A CDL, also known as a commercial driver’s license, is your gateway to local truck driving jobs. This type of license allows you to drive a tractor trailer, bus or tow truck weighing more than 26,001 pounds while pulling a trailer at 10,000+ pounds. Without a valid CDL your dreams of driving an 18-wheeler are worthless. Interested in specialized CDL jobs? A CDL with endorsements will permit you to transport hazardous materials, such as propane or hospital waste, and a set number of passengers as in the case with school buses or public transportation. Once you follow these 10 steps for how to get a CDL, you will have to keep a clean driving record and renew your license after a certain period of time as determined by your state.
Step 1 Meet the Basic Age Requirements
Every state has its own age requirements for when you can get a CDL. Some states allow you to be 18 years old, while other states require you to be 21. However, according to federal law you must be 21 to operate a commercial vehicle via the interstate. In order to determine the specific age requirements for your state, contact your local DMV. You can find this information via DMV.org or at the DMV office where you would take the CDL test. If you are younger than 21 you can start studying for the CDL test now in order to be well prepared for the exam at a later date. Additionally, you can apply to trucking schools where you will get the training you need to pass the CDL exam when you come of age to take it.
Step 2 Be Physically Capable for Commercial Truck Driving
Physically you will need to pass a physical exam that ensures you are physically fit to maintain and drive a commercial vehicle across the interstate. Additionally, you will have to get a new DOT-approved physical every 2 years to ensure you continue to drive in good health. Driving a truck is a physically demanding job that requires the ability to sit still and concentrate over long periods of time and good vision including night vision. You also have to be physically capable of handling or maintaining your load, such as being able to strap your load down to secure it or doing a visual check of an oversized load. A federally required DOT-approved physical determines if you can drive while taking certain prescription medications. Also you cannot have:
- High blood pressure unless treated by oral medication
- Needle-injected insulin for diabetes; oral medication permitted
- High blood sugar
- Certain cardiac issues
- Uncontrollable sleep apnea
- Correctable vision that is not at least 20/40
- Hearing difficulties that cannot be resolved with a hearing aid
Illegal and illicit drugs are not permitted. You will be given a DOT-approved drug screen when you arrive for your physical and any trace of illegal drugs or alcohol will be cause for denial of a CDL. Additionally, a DOT drug screen could be popped on you at any time including random drug screens at DOT checkpoints.
Step 3 Your Driving Record
In order to be granted a go at the CDL exam, you will need to have a clean driving record. This means that you cannot have a history of DUIs in the past 5 +/- years depending on your state requirements. For those with speeding violations on your record, you cannot have a speeding violation of more than 20 mph over the limit on your driving record for the past 3 +/- years. You cannot be a felon or have a felony conviction pending on your record.
Step 4 Classes and Endorsements
When you apply for your commercial license instructional permit and CDL you will need to understand the differences between classes and endorsements. For most local CDL jobs you will need a Class C license that allows you to drive a truck that weighs more than 26,000 pounds and pull a trailer that is more than 10,000 pounds. If you have a Class B license you can drive a 26,000+ pound truck, but your trailer size must be less than 10,000 pounds. For those who receive a Class A license you can’t drive a truck greater than 26,000 pounds and pulling a trailer is not applicable. However, you are licensed to haul more than 16 passengers. Typically a Class A is for bus drivers, not truck drivers.
As for endorsements, if you want to specialize in the trucking industry you will need to add these to your basic CDL. Endorsements are granted through knowledge and/or skills tests. Additionally, some endorsements, such as tanker vehicle and hazardous materials endorsements, must be dually granted in order to receive an additional endorsement, i.e. the H endorsement. Here are the endorsements you might want to add to your trucking license:
- Double/triple trailers – T Endorsement
- Passengers – P Endorsement
- Tank vehicles – N Endorsement
- Hazardous materials – H Endorsement
- Tank vehicles and hazardous materials endorsements – X Endorsement
- School busses – S Endorsement
Certain trucking jobs, such as hauling propane, require endorsements that go beyond the basic CDL. These endorsements require additional testing and review. However, those jobs that require endorsements typically come with increased pay and opportunities. Consider the endorsements that might benefit you as you study to get a CDL as determined by the types of local trucking jobs you plan to apply for in the future.
