If traveling the country (or the state) in the cab of an eighteen-wheeler sounds like a dream, obtaining a commercial driver license (CDL) is the first step to achieving it. There are multiple steps in the process, but a CDL is necessary to get a job as a truck driver in the United States.
While it is possible to study for and obtain a CDL without attending a specialized CDL-training program, this is not recommended. Most reputable long-haul trucking companies look for candidates who have completed training with a driving school for both policy and insurance reasons. Keep in mind that most states require practice with a licensed commercial driver, though that driver does not have to be with a truck driving school. However, it is usually quite easier to complete the training with professional guidance.
Look for schools that have high job placement rates. The American Trucking Association estimates that there is a current shortage in the trucking industry that exceeds 100,000 drivers. In the future, this shortage could exceed 400,000 drivers. There’s a lot of opportunity in the long-haul trucking industry currently.
Federal requirements state that a truck driver must be 21 years old to hold a CDL. In some states, a truck driver may obtain their CDL at age 18. However, these truck drivers are not allowed to cross state lines or carry either passengers or hazardous materials. In addition to the age requirement, new CDL applicants must pay the appropriate fee, provide identity verification, and provide proof of state residency. New applicants must also submit a completed Medical Examination Report Form and a Medical Examiner’s Certificate Form.
To receive a commercial learner’s permit (CLP), applicants must pass a vision test and a knowledge exam.
Every CDL applicant must pass a knowledge exam. The CDL knowledge exam is designed to test applicants’ knowledge of how to drive a commercial vehicle safely, how to safely transport cargo, and what the rules and regulations for CDL holders are. The best way to prepare for the CDL knowledge exam is to study. Free resources on the internet and at local DMVs include study materials and practice tests. If the applicant attends a truck driving school, in classroom instruction may help increase the chances of passing the CDL general knowledge exam. Federal regulations classify CDLs in three groups: Class A, Class B, and Class C.
Each class requires its knowledge exam, which must be passed in addition to the general knowledge exam.
Class A vehicles include any combination of vehicles with a GCWR (gross combination weight rating) of at least 26,001 pounds with the towed vehicles having a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of at least 10,001 pounds. For example, many tractor-trailers classify as Class A vehicles. The Class A knowledge test covers how to drive combination vehicles safely, how to handle combination air brakes, and other regulations.
Class B vehicles include any single vehicle with a GVWR of over 26,000 pounds or any single vehicle towing another vehicle that does not exceed 10,000 pounds. For example, transit buses and coach buses often classify as Class. Class B vehicles are also referred to as Heavy Straight Vehicles. The Class B knowledge exam covers how to drive heavy straight vehicles safely and other regulations that apply to Heavy Straight Vehicles.
Class C vehicles include any vehicles that transport sixteen or more passengers as well as trucks that carry hazardous materials. Instead of a knowledge exam, Class C licenses require that applicants receive specific endorsements depending on the type of vehicle. A few examples of endorsements include passenger transport endorsements, school bus driver endorsements, and hazardous material endorsements.
Class C exams and endorsements are typically more complex and challenging due to the seriousness of safely transporting passengers and hazardous materials. Additionally, some endorsements may require more in-depth security clearances or background checks.
Applicants for CDLs will be required to bring the appropriate vehicle to their road skills test. Before a CDL applicant is eligible to take the road skills test, they are federally required to hold their commercial learning permit for at least fourteen days. Different states require different amounts of practice driving, so be sure to check the specific hourly requirement. The road skills test includes a pre-trip inspection, a road test, and a backing test. All three tests must be passed to obtain a CDL.
After all appropriate exams have been passed, it’s time to pay the state’s licensing fees to receive a CDL. Keep track of the requirements for maintaining the new CDL, as specific endorsements and classes may require periodic re-testing. It’s essential to keep a CDL current, as the driver may be subject to significant fines and fees if they operate a vehicle without a current CDL in good standing.
Now that the CDL has been worked for, studied for, and earned, it’s time to hit the job market. If the driver studied at a professional truck driving school, job placement services might be available. Long-haul truckers move 70% of the domestic freight in the United States. Annually, this freight accounts for over $650 billion, and truck drivers are a vital part of the United States economy.
As a professional truck driving school of over forty years, Western Pacific Truck School has experience with preparing newly licensed drivers for their new profession. For four weeks, students spend time both in and outside of the classroom, gaining practical knowledge of the trucking industry. Experienced professionals spend time one-on-one with students to ensure comprehensive training. Western Pacific Truck School understands the importance of safety on the road and works to provide the country and state with safe, experienced truck drivers.