester would like to see it done in. Then got put in a truck and learned straight line backing. Did countless trips of pulling forward 100 yards, stop, back up into the box, get out and look, get in, repeat. Did that for 5 hrs. Finished up the day with 2 more hours of pre-tripping.

Day 4. Started the day with 2 hrs of pre-trip studying. Next it was back into the truck for 3 hrs of straight backing. After lunch I was shown how to do 90 degree backing and off-set backing. I spent the next 3 1/2 hrs off-set backing, pull forward for 100 yards then back up 100 yards while moving left 12 feet and stopping in the box while trying not the kill the cones, get out and look, get back in and return to the starting point. I only managed to kill 2 cones but they're resilient little things and usually pop right back up. After that learning experience we did 1 1/2 hr of pre-trip studying then called it a day. After class I went to the store and bought some index cards and use them to make flash cards of each component of my pre-trip with the name of the part on one side and proper explanation on the other. (Thanks Brett for the idea)

Day 5. Started with 2 hrs of pre-trip, notice a pattern yet? Then 1 hr on the off-set backing course, I,m getting better but I still need more practice. Next I moved over to the 90 degree backing range. That was a frustrating couple of hours. You'd think that it'd be as easy as turning the wheel one way, letting the trailer swing around, then steering back into it. Unfortunately it just hasn't clicked in my head yet, but I'll get it. One instructor suggested that I buy a toy tractor trailer and draw out the course on paper to help understand how the truck and trailer interact with each other, I'll be picking one up tomorrow. After lunch I went back to the straight line backing for 4 hrs. I've got that down pretty good now. Finished up the day with 2 more hours of pre-trip. After classes I came back to the motel and did a few hours of pre-trip studying.

Day 6. Today was a classroom day. It started with a SDD (Swift Decision Driving) power point presentation. Pretty basic 10 point defensive driving program. Next came the videos, Eaton Fuller transmissions (witch left most people baffled but I found pretty interesting), mountain driving, downhill driving, commentary driving (which I remember from driver's ed when I was 17) and backing techniques. We also had an officer from the Idaho Port of Entry come in and talk to us about weight limits, off-tracking rules and legal truck routing. Over all it was a very informative day. After class I went out and bought my first 18 wheeler.

Lowe's 48 model truck replica

Pre-trip Inspection:

A pre-trip inspection is a thorough inspection of the truck completed before driving for the first time each day.

Federal and state laws require that drivers inspect their vehicles. Federal and state inspectors also may inspect your vehicles. If they judge a vehicle to be unsafe, they will put it “out of service” until it is repaired.

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.

Logbook:

A written or electronic record of a driver's duty status which must be maintained at all times. The driver records the amount of time spent driving, on-duty not driving, in the sleeper berth, or off duty. The enforcement of the Hours Of Service Rules (HOS) are based upon the entries put in a driver's logbook.

Terminal:

A facility where trucking companies operate out of, or their "home base" if you will. A lot of major companies have multiple terminals around the country which usually consist of the main office building, a drop lot for trailers, and sometimes a repair shop and wash facilities.

Combination Vehicle:

A vehicle with two separate parts - the power unit (tractor) and the trailer. Tractor-trailers are considered combination vehicles.

Baffle:

A partition or separator within a liquid tank, used to inhibit the flow of fluids within the tank. During acceleration, turning, and braking, a large liquid-filled tank may produce unexpected forces on the vehicle due to the inertia of liquids.

DOT:

Department Of Transportation

A department of the federal executive branch responsible for the national highways and for railroad and airline safety. It also manages Amtrak, the national railroad system, and the Coast Guard.

State and Federal DOT Officers are responsible for commercial vehicle enforcement. "The truck police" you could call them.

Dm:

Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.

DMV:

Department of Motor Vehicles, Bureau of Motor Vehicles

The state agency that handles everything related to your driver's licences, including testing, issuance, transfers, and revocation.

Wine Taster's Comment
member avatar

Wow, nice rig! I will be following this tread to see how it goes. Thanks for posting. Was there a reason you picked Swift over other companies?

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

Daniel H.'s Comment
member avatar

Day 7.

