DriverSolutions/PAM--Suburban Truck Driver Training School, Romulus MI

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Hobo's Comment
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This is not really a training diary. I intended to make diary posts during my training but the schedule was hectic and I decided not to make diary entries during my training so this is more of a summary of my training. There isn't a lot on this site about DriverSolutions/PAM Transport and there's even less about Suburban Truck Driver Training School so I'm posting this so people in the future can have some idea of what to expect if they decide to go the same route I did.

Where to start...I've heard the beginning is a good place so let's start there. I received a call from a Driver Solutions recruiter on February 10th. This first call was short and pretty basic. We talked about my criminal history, employment history, my previous driving experience and also about my expectations for the job, things like home time. The recruiter told me she was going to check with the State of Michigan on my background and that I should call her back in 30 minutes. I did and she said everything looked good so then she got a little bit more detailed. She told me more about DS and PAM and sent me email links during the conversation. One of the things she sent me was a login to the driver account, this is important. This driver account page has material you have to read about DS and PAM and also contains an online training program covering the information you need to know in order to pass your CDL permit test. You must complete these steps before they will schedule you for a school start date. The recruiter will also leave messages for you on this page, things like "call me at such and such date and time" just to see if you really are logging in and paying attention. After that there really isn't much. I talked to the recruiter a couple of times just to touch base and once I was ready to be enrolled in the school she hooked me up. Tuesday March 5th was my first day which brings us to...

...the first day. Every class starts on a Tuesday and the first week is spent mostly in the classroom. The first day is simple. In the morning you'll get a short speech from the head administrator laying out what the school expects from you and then you'll do some log book work and map reading exercises, you'll also watch some videos, some very cheesy videos, about various trucking type things. In the afternoon you will meet with the DS liaison and fill out some paperwork. By "some paperwork" I mean reams of it. After you're done with the paperwork you go to the clinic to take your DOT physical. I took my physical and got my DOT card before I started school but even if you already have your card you have to go anyway and take a drug test. I know what you're about to ask and let me stop you right there...if you have to ask this isn't the place for you. The test is an observed test and you have to raise your shirt, drop your trousers, and be patted down. You will not be able to sneak in a prosthetic and a bag of clean urine. I was not hair tested but others said they were. Wednesday and Thursday is the instructor going over the CDL manual with you getting you ready to take your permit test. Friday morning is a practice quiz. You have to pass this quiz in order to be sent to the Secretary of State in the afternoon to take your permit test. I had my TIP before school started but I still had to take the practice quiz because it's a graded exercise.

Saturday is the last school day of the week and it is from 7 AM to 5 PM just like every other school day. This Saturday at the end of week one is mandatory, if you miss this day you can't progress into the yard during week 2 with your class, you'll have to wait until the next Saturday to catch up. You'll be shown how to couple/uncouple and you'll actually do it at least once. An instructor will go over the pre-trip inspection with your group and explain what they expect from you regarding the pre-trip. The rest of the day is familiarizing you with the truck..basically driving forward and backward in a straight line (or trying to) so you can get used to the clutch and the interplay between the steering wheel and the trailer. This concludes week 1.

I haven't mentioned the motel or training pay. The vast majority of the students at this school are local but the few who are from out of the area stay at a Motel 6 down the street from the school. I didn't mention training pay because there isn't any. I'll post about the rest of the training program in a little bit.

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.

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.
Hobo's Comment
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Week 2 starts on Monday and now the fun begins. You are expected to be there early every day and every day this week is the same. From 7 AM to 8 AM every morning you work on your pre-trip out in the yard. I highly recommend asking an instructor if you can start a truck and work on the in-cab part of the pre-trip. Being able to recite the safe start and the parking brake check is one thing but there is no substitute for actually performing them, as often as you can. If you get one of them wrong during the state exam it's an auto-fail and you will be expected to actually perform them in front of the state examiner.

From 8 AM to 5 PM you work on a couple of backing exercises, the offset back (left and right) and the 90 degree back. You work on one of them in the morning, lunch is generally at or near 12 noon, and after lunch you work on the other one. There is no computer lab at this school, no simulators. The first time you attempt an exercise an instructor will be right outside the driver's door talking you through it. They will gradually back off over the next few days until you can do it with little to no instruction. That's really all there is to it, there's nothing complicated about the process here, they try to build confidence through repetition.

