These are the steps for getting a CDL

If you’re looking to become a professional truck driver, the most important requirement you need to fulfil is to obtain a Commercial Driver’s Licence (CDL). The rules, requirements, and costs of getting a CDL and certain endorsements differ from one state to another, so before you start gathering any documents, it’s necessary that you go over the requirements of the state in which you’ll be obtaining the CDL. In the following blog post, we look at all the stops you need to hit on your road to getting a Class A CDL.

There are three classes of CDLs (CLass A, B, and C) but the one we’re interested here is Class A.  With this licence class, you are authorized to drive vehicles such as tank vehicles, livestock carriers, flatbeds, tractor-trailers, and any other combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, under the condition that the towed vehicle is heavier than 10,000 pounds.

First stop: Requirements

Before anything else, you need to make sure you can even apply for a CDL because there are various requirements that need to be fulfilled.

Age - In order to even apply for a CDL, you need to be at least 18 years old. However, those who receive their licence before they turn 21 can only drive within one state (intrastate driving). Once you turn 21 years old, you are eligible to operate across the whole U.S. (interstate driving), as well as to transport hazardous materials.

Health - You need to be in good health. This means, among other things, having good hearing (some say you should be able to hear a whisper from 5-feet away), and good vision (have at least 20/40 vision with a 70-degree field of vision in each eye). Besides this, your overall health should be in the green, so to speak.

Besides these requirements for age and health, you have to have a valid non-commercial driver’s license and you mustn’t be a disqualified driver, and you need to have a one or two years of driving experience (this also varies from state to state), Finally, you need to be able to speak and read English at a level which allows you to talk with the general public, understand highway traffic signs and signals, to respond to official inquiries, as well as write reports and keep records.

Second stop: Paperwork

Much like for any other licence, you’ll need to gather necessary forms and documents in order to start your process. So, get ready for some paperwork.

Proof of identity - Documents you can use to prove your identity vary from state to state, but they may be your US birth certificate (or a certified copy of that document), valid military ID card, a permanent or temporary resident card, a valid US passport, the USCIS American Indian Card, or a Certificate of either Citizenship or Naturalization.

Proof of residency - Besides identity, you’ll need to prove you are a legal resident. Depending on the state where you are applying for a CDL, you might be expected to bring only one utility bill or several different documents to prove your residency. It’s important to research in detail exactly what your state requires.

Proof of your Social Security Number (SSN) - You will also have to prove your SSN. The most obvious choice is your social security card, but you can also bring your military card (whatever your status is) or a military separation document (DD-214 form), and your Medicare ID card.

Proof of health - Before starting a truck driving school or applying for a CDL, you’ll need to have a complete physical examination. Once you’re deemed healthy and able to operate a truck, you’ll be required to submit two medical reports - the Medical Examination Report Form (MCSA-5875) and the Medical Examiner’s Certificate Form (MCSA-5876). You can’t fill out those forms by yourself of course, which is why you’ll need to choose a medical examiner from the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners.

Third stop: Truck Driving School and the CLP

Although it’s not mandatory, most companies like to hire drivers who have finished truck driving school. While you can learn how to operate a truck without any formal instructions, people who are hiring you would feel more comfortable trusting you with their trucks knowing that you had some formal education and practice before you applied for the position. The length of the course is different in every school, but it can last anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks.

In truck driving school, you’ll have plenty of chances to experience various weather and road conditions. You’ll learn and practice how to maneuver through crowded city streets, drive on narrow mountainous roads, and vast highways, among other things. You’ll also learn about federal and state laws and regulations that apply to you, your truck, and the cargo.

Truck driving school can be costly, with prices ranging from $1,500 to $8,000. Needless to say this is reason enough to really look into all the schools in your area, so that you can get the best bang for your buck.

There are several things you need to pay attention to when you’re choosing a school:

  • Check if the school is licenced and accredited (and for how long).
  • Find out what their pass/fail rate is.
  • There are always some hidden costs, so be wary of those .
  • Check what is included in the cost of the course (Does it include the price of the exam, the price of the licence?)
  • Ask if they offer scholarships.
  • Make sure instructors don’t have too many students (it’s best if their ratio of students to instructor is 4:1).
  • Check if the school prepares students for all sorts of driving conditions, from various weather conditions to different types of road.

Once you gather all the necessary paperwork, you are required to fill an application for the CDL (you can find your state and the appropriate application here) and provide your medical reports with the application. After that, you will have a knowledge exam, a vision test, and a skill-based test that’s supervised. If by any chance you fail the knowledge exam, you have to wait 24 hours to retake it.

Once you pass all the necessary tests you will receive your CLP (commercial learner’s permit), and you can usually expect around up to 3 months of training on the job before you can drive alone. You have to hold your CLP a minimum of 14 days, and a maximum of 180 days, before you have the chance to take your road skills test. However, the law might change soon and allow truck drivers to have their CLP for a maximum of 365 days, which will save people some money on renewal fees.

General tips:

A few general tips for the end:

  • Research your state’s laws before starting the application process - gathering all the necessary paperwork can be tedious work, so be smart about it and plan ahead (To-Do lists are your best friends here); A good place to start is to find a DMV near you and start the process there.
  • Practice. Don’t assume you are well versed in road rules just because you drive a car. You can find plenty of free tests online, as well as in your DMV office, and the CDL manual.
  • Do not pay for free things. Check everything twice before you give any money, because a lot of people will try to charge you for something that’s free, such as  your state’s CDL handbook.
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