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John Pettitt holding the “Ryder Cup” 1985

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American Dream

It was during a flight to Miami that I casually mentioned to my wife that I would like to pursue the possibilities of driving a truck in America. The first week of our holiday was to be a fly drive with the “Florida Keys” being the main object of the first week of our vacation. I managed to persuade her that as the “Keys” were only about 150 miles long, that it would not take that long to drive them and we would be left wondering what to do before we could take possession of our rented villa in Lakeland. I had heard that it was possible to obtain a CDL (Commercial Drivers Licence) albeit a Non-residential one, in Little Rock. Arkansas, and if she did not mind missing the “Keys” I would like to check it out.

The thought of seeing other States in America appealed to her very much, just as I knew it would. We left Miami on Saturday 4th October 1997 making our way through Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, then skirting Memphis in Tennessee and on to Little Rock, arriving Monday morning. In the afternoon, after having booked into a hotel, we went downtown to the “Arkansas Highway and Transportation Dept” and from the Drivers Licensing section I collected the necessary forms (2 sheets of A4) at a cost of $35

The following morning I went to the “Arkansas State Police HQ” where I sat the theory part of the CDL. This consists of four individual papers namely: - General Knowledge (Truck related), Air Brakes, Hazardous materials and Combination vehicles. As an 80% pass mark is required, the plan was for me to sit the exam and what I failed on would mean a crash course back in the hotel. As it transpired, I managed to pass all four papers at this first attempt although the Hazmat pass at 86% was a trifle lucky I felt, as I had little experience of the technicalities involved in transporting hazardous materials in America. One being that you must stop and physically check your tyres every 100 miles or 2 hours, whichever is reached soonest and record on your log book that this has been carried out.

The second part of the CDL was to be the practical, and this is divided into three modules.  Pre-Trip Inspection (This is quite daunting, as you have to thoroughly check over the tractor and trailer in front of the examiner, expressing what you are checking, and what possible defects you are looking for in relation to each of the items to be covered in the check. These total some 89 items, and a high standard is expected. If this part goes OK you then proceed to the “Skills Test”.

This I thought was a complete joke in comparison to an English HGV cone test. Finally you get to go on the road and in my case the truck was an old Ford with a 53-foot trailer. I was very impressed with the fact that it only cost $160 to use the truck and be examined by a third party tester.

All sections of the test now completed and passed, it was back to the Dept of Transport in Little Rock to get my CDL. Photograph taken, Licence printed and then laminated all for another $45. It had cost me $240 and only two days to get a CDL in Arkansas. We all know that would be impossible in the U.K.

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