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Starting a new career is very exciting and scary at the same time. I went to truck driving school in Liverpool, NY at NTTS. They even helped get funding for me. I put my notice in at my job at the hospital and started school. Good God!!!!! I was so excited. Going to truck driving school was interesting.
What Is Truck Driving School Really Like?
When you go to truck driving school, they only teach you the basics: logs, rules, regulations, load securement, pre and post trip, basic rules of the road, turns, traffic, hooking and unhooking the trailers, and Hazmat. The first few days to the first week is classroom time (that was fun and funny at the same time). There was lots of book work and tests. Oh, and you always have that one person in the room that has to ask all the questions on everything and anything. They do the drug tests, DOT physicals, and you get to use the shifting simulator (unless they have done away with them because a lot of companies have gone to automatics now).
They have more automatics on the road now then they did when I went to school. You also have to know that if you take your test on an auto shift, you will have that restriction on your license. Once the drug test and DOT physicals are done, they take you to the DMV to do the written tests. Once all that is done, then they will assign a driver instructor.
That’s when the nail biting begins.
What Happens With The Driver Instructor?
The first thing they have to go over and drill into your head is the pre-trip inspection and safety getting in and out of the truck. There is so much to learn and memorize, and if you do not remember all of it, you will fail when you take your driving test. Remember that…..you will do this for a day or two. You will have a list of all the pre-trip parts to learn and you will also keep a log book every single day.
The fun begins when you hook up and take the tractor and trailer out for the first time. The size and power of the vehicle is overwhelming. They take you to a big empty industrial area or a huge parking lot for big trucks, where there is no traffic to hit or worry about. That’s where you can get a feel for the truck, trailer, and shifting gears. Wait, did I say get a feel for shifting gears? It’s more like OMG I can’t find the gears!! You WILL grind gears. I think they had to fix the truck when I got done the first time I drove. I had a lot of grinding gears. It got to the point of the instructor saying “Its ok, I will shift for you.” Yup, I was not good at it at first.
While some students are out driving, the others are back at the school going over backing up, pre trip inspections, and learning to parallel park. You can parallel park a tractor trailer? Yes and no. It is possible to parallel park a big truck…with lots of practice! I swear my husband is the best at it. It is hard and not hard at the same time. I know that sounds weird and confusing. You do have to line everything up just right. Then, when you back up and turn the wheel to get the trailer close to the curb, you turn the wheel to get the cab in line as well.
That Sounds Easy! Is It? NOPE!!
It really is not as easy as you think it is. I never attempted it out in the truck stops or the rest areas, however my husband has, and has put a 156-inch sleeper with a 53-foot trailer in most spots that people would never attempt put it. I will not attempt it again. Not a good fit for me. So, how did I pass the driving test you ask? Well the day I took my test, I woke up, looked outside, and it was icy and snowing. I was the only one to test that day. There were power lines down and the roads I had to back out onto, the road that I turned from, they were not salted or plowed well.
When the time came to parallel park, the guy who gave me my test let me try it 4 times (you are only allowed 2 or 3). When I still couldn’t, after the 4th time, he got back into the truck and never said anything except,”Let’s go back to the test site”. I pulled in and pulled the brakes. He turned to me and said “Congratulations! You passed.“. OMG, I was so excited…. I thought if you didn’t get that one thing down, you fail. Well, because of the condition of the roads, the power lines down, and the fact I could not see the curb to judge the parallel parking, he figured I had it and he passed me. Then, he said everyone had to make another appointment due to the road conditions and that there would be no further tests that day.
Is It Different In The Real World? You Betcha!
Ok…so I passed and got my CDL class A. Now this is where things got bad for a while. Don’t get me wrong – I loved it and hated it. My husband loved and hated me, too, for the first year of driving. I was so bad at things for a while. I was scared and frustrated. It was like everything I learned in school was not the correct way of doing things. The log book (at the time was paper logs) was correct, pre and post trip was correct, and give or take a few other things, the rest is trial and error. Yes…error….and I made a few.
I was so afraid of backing up that I would find some way to not have to. When you go out with a trainer (lucky for me I had my husband), you will be observing for the first week or two. Going to truck driving school, you get comfortable in your driving abilities. When you get in a truck and out on the road, it is a whole different can of worms. It was difficult, nerve wracking, and scary. Anyone who tells you different is lying. I don’t care how long they have been driving. Their first time driving on the highway is all that and more.
So, people ask what it’s like to drive a big truck over the road. I would tell them it is like camping without a bathroom. Now, when I decided to do this job, my husband told me the good, the bad, and the ugly. He said there will be times when I will have to pee in a cup. (What? A cup? Oh hell NO!) I was horrified… really…. Though, I did tell him if I don’t have time to stop to pee at a bathroom, then I would wait.
He was driving one night, and I told him I had to pee. I was waiting to find a bathroom, however we were in a part of the country where they are few and far between. Well, he finally got frustrated, pulled over, and told me to get out and pee. Crying, I got out of the truck and went to pee. After that, I had to get over it, and I did.
When we started team driving, he left me alone for the first time to drive. He would sleep ok while I tried my best to concentrate on driving. Well, the time came when I had to pee. He had told me to pull off the highway and to the on-ramp to pee. Well, I did. However, I pulled off onto a road that didn’t have an on-ramp on the other side. The road sign said No Trucks. OMG…I woke up my husband, and for the first time (of many times) he had to turn the truck around on a small back road to get me out of a bad situation. I was one of those drivers that got into a jam.
Don’t think you will never have that happen to you. The only difference between myself and the new drivers today is they didn’t take photos and put them on the internet, and I have a husband that is the best at driving and getting out of places that would seem impossible to others. He would get frustrated with me, but was also understanding as well. As a newbie, I was very lucky. I have a great husband and partner. Oh, and I need to say that the day did come when I had to pee with no place for him to pull over, so yes, I did pee in a cup. LOL It was liberating. I was thankful.
So…What’s The Bottom Line?
When you go to truck driving school and graduate, you are excited and have high expectations. However, you do not learn all of what you need to know and lots of what you do learn you will not use. It can be a wake up call once you get out into the world and go over the mountains and through the cities. You need to know that no matter what others say to you, while you are in the learning stages out on the road, you need to go at your pace and build up. Don’t go balls to the wall, it WILL get you into trouble.
You must remember that you are new to driving truck in the real world. There are the four-wheelers on the road that don’t care about you. They see you as a payday. Don’t let other drivers push you into thinking that you have to do what they do or you are not a truck driver, or to go as fast as they do. They are the ones most of the time that end up in the ditch, get a speeding ticket, or kill someone (a family) or themselves . You must take your time (within reason) to keep you and the public safe. Never get cocky, complacent, or comfortable. If you ever do, reality will come to slap you in the middle of your crack.
It is a rewarding career. It has so many perks: freedom, independence, time to see different parts of the U.S. and, if you have a passport, Canada, Alaska, Mexico. You can take downtime in other places as well. Downtime doesn’t always mean going home. And, you don’t have a boss looking over your shoulder all the time. As long as you pick up your loads and deliver on time and enjoy driving, seeing new places, new things, and meeting new people, then this really is a great way to make a living.