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backing up a semi trailer

Backing up a semi-trailer is one of the most difficult skills to learn as a driver and an even harder one to master. It’s a weakness for many new drivers straight out of school and even some more experienced ones. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are 6 of the best tips drivers use to back up a semi-trailer with confidence. 

1. Practice

This is obvious, but for good reason. Practicing is the number one way to become comfortable backing up a semi-trailer. If you’re able to, try finding an empty lot or truck stop to practice in. Perfecting your technique in an empty space is a lot easier than doing it when you’ve got shippers/receivers staring at you while you try to back into a difficult dock. 

We spoke to Natalie and she shared her advice for other truck drivers.

“Do everything yourself in confidence. When I first got into trucking, I never wanted to back in. I was always looking for someone else to help me. I had to overcome that fear and that anxiety, so I said to myself one day, “no, I’m going to do this on my own.” I’ve gotten to the point now where I can back in and remain much more calm than I could at first, ” shared Natalie.

 

 

 

2. Watch Your Wheel

This is a tip usually learned during CDL training and one many experienced drivers still use. Simply put, place your left hand on the bottom of the steering wheel. Whichever direction you move the wheel is the direction the trailer will move. If you move the wheel left, that’s where the trailer will go, and the same for moving it right. From there, it’s a matter of looking at your mirrors and not oversteering. It seems too simple to be true, but it’s a tried and tested technique.  

This can also be done the opposite way, where a driver puts his or her hand at the top of the wheel and moves it in the opposite direction of where he or she wants the trailer to go, but it’s all a matter of preference.  

3. G.O.A.L

Tyler, CDL A Driver

G.O.A.L “Get Out and Look” is the number one way to avoid damage to your equipment as well as your surroundings. It may seem like common sense, but some drivers avoid this method because they feel it makes them look like an amateur. But the results of not doing it can be disastrous. Here’s what Tyler, an experienced truck driver, had to say about the G.O.A.L method. 

“No matter how many times you have to get out and look, DO IT! Better to be safe than the person who backed into someone or something because they were too lazy to take a few minutes to check. Part of the job to not tear up your property or someone else’s. Lose the ego and get out and look. Do it ten times if you have to. It’s better than the alternative.” shared Tyler.   

4. Use Experienced Spotters

Sure, anyone can spot you if you’re trying to parallel park a car on a side street. That doesn’t mean anyone can spot you backing a tractor trailer into a loading dock. They may be trying to help, but spotters without truck driving experience can do more harm than good, as they don’t understand the finer points of maneuvering a vehicle of that size. So, unless you know they’re an experienced driver, the G.O.A.L method is your best bet.  

5. YouTube It

Watching a video is no substitute for the real thing, but if you’re in a pinch and can’t find a place to practice, they can come in handy. YouTube has hundreds of videos from experienced drivers giving their tips and tricks on the best way to back up a semi-trailer. This can give you a great visual if something’s not clicking. 

Every driver is going to have a slightly different way of doing things, so do a little research and find a video that works for you. The best practice for finding some of the best videos is to choose based on view count or positive comments. Take this one for example, which has close to one million views and counting. 

6. Know When to Say No

In all parts of life, if your gut is telling you that something’s a bad idea, it’s probably a bad idea. The same is true for backing up a semi-trailer. There’s no shame in telling a shipper “No” if you honestly think your trailer won’t make it in. You know your vehicle much better than they do. If there’s debris or something like a stack of pallets in your way, don’t be afraid to ask them to be moved so you can safely back in. Your safety and the safety of your truck are more important.  

When it comes to backing up a semi-trailer, patience and practice are the keys to success. No one comes out of CDL school an expert at it. Just have confidence in your abilities as a professional driver, and you’ll be a pro at backing up in no time.

truck driver at loading dock

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Want to Get Your CDL License? Here's What to Know

Getting your Commerical Driving License (CDL) is a big deal. It’s an exciting step toward a career as a professional driver, and we hear from lots of veteran drivers that it’s the best job out there. Earning your CDL license isn’t an overnight process, but it’s worth it. Take the time to prepare yourself for each of the steps, and you’ll be on the road before you know it. Here are a few things you should know before you get started.

Types of CDL Licenses

There are three main types of commercial driving license: A, B, and C. They all allow you to operate large motor vehicles, but each is designed for a specific purpose. A CDL A license is considered the most universal because it allows you to also drive most CDL B and CDL C jobs. Here are the distinctions between each type of license

  • CDL A: Allows drivers to operate vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GVWR) of 26,000 pounds with a towed vehicle of more than 10,000 pounds. This license lets you drive tractor-trailers (also known as semi-trucks, big rigs, etc.) as well as most Class B and Class C vehicles. 
  • CDL B: Permits drivers to operate a vehicle with a GVWR of 26,000 pounds with a towed vehicle of less than 10,000 pounds. This license (sometimes with endorsements) allows you to drive most straight trucks, buses, box trucks, dump trucks, and most Class C vehicles. 
  • CDL C: Allows drivers to operate a commercial vehicle with a GVWR that is less than 26,000 pounds and transports hazardous materials or 16+ passengers. This license is typically used for passenger vans and small HazMat vehicles.

With any of these license types, you may need to supplement with endorsements. Not all trucking jobs require them, so consider what you’re interested in before you commit to adding them. The standard endorsements are (H) Hazardous Materials, (N) Tank Vehicles, (P) Passenger Vehicles, (S) School Buses, and (T) Double and Triple Trailers.

Eligibility

From a Federal perspective, the eligibility requirements to be a truck driver are pretty straight forward. If you can satisfy these requirements, you’re off to a good start.

