How to become a truck driver: two basic steps to getting your CDL

2018 was an awesome year for the trucking industry, with record-shattering levels of freight-hauling demand and driver pay as tonnage levels reached a 20-year high. Although trucking is expected to experience less exponential growth in 2019, the industry should remain strong.

American Trucking Associations estimates the trucking industry is short more than 50,000 drivers. To fill the gaps, many companies have started heavily recruiting drivers, increasing pay, improving bonuses, and offering additional benefits.

Have you ever considered becoming a truck driver? If so, you’ll need a Commercial Driver’s License. 

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If you’re seeking to enter this industry, just brace yourself for lots of acronyms…To drive a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV), you will need to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in your state of residence.

Got it? Good!

You might know the freedom of the open road is calling your name, but do you know exactly what kind of license you’ll need? Read your state’s Commercial Driver’s Licensing Manual and consider what kind of vehicle and driving you’ll need the license for. You can read more about the different kinds of CDLs and what you can do with them here.

You will need to meet federal/state requirements to get started.

In the trucking industry, age isn’t just a number. The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires all professional truck drivers to be at least 21 years old. Some other requirements vary by state. Check out these specific CDL requirements for your state.

After you know what kind of driving you’d like to pursue, follow these two basic steps to getting a CDL:

Step 1: get your Commercial Learners Permit (CLP)

This is a permit that only authorizes you to practice on public roads with a qualified CDL holder in the vehicle with you. To obtain your permit, you’ll have to do more than just pass all the knowledge tests for the type of driving you want to do. 

To make sure that you are eligible your driving record is checked for the last 10 years in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. You also need to bring in the proof that your state accepts to show that you are medically qualified. 

Most types of commercial driving require a DOT medical card, necessitating a DOT physical. Read more about what to expect during your DOT physical here.

Additional documents may be required to prove your name and residency, depending on your state, and fees may also be involved. When it comes to these parts of the certification process, your best bet is to read and follow the instructions in your state’s CDL Manual.

Step 2: Apply for your CDL

 After obtaining your CLP, you can apply for a CDL. Be aware that you must possess the CLP for at least 14 days before taking the skills portion of the test! Some states even require you to successfully complete CDL training (like at a truck driving school) before attempting the test.

As we mentioned above, each type of CDL and endorsement requires you pass a skills test and in some cases a written test. Unless you have previous experience operating a commercial vehicle, you should really consider enrolling in a training course before taking on the exams. 

If you forgo truck driving school you must practice the inspection tests and maneuvers in the CDL Manual that will be assessed before showing up for the test. 

You have to pass all 3 parts of the Skills Test, which is comprised of the Vehicle Inspection Test, the Basic Controls Test, and the Road Test. Your state may even allow you to use their “training aid” to help you remember items on the vehicle inspection checklist. Taking the Skills test is no guarantee that you will pass.

Once you have passed the Skills Test, submit the documentation for processing. Although some states will give you the CDL that same day, others send it to you in the mail. 

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Make sure that everything is correct before you leave that day. It can be costly and embarrassing if you find a mistake later.

When you’re feeling ready for your CDL test, take a free test or two here! Best of luck in your journey toward obtaining your CDL. See you on the open road!