Wow, I can't believe my CDL training is over. It seems like just yesterday I was so anxious to get started. Now here I am with a CDL driver's license in my pocket as I write this. They actually trust me to drive an 80,000 pound truck?!? Yikes! Luckily I'll be eased into that with a trainer at my first trucking company.
I thought I'd write a few of my thoughts and experiences for those of you considering going to truck driving school and becoming a truck driver. It's hard to make blanket statements as CDL training is different from state to state. My training took place in the great impeachment state of Illinois. Due to Mr. George Ryan and his CDL scandal here in Illinois some years back (scandals in Illinois? Yes, it's true!), this state actually has some of the toughest standards for getting a CDL. In fact, an Illinois CDL is transferable to any other state in the country, but Illinois doesn't accept an out of state CDL until you take the Illinois CDL tests. And just a note: we have CDL practice tests here on our site.
The reason I mention this is because getting my CDL was hard! I know that in many states, it might be easy. But let me tell you something. Getting into this, I thought this would be a cake walk. Oh, how wrong I was. It wasn't so much the driving that surprised me, but the bookwork involved. Studying for the written CDL exams required nightly study time. Studying for the pre-trip exam also took some intensive studying. I'd literally wake up in the middle of the night and my first thought was about the pre-trip inspection exam. I'd wake up and immediately think "steer tires must have at least 4/32 of an inch of tread depth in each and every major groove." It was intense, but it paid off come test day! And the pre-trip inspection stuff is actually something you should know. The chances that you'll actually check every single thing every single day is probably pretty low. But it's good to know it, just in case.
And if you're in a quick 4 week CDL training period like I was, it's probably a good idea to simply concentrate on the things you'll need to know for your CDL exams. There was one guy in my class that would ask every question under the sun. You know the type. The "what if" guy. I respect that he wants to learn as much as he can, but there will be so much information you'll need to know for the CDL exams that clouding your brain with additional info is probably something that will work against you. While in CDL training, just worry about what the instructors say is important. Remember, a condensed truck driving school doesn't make you a truck driver. It gives you just enough knowledge to quickly pass your CDL exams. Once you pass your exams and go over the road with a trucking company, your company trainer will be able to teach you more real world stuff. This is when you can ask those "what if" questions. Just get your CDL license first, then pick your trainers brain when you finally hit the road. You'll be with your trainer for about 6 weeks driving all day every day. So there will be plenty of time for those questions later. Just get your CDL license first!
Learning to drive a truck was tougher than I thought, at least at first. Since I drive a manual transmission car, I thought I'd have an advantage over those who have never driven a stick shift before. Rhonda warned me that driving a manual transmission truck is much different than driving a manual transmission car. She was very much correct! Those of you who have never driven a stick shift vehicle before, don't even worry about it. There is no disadvantage to this. In fact, you are probably in better shape since you don't need to break any bad habits. For those of you who are familiar with a manual transmission in your car, completely forget all of that when you step into a tractor trailer for the first time. Listen to your instructor and re-learn how to shift all over again. If you try to shift the same way as you do in your car, you'll grind gears all day long. The first day you learn to shift, you'll wonder what the hell you've gotten yourself into. But don't worry, the amount you'll learn in just that first week is incredible. I still can't believe how quickly I learned to drive. The first day driving the truck I could barely get moving without the instructors help. By the 3rd week I was having competitions with my fellow classmates on who could shift the fastest!
That brings me to my next big point. Listen to the instructors!!! Obvious advice, right? Well, one of the first days we were out driving, another student was driving while I was observing. We were at a stop light and my instructor yells "step on the brake!" His response was "I am!" The fact was, we were rolling backwards because he didn't have enough pressure on the brake pedal. It is very stressful for the instructors when they tell somebody to do something, and the student says something like "I already am" or "I already did that" or "why?" Just do it and ask questions later! And if an instructor tells you that you're doing something wrong, make sure you consciously make a note of what he/she said. By the 3rd and 4th week, my instructors were getting very frustrated at a few students as they would make the same mistakes over and over again. They can only tell you so many times what you're doing wrong. After that, you have to remember on your own. It might not make sense to you, but these instructors have been drivers for a long time and know exactly what you have to do to pass the test. Just do it!
Apply early and apply often. If you go to a private CDL training school, make sure you fill out paper applications and have your training school fax them over. I noticed my applications got much more attention if they were faxed directly from my training school. Also, a pre-hire isn't a sure thing. I recently got a pre-hire but then the company went on a hiring freeze. It doesn't hurt to get multiple pre-hires, just in case something happens with your first choice company. And when you send over an application, do not wait for a phone call from the company you applied to. You need to take the initiative and call them! I usually called the recruiting department the very next day after I sent in an application. I'd simply call the company up and say "Hi, I submitted an application yesterday and just wanted to make sure you got it. I also wanted to find out if you need anything else from me." Many of these companies won't even look at your application until you call them. If you don't call, they will never even pull up your application. It's very important to be proactive right now, especially during this economy.
My last bit of advice is to never get discouraged. Some people will catch on to things before others. I don't mean to sound conceded, but I was lucky enough to have everything come very naturally to me. Everything from driving on the road to my backing skills came to me very quickly. Others in my class weren't so lucky. The 45 degree back is what gave most students problems. A couple of my classmates were literally all over the place. They didn't know when to turn the wheel, they'd turn the wheel the wrong way, they'd run over cones, and get very frustrated with themselves. But it seems like at some point, it just "clicks" for everyone. For some people, it "clicks" the first day. For others, it takes a couple weeks or more. But the day it "clicks" you're in good shape. It's like learning how to ride a bike. You fall down 20 times before you finally figure it out, then it's a piece of cake after that. We all had our bad days, but for the most part, once somebody "got it" they were good to go. So if you don't get it right away, don't even worry about it. The more you practice and the more you learn, the closer you are to "getting it." Instructors can only teach so much when it comes to certain things, like backing up a truck. The rest just has to be trial and error. But you'll get it eventually and when you do, you'll be just as good as those who "got it" on day one.
All in all, going through truck driving school was one of the most fun, stressful, rewarding, and challenging experiences I've ever had. The day I left was actually a sad day for me. I'll truly miss the camaraderie I had with the other students and the fun times I had with my instructors. If you're about to start CDL training, just be sure you go into this knowing it isn't a cake walk. It will require effort on your part.Going into training thinking it will be easy because you have the stereotype of toothless uneducated truck drivers in your mind will give you a whole new respect for everything truck driving entails. Becoming a truck driver isn't a simple process, and it isn't a simple job.
If anybody has any questions about what CDL training is like that I haven't already addressed in my blog, please don't hesitate to comment or email me. I'm more than happy to give you any advice I can. Stay tuned, because I will soon be starting with my first trucking company and go through an intense 6 week training period. That's where the real learning will begin!
Until next time, drive safely!