  1. You must be 18+ for trucking in the same state (intrastate trucking)
  2. You must be 21+ for trucking between states (interstate trucking) or carrying hazardous materials
  3. Don’t have any criminal offenses on your record that disqualify you from earning your CDL

Once you’ve confirmed eligibility at a federal level, look into the specific requirements for the state that will be issuing the license. Every state is a little bit different, but there are several common things you will likely be asked for. 

  • Proof of ID
  • A release of your driving record for the past 10 years
  • Demonstration of medical health
  • Pass a written and skills test
  • A road test fee (usually $50 – $200)
  • Verification that you’ve completed a professional training course

You can only have a CDL License from one state at a time. If you move (or have another reason to transfer your license), make sure you review the CDL license requirements for your new state. 

Choosing a Driving School

Once you have decided what type of CDL License is right for you, it’s time to pick a driving school. There are pros and cons to all programs, so research carefully. Technically, you’re not required to get your license through a driving school and could self-study for your tests. That said, many companies will only hire if they see the driver has gone through a verified driving school. You can also get your license through a company-sponsored program. There are benefits and drawbacks to this, but it’s a good option for many drivers. We recommend that future drivers get their license through some type of verified program. 

As you look for programs, look for the following as signs of credibility: 

  • Is the school/program accredited? (Approved by the Department of Education)
  • Is the school program certified? (Approved by the Department of Transportation)
  • Is the school/program licensed? (The instructors and curriculum meet state guidelines)
  • Is the school/program listed with the Better Business Bureau? Use these ratings to compare programs
  • What’s included in the price of tuition? Quality programs usually offer all the necessary supplies, classroom and over-the-road training, and extra help if requested. 

If you can’t find answers to any of these questions, make sure you get in touch. The driving school or program should be able to answer any questions you have before you get started. Most programs have a similar curriculum and are a mix of classroom and on-the-road instruction. You can expect to cover things like operating a truck, use of electronic logs and other industry tools, and safety procedures among other essentials

Time and Cost

Getting a CDL License is an investment in your future. Like any training program, there is a cost in both time and money. The total cost varies by state, but you can expect to spend about $3,0000 – $7,000 on a training program. As a rule of thumb, the more training time required for your license type and endorsements, the higher the cost of the program. A full-time driving program usually takes around 7 weeks, though it can take longer. Deciding to obtain a CDL License is a big commitment, but it will pay for itself quickly through your new career.

Passing the Test

After you have completed a certified driving program, you must have your Commercial Learning Permit (CLP) for two weeks. Then, it’s time to take your CDL test.

The exam has written and practical components. For the written exam, the test is multiple choice and typically taken on a computer. An 80% passing rate is required for the written exam. For the road test, you must not have more than 30 points deducted from your score.

The examiners will be watching for your ability to maneuver the vehicle, your behavior during the test, and your ability to handle pressure or stressful situations. Reviewing your state CDL training manual and spending practice time in a rig are great ways to prepare. 

You passed! Time to get hired

Now that you have your CDL license, it’s time to start looking for a job. This might sound intimidating, but many driving schools offer resources and connections to their students. That’s a great place to start. You can also use driver-friendly platforms to search for jobs that match your lifestyle and job preferences. As you are offered opportunities, make sure the position is a good fit for you. Ask the recruiter the essential questions about pay, home time, operations, and equipment to get as much information on the job as possible. Soon enough, you’ll be ready to hit the road!

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cdl training

Thinking about getting your Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and pursuing a career as a professional truck driver? The first thing you need to do is learn to drive a truck. There’s any number of course options available to help you accomplish this. There are hundreds of locations across the country. Some companies even offer their own training programs to get you started. There are so many options it might get overwhelming to get started. However, if a packaged training and a guaranteed job afterwards sounds good to you, start here. When it comes to taking a company sponsored CDL training, what exactly do you need to know?

What is Company Sponsored CDL Training?

There are various levels of what that sponsorship might mean. Company sponsored CDL training does not necessarily mean it’s at no cost to you. Some carriers will train you for free, and even pay you a small wage during the training class. That usually comes with a requirement for you to work for the carrier for some time once you get licensed. But then it might have an automatic repayment program in place once you’re officially driving for them. Some carriers may charge a reduced rate for the training, and will guarantee a job for you after graduation, but they don’t pay you while you’re in school. Other programs will simply pay your tuition to a local training program, and then hire you drive for them once licensed.

You need to be clear from the start about what you’re agreeing to do in exchange for the company sponsored CDL training. Ask questions first, so you’ll have less regrets later.

Sometimes FREE might not always mean what it seems. There might be strings attached, so make sure to do your research and know exactly what you’re agreeing to do after the training is finished. Knowing that you’re making a first step to a new career, it’s worthwhile to make sure you know exactly what to expect once you have your CDL.

Pros & Cons of Company Sponsored CDL Training

When working through a tough decision, there’s always positive and negatives to either choice. Choosing the type of CDL training you’re going to pursue is no different. Regardless of what program you choose, ensure that you’re fully prepared for the training and have thoroughly investigate all of your options.

Finding a program that is properly accredited and has great reviews might seem hard to find, but keep looking, there’s a good one out there for you.

PROS 

  • No out of pocket money for tuition
  • Paid while in training:  “earn while you learn”
  • Using company equipment to learn
  • Guaranteed job after graduation

CONS

  • Training might not be where you live
  • Expenses incurred during training
  • No exposure to other types of driving
  • Might not have exposure to modern equipment
  • Committed to working for the company when you graduate

New drivers have plenty to think about after they’ve got their license. Now they need to focus on getting miles logged and learning the ropes of the road. Getting that time in the seat and getting experience on the road is a crucial next step. From there driver need to continually hone their skills as they work through their CDL trucking careers. The training is just the start, but once trained, a new driver will be well on their way to a life over the road from here.

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