First, What Is A CDL and How Do I Start?
CDL stands for Commercial Driver’s License and you need to have one in order to drive most types of transport vehicles. It is best to attend a truck driving school in order to obtain a CDL and most states require evidence that a school was attended prior to taking any tests at the DMV. Although there is no federal law that a CDL class has to be taken to get a license, almost no company will hire a new driver with no training.
A student wanting a CDL and attends a class will learn the rules of the road, driver requirements and procedures, state and federal laws and requirements regarding commercial drivers and obtaining a CDL, and of course, hands-on training.
A student can expect to learn how to identify road signs that may only pertain to trucks. They will learn about vehicle operation skills such as how to drive in bad weather, handling emergencies and emergency protocol, and more advanced skills such as altering driving habits when carrying heavier loads. The basic driving skills they will learn are turning, backing up, shifting, passing, signaling, etc. Other things they may learn about are coupling and uncoupling trailers, inspections, and learning about the electronic logging device, also known as the ELD.
The student can then head to the DMV to apply for a CDL license. They must be 21 years old, fill out the CDL application with the fee, provide proof of residency, submit a medical exam form, pass a vision test, pass a knowledge test, and then be issued a commercial learning permit (CLP).
Then they must wait 14 days before they can schedule their skills test, where the driver must bring their own vehicle. During the skills test, the pre-inspection test must be passed, along with the driving test. Once those are passed, a CDL may be issued!
Are There Different Types Of CDLs?
Covers combination vehicles that have a total Gross Weight of more than 26,000 pounds and the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of the vehicle you tow is more than 10,000 pounds. Drivers who get Class A licenses with appropriate endorsements can operate vehicles in all classes A, B, and C. If you want the most variety in your career put in the work upfront and get a Class A license with multiple endorsements.
Similar to Class A except this license includes single and combination vehicles. Weight limits are the same except the GVWR of the single vehicle must be over 26,000 pounds and the vehicle in tow cannot exceed 10,000 pounds. With your Class B license, you can also drive vehicles in Class C.
Is for vehicles that carry 16 or more passengers including the driver, or those vehicles that contain hazardous materials and don’t fall under Class A or B requirements are classified as Class C.
What Are The National Requirements For Getting a CDL?
The most basic requirements are:
- You need to be at least 18 years old and have a valid (non-commercial) driver’s license (in most states). Between the ages of 18 and 21 you are allowed to drive intrastate (within state lines) only and you cannot carry hazardous materials.
Once you turn 21 you can:
- Drive a commercial motor vehicle across state lines (interstate).
- Drive a commercial motor vehicle that contains hazardous materials (if you have the proper endorsements).
- You should have at least one or two years of non-commercial driving experience (depending on your state).
- You should provide examples of each of the items in the list below when you apply for a CLP or a CDL:
- Proof of citizenship or lawful permanent residency in the U.S.
- Social security card, or proof of the number
- Birth certificate or green card
- Pass all background screenings
Speaking of background screenings, you also need to provide a list of states where you’ve been licensed to drive a motor vehicle during the past 10 years. This is a requirement per the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
- In order to apply for your commercial permit or license you can have NO active driver’s license suspensions or revocations in any state.
- Once you earn your CDL you need to turn in your state driver license. You are allowed one license and your CDL can be used for personal driving as well.
- Certify that you’re not subject to any disqualification under FMCSA 383.51, which states if any violations occurred in a CMV and if the CMV was carrying placarded hazardous materials. Certify that you’re not subject to disqualification under State law either.
- Be able to speak and read English since the state written exams are given in English.
Knowing and understanding the federal requirements will help you better prepare you in starting your CDL journey and knowing if you can even qualify.
What Are The State Requirements?
It is possible for different states to have different requirements. Be sure to research your own state’s requirements. The following information is pretty standard throughout though.
Just like when you got your very first driver’s license, if you’re getting your first CDL, you must first start with a CLP (Commercial Learner’s Permit).
For CLPs and CDLs, the license classes are the same so apply for the license that pertains to the type of job you plan to get:
- Class A: is for combination vehicles that have a Gross Weight over 26,000 pounds. The towed vehicle should have a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of more than 10,000 pounds.
- Class B: includes single and combination vehicles. Weight limits are the same as Class A except the GVWR of the single vehicle must be over 26,000 pounds and the vehicle in tow cannot exceed 10,000 pounds.
- Class C: Vehicles that carry 16 or more passengers including the driver (vans, school buses, etc.) or those containing hazardous materials that don’t fall under Class A or B requirements are in Class C.
In most states, you need to take written tests to obtain your CLP or CDL. These tests may include:
- General Knowledge
- Combination (Class A Only)
- Air Brake (If applicable to your vehicle)
Each state should have a Commercial Driver’s License handbook that you can find online or at the nearest testing site.
If you plan to add any endorsements to your license be prepared to take tests for those, too. Endorsements show your potential employer that you have additional skills that make you more valuable and can get you a higher salary. Some additional endorsements are:
- H: Hazardous Materials – requires a knowledge test and TSA background check.
- N: Tank Vehicles – requires a knowledge test.
- P: Passenger Vehicles with 16 or more passengers including the driver – requires a knowledge test and a skills test.
- S: School Bus – requires a knowledge test and a skills test.
- T: Pulling Double/Triple Trailers – requires a knowledge test.
- X: Tank Vehicle/Hazardous Materials Combination – requires a knowledge test and a TSA background check.
Continuing to grow the endorsements associated with your CDL license can open new opportunities and new companies to drive for. Make sure you feel comfortable driving whatever kinds of vehicles and/or materials before you begin pursuing the endorsement.
What Are The Skills Tests?
These final tests are to verify your skills and knowledge of the commercial vehicle you’ll be driving for your job. You need to arrive at your skills test site on time and in the type of commercial vehicle you plan to drive. The skills test has three parts:
- Vehicle Inspection Test
- Basic Vehicle Control Test
- Road Test