Some classes are large, mine was, and it may seem that you're not getting a lot of time behind the wheel at first. There's a reason for this...you're not. My first three days in the yard I got 3 turns per day per exercise. If this happens to you all you can do is make sure you're close enough to the instructor to hear what he's saying to the other students. It's not the same as doing the exercise yourself but at least you're still benefiting from instruction. Wednesday of yard week is when you'll most likely start losing people. Some people will fail the drug test, some guys lie to DS about their background and will be kicked out of school once their lie is discovered, and some guys are just plain stupid. A guy in my class was talking to the head yard instructor and was bragging about how he already had a job lined up with a local company and was planning to screw PAM by not reporting to them after he received his CDL. He was kicked out of school the next morning. Remember, you are constantly being evaluated and not just about skills, the instructors are going to try to get a good idea of what kind of person you are.

You will spend all day outdoors during week 2, it is vital that you dress appropriately for the weather.

Week 3 is road week. Just like week 2 you're expected to sign in early every morning and be out in the yard by 7 AM for your one hour of pre-trip. At some point during week 3 you will be scheduled to perform the pre-trip inspection in front of one of the instructors, you will not get advanced notice as to when this will happen, just be aware it will happen. You need to do well on this inspection because your performance will impact when you're scheduled to go take the state CDL test.

The first day of road week is spent at the shift range, which is a fancy term for empty industrial park. You'll practice shifting and you'll get a little tiny bit of road time. There are three trucks out on the road, each of which carry 5 students and an instructor. You need a minimum of 8 hours of drive time to complete your road phase. After your day at the shift range you'll go out on the road for at least 4 days. You'll get a lot of shifting practice, a lot of turning practice and the other things you'll need such as staying aware of your surroundings, controlling your following distance, intersection management (I had a little bit of trouble dealing with standing green lights).

Once you're done with your road time your 162 hours is pretty much up as long as you haven't missed any days and it's time to start looking forward to the state exam. I'll cover this in a new post.

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.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

Old School's Comment
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These are great Hobo! Thanks for pointing out so many informative details. Keep us posted, and hang tough. You're doing a great job!

PackRat's Comment
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Great info you have detailed here for others to read. Excellent work!

Hobo's Comment
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Thank you gentlemen. I'm surprised I couldn't find a training diary about PAM drivers from Suburban. Metro Detroit is a big recruiting ground for PAM/DS and roughly a third of the students at Suburban are PAM/DS but I didn't find anything here.

Back to the good stuff. You've just finished up your road time so what happens next? You're back in the yard. Remember to dress for the weather, you're not in that nice climate controlled truck anymore. Now that you're back in the yard the instructors are going to go back to paying more attention to your backing attempts, this is not an insult and you haven't gotten worse they're just trying to tighten up your technique now that you're awaiting a test date. The closer you get to your test date the more attempts you'll be able to get in no matter how large the group is and the day before or day of the test you can line jump all day long if you want to.

When do you test? It depends. When school begins they'll tell you that most students are at the school for 4 weeks but it can be completed in 3 weeks. Did you sign in early every day? Were you there on Saturdays? Do you know your pre-trip? Did you pay attention in the yard even when it wasn't your turn? Do you know your pre-trip? Did you cause any problems? Do you know your pre-trip? And finally...do you know your pre-trip? By the way, you need to know the pre-trip. There's no reason to send you to test if you don't know the pre-trip. Something else you need to know that they may not mention to you...most students fail their first attempt at the state exam. If there are a lot of re-tests scheduled this may affect your test date and try to pass the first time but if you don't then don't beat yourself up over it. There were students at the school who had been there for 5 or 6 weeks and still hadn't tested because they didn't know the pre-trip. The instructors are not going to coddle you or hold your hand, they make it clear from the beginning that you need to know the pre-trip and if you don't know it that's on you and you will spend far more time at the school than you need to. There's no magic pill for this, do yourself a favor and memorize the pre-trip. Get on it early, memorize it and once you have it memorized keep working on it anyway.

I was scheduled early. My test date, the first one (yes, I failed the first time), was Tuesday 3/26, three weeks after I started the school. I retested on Thursday 3/28 and got my CDL. I wasn't one of the three week guys but I was a three week two day guy and that's not too shabby.

I think I'll do one more post on this. Most of what I've written is about the school, I'll add some personal observations about the training and a little bit more about Driver Solutions.

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.
Old School's Comment
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dancing-banana.gif Congratulations! dancing-banana.gif

These are really well done posts Hobo! Keep it coming.