Today was good but really tiring. We started with 2 hrs of per-trip, I'm starting to find my rhythm and getting a flow going from one part to the next without so many stops to check myself . Started backing on the offset for a short time then was moved over to the straight line backing for 1 1/2 hrs, got the hang of that one. Then was put on the 90 degree backing for 4 hrs and I finally figured it out, something just clicked and it dawned on me how to do it. I'm not all to efficient at it yet, I hit it right about 50% of the time, but I know what I did wrong right after I did it and sometimes as I'm doing it . I'll get it with practice so I'm now worried. After driving we were shown how to slide the trailer tandems and the 5th wheel. Then finished up the day with more pre-trip study.

I'll do more pre-trip study tonight, I'm going to make sure that by the time I take the state test I can spit it out without having to think about it.

I chose Swift because I wanted to train with a large company. One that hauls different kinds of freight and has opportunities to get into a dedicated route Swift also has comfort zones that they will try to keep you in and I would like to stay in the west, well not so much as to stay in the west but more as to stay out of the northeast. Also I couldn't get the recruiters from Prime, Knight, or FFE to call me back.

Dedicated Route:

A driver or carrier who transports cargo between regular, prescribed routes. Normally it means a driver will be dedicated to working for one particular customer like Walmart or Home Depot and they will only haul freight for that customer. You'll often hear drivers say something like, "I'm on the Walmart dedicated account."

Tandems:

Tandem Axles

A set of axles spaced close together, legally defined as more than 40 and less than 96 inches apart by the USDOT. Drivers tend to refer to the tandem axles on their trailer as just "tandems". You might hear a driver say, "I'm 400 pounds overweight on my tandems", referring to his trailer tandems, not his tractor tandems. Tractor tandems are generally just referred to as "drives" which is short for "drive axles".

Tandem:

Tandem Axles

A set of axles spaced close together, legally defined as more than 40 and less than 96 inches apart by the USDOT. Drivers tend to refer to the tandem axles on their trailer as just "tandems". You might hear a driver say, "I'm 400 pounds overweight on my tandems", referring to his trailer tandems, not his tractor tandems. Tractor tandems are generally just referred to as "drives" which is short for "drive axles".

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
Svetlana K.'s Comment
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Good luck in school, it is very tiring

Daniel H.'s Comment
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Day 8. Today started with 2 hrs of pre-trip, surprise. I felt pretty comfortable with it this morning. I'm able to go through large sections of it with only a couple of stops to make sure I didn't forget any parts.

Next I spent an hour practicing the Oregon-Idaho 90 degree backing, they had me hook up one of the Volvos to it and let me tell you, those trucks steer so much better than the Freightliners. Well I've got the 90 licked, I can hit it 90% of the time now.

After our first brake the fun started. I was taken out on the road and taught how to shift. I picked up the up shifting pretty quick but the down shifting is a little more involved, Clutch in gear out clutch out, tap throttle just hard enough, clutch in gear in clutch out, It seems pretty straight forward to me as I write it out but it took a little while for my feet hand and brain to agree on the sequence of these things but I got it. The instructor, Rick, seemed pretty impresses with how fast I picked it up. Impressed enough to throw in a couple of other exercises, I was told to drive with my tandems 1 foot off the curb along a line in the road and after a few tries I was able to stay there for the most part. I was only out for a little over an hour but I'll get more time at it tomorrow.

After lunch I was told that I was going to take a practice pre-trip test, so I went through the whole pre-trip only missing a few things. When I was finished the instructor and I went over how I did and what I missed and he asked me if I felt comfortable enough with it to take the Swift pre-trip test. I told him tat since I know what I needed to do to get it right that I would be up to doing it. He then spun his clipboard around and said sign here and congratulations you passed with a 97% score.

Next it was onto the offset backing test. I went back a little to far and was docked 2 points but that just proves I'm human.

When I was finished with the offset test I got onto the Washington 90 degree backing course for the first time. After a couple of tries I was able to get it in easily. 45 minutes later an instructor came over and tested me on the 90 degree backing and I nailed it.

We finished off the day with more pre-trip studying. So, over all today I passed 3 Swift company tests, and got out on the road for the first time. It was a great day.