Step 5 Study for the CDL Exam
First of all, every state issues its own version of the CDL exam. Search for CDL training materials geared at your particular state, which are available online and at most large scale book stores, such as Barnes and Noble. Study guides come in books that include practice exams on paper and via the Internet using codes provided with the books. Additionally, you can purchase or make flash cards using index cards that you can use for drilling the detailed information you will need to know when taking the exam. The general portion of the exam will include facts and stats about roads and trucks. Take approximately a month, at minimum, to study this information.
In addition to using study guides and flash cards for the facts, you will need to invest time with an actual truck for the road portion of the CDL exam. If you know someone who has recently received their CDL in your state ask them to help you study. They can give you background knowledge and first-hand experience regarding specific questions you will encounter. Additionally, they can grant you access to a truck to learn about the different parts, gears, dials and functions, which is especially useful if you have not secured a trucking job yet. This will help you apply the information when you are taking the exam and after you start searching for truck driving jobs.
Step 6 Apply for a CDL
Now you are ready to fill out an application for a CDL. You can find a copy of your state specific CDL application at your local DMV or on the state DMV’s website. Fill out this paperwork, which will require you to include personal identification and information about what kind of commercial vehicle you will be using for training purposes. This will also determine what class of license you will be gearing to get. Once you have completed the application take it in person to your local DMV office in your home state.
When you turn in the CDL application you will be given the knowledge portion of the CDL exam. You will need to be prepared for this portion of the test when you submit your application. In order to proceed to the next step of having your instructional permit for practicing the road portion of the exam, you must pass the written, knowledge based exam.
Step 7 Get a Commercial Driver’s License Instructional Permit
Before you are released on the open road with a CDL you are required to have an instructional permit, just as most teen drivers have with a basic driver’s license. This permit grants you with the opportunity to learn how to drive a commercial vehicle, which gives you hands on experience with the information that you are required to learn for the CDL exam. In order to get the instructional permit, you must have successfully completed Steps 1 to 6. Your CDL instructional permit will allow you to operate a commercial vehicle in the class on your permit.
Additionally, you must have someone who already has a CDL in the same class as you accompanying you each time you practice driving a commercial vehicle. Finding someone willing to let you drive their truck and of your same class could be an issue. For many, trucking schools and trucking companies that provide education and training with commercial vehicles is the only way to access a truck for learning at this stage in the game. Before you can proceed with the written exam and road test for your CDL you must have your instructional permit for at least 30 days or have successfully completed commercial driving training school.
Step 8 Preparing for the Driving Skills Test
At this point you should feel fairly confident in your ability to drive a commercial vehicle. You have passed the DOT required physical exam and the knowledge portion of the CDL test at your local DMV. You have been practicing your skills in an actual truck and should feel prepared to take the skills test. If you have not many opportunities to practice driving, or you feel your skills are not up to par, you can apply to trucking schools for further instruction.
In trucking school you are given instruction from experienced individuals in the trucking industry, as well as first hand exposure to the equipment you will be handling when you have your first truck driving job. Additionally you will be able to meet other people who are testing for their CDL, which is good for job networking and to give you a feeling of camaraderie with other truckers. If you have taken the skills test portion of the exam and failed you might want to consider enrollment into trucking school as a solid alternative for getting the training and experience you need to get a CDL.
Step 9 Skills Test Time
It’s time to take driving skills test. Keep in mind that you might have to schedule your CDL driving skills exam appointment ahead of time. Some states require you schedule your appointment in advance 2 or 3 months, while other DMVs will let you schedule your appointment online. When you arrive for the driving skills test you will need to bring your own truck or commercial vehicle. This will typically require advanced notice on the part of whom you are borrowing a truck. After all, most truck drivers need their rigs for road. Get a truck lined up plenty ahead of time, and make sure that the truck is fully prepared for the exam. This means that the truck could pass a DOT inspection. If you are shooting for a Class A you will need to tow a trailer that meets the weight requirements.
Step 10 Celebrate with your CDL
After you have successfully completed the skills test you are ready for the open road! Your examiner will issue your CDL and you should receive a temporary CDL to use until your office CDL is mailed to you. At this point you should be searching for trucking companies that are offering trucking jobs, if you have not already. Now that you have your CDL you are fully licensed to drive according to your class and endorsement. You can get started with a career that you have worked so hard for in these last months. Keep your CDL up to date with your DOT-approved physical every 2 years, and make sure to renew your CDL, and endorsements if applicable, in plenty of time to keep your CDL in good order. You should also keep up with any laws or changes to your state DMV in regards to commercial vehicles so that you are well prepared for any new rules regarding your CDL.