How to Get Your CDL
So you want to become a truck driver. Life on the road, seeing and visiting places people dream about, all while making a lot of money. Well, there's a few steps you need to take before you get there. Before becoming a truck driver, you have to prove that you can handle towing large loads, so there's a little thing you need to get called a Commercial Drivers License (CDL). So we're here to guide you through getting one.
What is a CDL?
A CDL stands for Commercial Driver's License and it is required to operate large, heavy, or placarded hazardous material vehicles in commerce. So to be a truck driver, or any other kind of worker operating heavy vehicles, you need to have this. But not all CDLs are the same. There are 3 different types, and each have their own rules, restrictions, and specifications for obtaining them. Let's talk about all three.
Types of CDLs
Class A CDL
The first type of Commercial Driver's License is Class A. This classification of CDL states that a person with this can operate a combination of vehicles with Gross Combination Weight Rating of 26,001 or more pounds provided the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of vehicles being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds. This one is the broadest and the one you need if you want to be a truck driver. This offers the best job opportunities and earnings potential. And if you have a Class A CDL, you automatically are licensed to drive Class B and Class C vehicles.
Class B CDL
The second type is a Class B CDL which states that a driver can carry a single vehicle with Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of 26,001 pounds or more, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle not in excess of 10,000 pounds. This is typically for lighter vehicles, like a straight truck or bus. With a Class B CDL, you automatically are licensed for a Class C CDL.
Class C CDL
The last CDL classification is class C. Class C CDLs state that a driver can carry single vehicles less than 26,001 pounds GVWR or any such vehicle towing a vehicle in excess of 10,000 pounds of GVWR comprising of vehicles required to be placarded for hazardous materials or any bus designed to transport 16 or more passengers including the driver.
* Any holder of a CDL is automatically licensed to drive a Class O vehicle (which is any non-CDL vehicle, excluding motorcycles).
Depending on the industry you want to get into, certain carriers may require different endorsements. What are Endorsements? They allow you to transport special types of commercial vehicles and goods, like industrial gases for instance. These are basically extra permissions.
When you apply for your CDL, you should state which endorsements you are plan to earn. Depending on which CDL you are trying for, different endorsements are only eligible for some. CDL.com goes into more depth on which endorsements fit with each classification. There are 6 endorsements that you can add on to a CDL:
- H - Hazardous Materials
- N - Tank Vehicle
- P - Passenger
- S - School Bus
- T - Doubles/Triple Trailers
- X - Combination Tank Vehicle and Hazardous Materials
Many drivers will attest that having an endorsement on your CDL will most likely lead to better job opportunities. To get an endorsement, during your driver's portion of the test, you will have to demonstrate special maneuvers proving you can haul specialty vehicles and goods.
How to Get Tanker and Hazmat Endorsements
To get endorsements, specifically Hazmat and Tanker, you must already meet all the requirements and own a Class A or B CDL. Once you have successfully gotten your CDL, the next step is to fill out an endorsement application and set up an appointment with the application center. Once you have an appointment, bring all the necessary documentation and while there, they will fingerprint you, you'll pay a fee, and then hand in your application. Essentially what they are doing is another sort of background check.
It can sometimes take upwards of a month to hear back, but once you hear back, they will tell you if you've either been approved or rejected (you can appeal if you've been rejected.) Approval means you can head to your local DMV to take the Hazmat endorsement test and the Tanker endorsement test separately.
Do I Qualify?
Before you even start thinking about applying for a CDL, you must be eligible to receive one. JTL Truck Driving School states to be eligible, you:
- Must be at least 18 years old for intrastate and 21 years old for interstate
- cannot have more than one Driver’s License and your current driving record needs to be free of restrictions.
- Must meet the medical requirements of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.
- Need to prove citizenship and have permission to work in the United States.
- Need to be able to speak and read the English language
So How Do I Get One?
Actually obtaining a CDL requires a lot of time and dedication. Truck drivers need to go through a Truck Driver School Program, where they will learn everything from vehicle systems to road operations. It is possible to get a CDL without going to a trucking school, but most states and most company's require a training program. SmartTrucking.com offers a few things to consider before selecting a driving school.
Once you have successfully completed your training, it's time to apply for a CDL. According to Driving Tests, the steps required for obtaining a CDL are:
- Submit your state’s CDL Application and pay the appropriate fee
- Provide identity and Social Security number verification (check your state’s requirements)
- Provide proof of state and US residency
- Submit a completed Medical Examination Report Form and Medical Examiner’s Certificate Form
- Pass a vision test
- Pass a knowledge exam
- After passing, be issued a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP)
- Wait a minimum of 14 days before you can schedule your CDL road skills examination
- Pass a pre-trip inspection
- Pass the road skills and driving examination (you must bring your own vehicle)
- After passing, pay the necessary fees for your new CDL (Optionally, submit a 10-Year Record Check, if you’ve had a driver’s license in any state or jurisdiction other than the one where you are applying for your CDL)
Officially, you can only obtain a CDL once you have successfully completed a written and driving test that was approved by the state or the testing facility. If you pass, you are able to begin your trucking career and most likely get more advanced training from the company that you choose to work with.
What if I Fail?
If you studied and prepped for the test and still fail, don't worry. You are able to retake the exam after 3 days. If you fail again, typically the wait period is longer each time to retake the test.
I Passed my CDL Exam, Now What?
Congrats, you're officially hirable! The first thing you want to do when you get your CDL is to sign on with a carrier. Like any other job, you want to get started as soon as possible since you need to go through several phases until you can drive alone. This doesn't mean pick the first carrier you find, however. Be sure to do your own research and see what each carrier offers its drivers, like benefits, job opportunities, pay and more.
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