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What kind of driving practice will I get?

PRACTICE DRIVING AT TRUCKING SCHOOLS: We often get the question "how much driving practice would/should I get at a truck driving school?" This varies considerably from school to school, but it is a very important question. There is only one set of national standards for truck driving schools, and those are the standards developed by The Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI), located in Alexandria, Virginia. According to PTDI, every new entry-level truck driving student should receive at least 44 hours of actual driving time. This is a lot of time to drive, and many schools do not offer this much driving time because it is too expensive for the school. Most students can only learn some very basic driving skills in less time than this. PTDI believes 44 hours is necessary for new drivers to learn more than just how to move the truck forward. Students should have learned enough to handle more difficult maneuvers with the truck on their own.

A word of caution: be very specific when you ask school staff how many hours you will be driving. How many hours will you drive on the practice range? How many on public streets? Almost all schools describe their training in terms of clock hours ("our program is 148 hours long", for example). Some schools will describe the time in the truck as the hours of training "behind the wheel" (BTW). But be careful. Make sure that BTW time is the same thing as student driving time. Many truck driving schools include all time that a student is physically sitting behind the wheel as BTW time. This includes the time you are sitting in the cab watching another student drive. Although you are literally "behind the wheel," you are not actually driving.

Unfortunately, some schools are dishonest about this. They describe BTW hours as if they are all driving hours. A school may state that every student will get 75 hours "behind the wheel." A natural conclusion is that each student will actually hold on to the steering wheel and drive for 75 hours. This may not be true if the school includes student observation time in the 75 hours. For example, a school may include two hours of observation time for every 1 hour of driving. So a student will spend two out of every three hours sitting in the back watching another student drive. Using the example of 75 hours, that means that a student is watching for about 50 hours and only driving for about 25 hours. This falls far short of the PTDI standard of 44 hours, although a student that did not know about observation time might enroll in the school thinking that he would get 75 hours of practice driving.

Including observation time can be OK if there is enough actual driving time and the rest of the truck driving course has a sufficient amount of class and truck lab. A problem arises when the course is short and includes observation time. For example, a course might be only 120 hours long and be described as having 75 hours of "behind the wheel" training. But if 50 hours are simply student observation, there are only 25 hours of driving and 45 hours of class and truck lab. The course would not provide adequate training.

The other issue is how much a student is paying for a course. A program that includes observation time can cause students to overpay for training. As a general rule, the more driving time, the better the value of the program. For example, a 160 hour program that costs $3,800 and includes the PTDI-recommended 44 hours of driving is a much better value than a 160 hour course that only includes 20 or 30 hours of actual driving. This is because driving is the basic skill that truck driving schools teach - it is the heart of the school’s course, and it is what a student is really paying for. But a school that includes student observation in its curriculum may describe it as "50 hours behind the wheel" even though actual driving time is a lot less than 50 hours. So when comparing truck driving courses, you have to ask how much driving time is included. Demand a guarantee of driving hours in writing. While 44 hours of driving time is the highest industry standard, anything less than 30 hours per student is probably insufficient.
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