Tandems:

Tandem Axles

A set of axles spaced close together, legally defined as more than 40 and less than 96 inches apart by the USDOT. Drivers tend to refer to the tandem axles on their trailer as just "tandems". You might hear a driver say, "I'm 400 pounds overweight on my tandems", referring to his trailer tandems, not his tractor tandems. Tractor tandems are generally just referred to as "drives" which is short for "drive axles".

Tandem:

Tandem Axles

A set of axles spaced close together, legally defined as more than 40 and less than 96 inches apart by the USDOT. Drivers tend to refer to the tandem axles on their trailer as just "tandems". You might hear a driver say, "I'm 400 pounds overweight on my tandems", referring to his trailer tandems, not his tractor tandems. Tractor tandems are generally just referred to as "drives" which is short for "drive axles".

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
Tracy M.'s Comment
member avatar

Thanks for the insight and the very detailed account of school. Keep up the post.

Raymond W.'s Comment
member avatar

Wow great posts man,

I am trying to get in school myself and live in Raleigh NC. Does swift any terminals in nc and does swift have a tanker division?

Thanks

Terminal:

A facility where trucking companies operate out of, or their "home base" if you will. A lot of major companies have multiple terminals around the country which usually consist of the main office building, a drop lot for trailers, and sometimes a repair shop and wash facilities.

Daniel H.'s Comment
member avatar

Day 9. Today started with, wouldn't you know, pre-trip practice, 2 1/2 hours of it.

Then Rick, my driving instructor, grabbed me and put me in the truck to practice shifting. Well it just wasn't shifting on the roads around the academy, oh no, we got out onto the highway and took a trip to town. Over bridges, one of which really had me sweating it was so tight, through stop lights, stop signs, residential neighborhoods, school zones, left turns, right turns up hills, and down hills, and all the while I'm trying to remember what gear I'm in, how fast I'm going, what my shift points are, how to shift, and a hundred other things. Needless to say, I was stressed.

Here I must stop and say that Rick was very patient with me. He kept trying to get me to laugh and relax. He would explain to me what I did wrong and how to correct the problems, even when I tried to up-shift from 4th gear to 3rd gear, funny how that doesn't work all to well. Anyway Rick is a great instructor, I've already learned a lot from him and will continue to.

After we returned I got to practice the 90 degree backing for almost 3 hours, I've got the hang of that now and can do it 9 times out of 10. The other 10% of the time I turn to soon or to late or the cones just decide to commit suicide and jump under my tires.

At 1:00 Rick and I went back out on the road for 1 1/2 hours. This time out things went smoother for me but I'm still trying to down-shift without getting my RPMs down first and every now and then I start a turn to soon and my trailer tandems end up on the curb. Rick had me drive down a narrow, twisting road that would be a lot of fun on a motorcycle but the designers had definitely not thought about semi trucks with 53 foot trailers when they built it. I made it through but it was tight.

Finished out the day with more per-trip study. 9 days down, 8 to go, onward and upward. I'll keep the wheels rollin'.

Tandems:

Tandem Axles

A set of axles spaced close together, legally defined as more than 40 and less than 96 inches apart by the USDOT. Drivers tend to refer to the tandem axles on their trailer as just "tandems". You might hear a driver say, "I'm 400 pounds overweight on my tandems", referring to his trailer tandems, not his tractor tandems. Tractor tandems are generally just referred to as "drives" which is short for "drive axles".

Tandem:

Tandem Axles

A set of axles spaced close together, legally defined as more than 40 and less than 96 inches apart by the USDOT. Drivers tend to refer to the tandem axles on their trailer as just "tandems". You might hear a driver say, "I'm 400 pounds overweight on my tandems", referring to his trailer tandems, not his tractor tandems. Tractor tandems are generally just referred to as "drives" which is short for "drive axles".

Daniel H.'s Comment
member avatar

Day 10. Started off with Pre-trip as usual but it was 26 degrees out and my feet were frozen. Once we got the trucks warmed up everyone decided to study the in cab portion of the pre-trip.

I practiced the 90 degree backing for 2 1/2 hours, got it every time but one. Damn cone jumped out and dove under my trailer tire.

