It's the beginning of a new year, a time when a lot of people are considering starting a new career and trucking is on the radar. But learning to drive a truck in the winter? Is that a good idea? Or should you wait until spring to get going? It turns out that getting started in trucking during the winter is a perfectly fine idea to consider so let's explore that a little bit.
The idea of learning how to handle an 80,000 pound rig in the winter should scare anyone at least a little bit. But one nice thing about getting started in the winter is that you'll have a trainer by your side for the last phase of your training. You'll be running team with an experienced driver who will be able to let you drive when the conditions are manageable, but can take over if it gets to be too much.
Don't lose sight of the fact that you can learn a ton just by listening and observing. It's far safer and more relaxing to be sitting in the passenger seat listening to advice and letting an experienced veteran do the driving so you can see how it's done. You'll still get to drive a good bit in the snow but you'll have someone there to advise you and take over if things get too serious.
The short answer is yes, a driver can always refuse to drive the truck if they don't feel it's safe or legal to do so. However, you'll never get comfortable in difficult conditions without driving in difficult conditions. So there's a fine line here. Your trainer is going to have to push you a little beyond your comfort zone in order for you to get better, but at the same time he's in the truck with you and he doesn't want to wreck any more than you do! He's going to want you to drive if he thinks you can handle it, even if you're not sure that you can. Be prepared, whether it's wintertime or not, to be in some rather scary and stressful situations from time to time. That's just the nature of training in the trucking industry.
If you've never driven in snow you might be the perfect candidate to get started in the winter. You're almost certainly going to want to spend some time with an experienced driver who has experience in the snow. On the one hand it's nice getting started in the spring and getting some time under your belt before heading into winter. But at that point you haven't had any wintertime training. There are a lot of handling techniques that are specific to slick, snow covered roads which don't apply anywhere else. Even an hour or two with someone who has good experience in the snow can teach you a whole lot of important lessons.
The location and the setup of the school you attend will have a huge impact on how difficult the conditions might be during the initial training phase. You're going to be spending the first few weeks out in a gigantic gravel lot learning how to shift, back up, maneuver in tight areas, and do pre-trip inspections. Often times one student is in the truck while the others watch from the sidelines waiting their turn. If you're going to school in Chicago in January and your school makes you stand outside all day watching the others without any special accommodations then it's going to be a pretty miserable experience for a while.
Also, the trucks some schools use for training are really old junkers that may not have heat. Some of the trucks I trained on didn't even have power steering! So make sure you ask any schools you're considering what their accommodations will be on extremely cold days and ask about the condition of their trucks.
Also, January through early spring is the slowest time of the year in trucking. You may not have as many miles available to run during those months as you would during busier times. I don't think this will be that big of a deal, but many people start training with empty pockets and hope to turn some decent miles quickly to get some money rolling in. Things might be a little slower than you had hoped in the beginning, but it wouldn't be anything drastic.
Getting started in trucking is always very challenging and often times quite stressful. Winter driving scares the daylights out of a lot of people and for good reason. But there are a lot of advantages to getting started in the wintertime and I personally don't have a problem with new drivers getting their CDL training during the winter. It might just be the best approach to take, especially if you have little or no driving experience in the snow.