What You Need to Get a Commercial Driver’s License

Tuesday, Oct 17 2017 Staff Writer

White Truck Cruising on County RoadTo become a truck driver, you need one key piece of information. You need a commercial driver’s license, aka a CDL. This is not the same as your basic driver’s license. You will have to take a separate exam in order to get a CDL. However, that’s just the beginning. As you start up your truck driving career, here is everything you need to know to get a commercial driver’s license, so you can be a professional truck driver.

Class Types of CDLs

To start with, you’ll need to choose the Class type of CDL you are testing and applying for. There are two basic classes for truck drivers:

  • Class A
  • Class B

To be a long-haul trucker, you will have to get a Class A CDL. The Class B CDL is reserved for regional trucking jobs and local truck drivers operating straight trucks. The best way to tell the difference in the two is based on axles and hauling weights. If you will be driving a straight truck that does not bend at the axle, then Class B is ok for you. If you will be hauling less than 26,000 pounds, then you will have to have a Class B.

There is also a Class C, but that is strictly for people-movers, aka bus drivers. You won’t be taking that route if you are a freight hauling truck driver. For most truck drivers, the Class A CDL is both a good idea and mandatory for finding trucking jobs. That’s because the more you haul, the more money you’ll be making. As a Class A CDL truck driver, you can transport a truckload of goods across multiple states, which offers the best return on your time.

If you are planning on testing for your Class A, you will need to know a little bit more for your CDL exam. This includes how to pull a trailer of a combination vehicle, how to hook up the trailers of doubles and triples, and how to back up with a trailer attached.

Testing for the CDL Exam

Speaking of testing, you will have to pass not one, but two CDL tests. This includes a written, book knowledge test and a road skills test. This is the same idea as when you got your basic driver’s license. You have to pass a book test and then go out and drive with a DMV representative along a road course set up for the class of CDL you are testing for. You can study for the CDL exam in a number of ways:

  • Go to a CDL school or truck driver training program
  • Get a CDL study guide and read it cover to cover while also taking computerized tests accessible via the guide
  • Find a professional trucker and CDL holder who is willing to provide you with behind-the-wheel training
  • Go on YouTube and watch videos on how to handle and operate a tractor-trailer

In fact, a good approach to studying for the CDL exam involves combining each of these methods. The more ways you find for studying for the test and gaining the knowledge of driving a truck, the better. For instance, for individuals who are visual learners, they’ll appreciate videos rather than written text. Either way, you definitely want to get some behind-the-wheel training in. In addition to finding a helpful trucker to assist you with this, you can get this hands-on training at any truck driving school.

Proper Paperwork and Documentation

Once you are ready to take the test for a CDL, you’ll need to get your paperwork lined up. Here are the basic items you will be required to have when getting a Class A or Class B CDL:

  • Department of Transportation physical examination certificate stating you are physically able to operate a commercial vehicle
  • Drug test and alcohol screen results

You will be able to get both of these at any certified medical examiner, which could be a physician, chiropractor, nurse practitioner, health department, or otherwise certified-DOT examiner. Be sure to check with the examiner beforehand to make sure they are actually certified. The DOT provides the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners that lets you search for medical examiners in your area.

You can use this resource to find an examiner and to verify that your provider is a CME. If you choose a medical professional who is not a valid CME, i.e., the professional is falsely advertising that they offer this service, then the DOT will require you to get reexamined within so many days of a notification.

Other documents you’ll need include everything that is required to get a driver’s license. This includes proof of residency, current driver’s license, if applicable, social security number/card, certified copy of your birth certificate, etc. You’ll also have to pay a nominal fee for a CDL, which is typically less than $50. Once you pass the CDL exam, provide the documentation, and pay the fee, you will receive your CDL.

CDL Endorsements

Once you have a CDL, you can consider getting CDL endorsements. For truck drivers, these include:

Each of these endorsements gives you greater opportunities as a trucker in terms of what you can haul and transport. You’ll have to take separate tests for each endorsement, and the hazmat endorsement requires you to be fingerprinted and pass a background check.

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