You’ve done the research and decided that being a truck driver might be the career for you. After all, trucks are still the most popular method of moving freight with expected industry growth of 5% over the next decade. Trucking companies don’t hire just anyone, though. You’ll first need to earn your Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).
What you need to know before getting your CDL
Taking your sedan to work isn’t exactly the same as driving a big rig. Getting your CDL has more requirements than a non-commercial license, which is regulated by the FMCSA and Department of Transportation. Safety is everything on the road, and qualifications vary per vehicle type and professional duties.
The minimum requirements to apply for a CDL
Every state has a different path to getting your CDL, but there are some requirements across the board that every aspiring truck driver must meet;
- Be at least 18 years old with a valid non-commercial driver’s license.
- Provide proof of citizenship or permanent residency status.
- List states where you’ve held a driver’s license within the past 10 years.
- Pass all background checks and have no active license suspensions.
- Speak and read English well enough for on-the-job functions and communication.
Depending on your state, you may come across requirements such as having a minimum driving history of two years. Additionally, you may only drive within the state your CDL is issued in until you’ve turned 21 years of age.
Getting your Commercial Learner’s Permit
Like most jobs, operating a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) requires a certain amount of training and testing. Permits are issued through your state DMV. You may be tested on general CDL knowledge, driver safety, cargo transportation, air brakes, and more.
Be better prepared for your CDL test with behind-the-wheel experience
Once you get your CLP, you’ll then be able to practice driving a CMV so long as a certified commercial driver’s license (CDL) truck driver is in the cab with you. You may learn through a private instructor or designated truck driving school. CDL driver training programs take on average seven weeks to complete. Note that you must hold your CPL for 14 days before you can test for your CDL.
Choosing the right type of CDL
With three CDL options to choose from, plus endorsements, picking the right one may feel daunting. The good thing is that you’ll quickly understand which one you need based on the specialized vehicles you drive.
CDL Class A
The Class A license is required for any vehicle with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of over 13 tons. It’s towing capacity needs to be over 5 tons to qualify for CDL Class A.
The most common Class A vehicles include;
- Tractor-trailers, big rigs, etc.
- Truck / Trailer combinations.
- Tanker trucks.
- Livestock haulers.
Class A licenses are best suited for professionals who want to freely switch between Commercial Motor Vehicle options. CDL Class A also tends to cover most vehicle requirements of the other CDL types, with a few exceptions noted below.
CDL Class B
The Class B license is most often for a single vehicle with a GCWR of over 13 tons without a hitched trailer.
The most common Class B vehicles include;
- Straight trucks.
- Tourist buses.
- Delivery and furniture vehicles.
- Trucks with smaller sized trailers, such as dump trucks.
CDL Class B
The Class C license is for vehicles with a GCWR under 13 tons that can also transport hazardous materials and over 16 passengers.
Endorsements are exceptions and permissions for CDL holders that allow truck drivers to operate a wider selection of Commercial Motor Vehicles. When getting your CPL, you may declare up to three endorsements that you intend to also qualify for upon passing your CDL test. You can become a more valuable prospect to trucking companies by taking additional tests for the following endorsements;
- (P) Passenger Transport: Operate passenger vehicles such as public transportation.
- (S) School Bus/Passenger Transport: Operate passenger vehicles such as school buses.
- (T) Double / Triples: Operate vehicles towing double and triple trailers.
- (H) Hazardous Materials: Operate vehicles to transport flammable liquids such as gas.
- (N) Tank Vehicle: Operate tanker vehicles to transport non-hazardous liquids.
- (X) Tanker / Hazardous Materials: Operating vehicles transporting hazardous materials.
Ready for the road
We hope this has helped you define the right path for you as a truck driver! While there are many options to consider, the multiple commercial driver’s license (CDL) classes and endorsements allow optimal flexibility and fluidity to work across the trucking industry. Be sure to visit your state DMV site for additional requirements in getting your CDL.