Thursday, May 18, 2006

Let's Hit the Road

Have you ever thought about driving a truck professionally? Let me give you a little taste of what it may entail. Having a valid driver’s license is a good start.

First, you need to pick a driving school. There are two very different flavors.

The first is an independent school where you pay for your training. They are expensive, but will finance your tuition. At the end of your instruction they offer a placement service; not guaranteeing you a job, but helping you to locate one.

A subcategory of the pay-to-learn school would be a community college program. These are less expensive, but generally require more time; either a semester, a trimester or a quarter to complete your course. In each of these choices, the end result is simply getting your Class-A license (CDL).

The other alternative is going to work for an established trucking company that offers a driving school. That was the option I selected. You still pay for your training, but will be able to work off your tuition. At the end of the session, generally 2 to 4 weeks, you will have your CDL and then begin the real training program.

Any company that hires someone straight out of driver’s school will require them to complete “over-the-road training.” The student will be placed in a working truck with an experienced driver and drive a certain number of miles with him. My secondary training was set at 25,000 miles. It sounds like a lot and it is; it took about 2 ½ months to complete.

During this phase, the student learns the real inner workings of the job. They will experience, first-hand, the joys of traffic jams, detours, shitty directions, bitchy loading dock workers and waiting for a load. Oh, yeah – if you have an accident or get a ticket during training, you’re fired.

At the end of training, the new driver is tested in the classroom and on the road. If that part of the training is not passed successfully, it’s back out on the road with a different trainer. Either that or they get fired.

Trucking companies are not shy about terminating a driver. They can’t afford to be. It’s a dangerous job to start with, and a driver who can’t learn the proper procedures is definitely a liability.

If a driver is fired it happens either at the company’s headquarters or on the spot of the infraction that caused it. That could be 2000 miles from home, and the unfortunate soul who has been let go better have money in their jeans for bus fare.

The school that I attended started out with about 35 students. After drug testing and background checks we were down to about 20. By the time we went for our over-the-road training, there were 10 of us left. Within three months I could count the number of my surviving classmates on one hand.

That’s why there are always ads for truck drivers in the newspaper classifieds.

But, if you don’t mind solitude and being away from home for extended periods of time, it ain’t a bad job. Some drivers even describe it as being paid to tour the country.



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