Three of us went out driving with Rick in the afternoon and took turns driving. I did much better on my shifting today there's still room for improvement but I'm getting better. We were told that we won't be driving tomorrow so that they can concentrate their efforts on the other students. So I don't get to drive until monday. Until then I plan on studying my commentary driving form so I know what to do come Monday.

Finished out the day with a few minutes on the off-set backing course and helping one of the first week guys learn the pre-trip inspection.

On a sad note we lost one person from our class today. He was really struggling and decided that this wasn't for him. I have to giving him credit for trying, nothing ventured in life nothing gained.

Pre-trip Inspection:

A pre-trip inspection is a thorough inspection of the truck completed before driving for the first time each day.

Federal and state laws require that drivers inspect their vehicles. Federal and state inspectors also may inspect your vehicles. If they judge a vehicle to be unsafe, they will put it “out of service” until it is repaired.

Daniel H.'s Comment
member avatar

Day 11. Started the day with 2 hours of Pre-trip study. It was cold again this morning but we had fog as well.

Then I was put on the 90 degree backing range for an hour, no cone suicides today.

After break I went out driving with Bill, a new instructor for me, for a little over an hour. He is very laid back, he allowed me to do my thing and told me how to correct my mistakes which were only minor this morning. It was a pretty cool drive.

After lunch I got to get on the offset backing range for 1 1/2 hours. I had no problems with it at all.

At 1:00 Rick took my roommate and myself out driving. I got to go first. That was a fun, somewhat stressful, and at times really scary 1 1/2 hours. After driving through town he took us to a small lake to take a break. When we left there he told me to turn left on one road and I knew where we were headed, right for an 18% downgrade. As we approached I asked Rick what gear we should be in and he told me to take it in what I thought was appropriate so I put it 5th gear and started down. As I went down the first part I realized that the hill was getting steeper and steeper and my eyes got bigger and bigger. About this time Rick casually says "I would have put it in one gear lower." Now I'm thinking that I'm in for a hell of a ride. Rick tells me that I can down shift but if I decide to do it then I can't hesitate and to make the shift quickly. So I hold the brakes and get the RPMs down to 600. I managed to get it down shifted but in that 1 1/2 seconds from when I first put in the clutch to when I released it in 4th gear I had a real sick feeling that it was going to end really bad, but all turned out well and I got a big confidence boost. About 20 minutes later as I was following Rick's directions we were approaching the airport and he told me to turn right. He said that this is a fun road. Now, I've learned that when Rick says something like that it's time to get ready for a challenge, and I wasn't disappointed. It turned out to be an extremely narrow, twisted, hilly road. I most definitely had my hands full just steering and keeping the trailer tandems on the pavement but you throw in the shifting, oncoming traffic, and trying to keep my speed up and I was almost frantic. I managed to keep my cool and afterwards found that I enjoyed it and now I'm looking forward to whatever Rick has in mind for me next.

When we got back to the Academy we had a class on shifting and emergency procedures as well as commentary driving, which we start on Monday. We finished up the day with more pre-trip study. Tomorrow is a classroom day. 18 percent downgrade trucking sign

Tandems:

Tandem Axles

A set of axles spaced close together, legally defined as more than 40 and less than 96 inches apart by the USDOT. Drivers tend to refer to the tandem axles on their trailer as just "tandems". You might hear a driver say, "I'm 400 pounds overweight on my tandems", referring to his trailer tandems, not his tractor tandems. Tractor tandems are generally just referred to as "drives" which is short for "drive axles".

Tandem:

Tandem Axles

A set of axles spaced close together, legally defined as more than 40 and less than 96 inches apart by the USDOT. Drivers tend to refer to the tandem axles on their trailer as just "tandems". You might hear a driver say, "I'm 400 pounds overweight on my tandems", referring to his trailer tandems, not his tractor tandems. Tractor tandems are generally just referred to as "drives" which is short for "drive axles".

SAP:

Substance Abuse Professional

The Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) is a person who evaluates employees who have violated a DOT drug and alcohol program regulation and makes recommendations concerning education, treatment, follow-up testing, and aftercare.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

OOS:

When a violation by either a driver or company is confirmed, an out-of-service order removes either the driver or the vehicle from the roadway until the violation is corrected.

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