Hobo's Comment
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I forgot to mention a couple of things. As a PAM/DS student you will be required to take a pre-graduation drug and alcohol test. I don't know if there's a set time for it but it can happen anytime after you come off the road. This test is different than the first one. The first test is for the school, you can refuse to take it or even fail it and the worst that happens is you're out of the school. The pre-graduation test is for PAM and full DOT rules apply: You have two hours to appear at the testing station and if you don't then you're a no show. If you fail this test it goes on your record and there are repercussions to deal with so don't be late and don't fail it. Some students were tested more than twice. I don't know the particulars but be aware it's a possibility.

Once you pass your CDL test you go back to the school, they make a copy of your certificate and then you go to the Secretary of State and get your CDL. Once that's done you go back to the school, they make some more copies, then they give you a T-shirt and take your picture. They will also hand you an envelope with a Comdata card (I think that's what it's called, I've been told it's important)and you'll be given a phone number and told to call and tell them you graduated and have your CDL. You'll be asked for the number on the card and another call will be set up for you for a couple of days later. This call once I had my CDL was my first direct contact with PAM. So here I am, tomorrow (Monday) I have to call someone else at PAM and hopefully my trainer picks me up sometime this week. After my time in the trainer's truck I'll make another post about how that went.

Driver Solutions. There's some nasty stuff written online about them. My take on them is they're all business. Don't lie to them about your background, it's really that simple, there were guys in my class who were bounced out of school because they lied about their backgrounds. On the other hand I know two students who had PAM pull their offers of employment and DS had them hooked up with new carriers within two days. You treat DS right and they'll treat you right, you play games and screw around with them and they're not going to play nice with you.

I want to avoid giving a lot of advice about how to do certain things, that's what the instructors are for, but I do want to talk a little bit about confidence because that seems to affect a lot of students. Some people had a lack of confidence in their backing skills. Don't sweat it, if that ends up being you just remember you're probably better than you think you are. An example: Student A just "gets it" right away and can back right into the box and doesn't have to ride the clutch, pull up, or get out and look. Student B goes into the box crooked on his first approach, has to get out and look more than once, uses two pull ups and then has the vehicle straight in the box. You know what the difference is between these two students? Absolutely nothing, they both just passed the test. No one expects you to be perfect and they don't give style points on those maneuvers. Just be safe.

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.

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.

TWIC:

Transportation Worker Identification Credential

Truck drivers who regularly pick up from or deliver to the shipping ports will often be required to carry a TWIC card.

Your TWIC is a tamper-resistant biometric card which acts as both your identification in secure areas, as well as an indicator of you having passed the necessary security clearance. TWIC cards are valid for five years. The issuance of TWIC cards is overseen by the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

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

Congratulations!!!dancing-banana.gifdancing-banana.gifdancing-banana.gifdancing-banana.gifdancing-banana.gifdancing-banana.gifdancing-banana.gif

Rainy D.'s Comment
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Glad you are doing so well and noce details.

A couple things though. You said:

The first test is for the school, you can refuse to take it or even fail it and the worst that happens is you're out of the school.

This statement is not accurate. Any future DOT employment will ask you on federal forms whether you have ever failed or refused a drug test. You must report it accurately, and there will be reprecussions. DOT or.non DOT alike.

We had a forum member who failed a drug test at her own doctor's office, lied about it, and it was discovered and she was sent home. After that, only PAM or CR England would hire her.

And you are right about the lack of confidence. It can wreak havoc, but so can overconfidence. So future readers need to remember to always respect that huge rig and their own imperfection, but calm themselves by realizing others have done this. It is a skill you develop and pretend you are solving a puzzle and put some thought into it.

good-luck.gif

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.

Hobo's Comment
member avatar

Rainy made some great points and what I wrote about the drug and alcohol testing is misleading so I need to clarify this a wee bit. My initial drug and alcohol screening was done for the school because they needed the results on file for me to be able to operate their vehicles. In my class I was the only student who took the test for the school, everyone else took their drug and alcohol screen as part of their DOT physical. Three other students also had their DOT cards but they had to re-certify. I received my 2 year card a week and a half before school started so I didn't have to retake the physical but my situation was not common and failing the school test would have been just as bad as failing the test for the physical.

As Rainy correctly pointed out a failed drug test has consequences whether you're in trucking or not so there's more to it than just not being able to continue the training program. If you can't pass the drug and alcohol screens it's best you don't waste everyone's time and money and damage your career prospects.

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.

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