How to get a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) in 2020

While not required to work as a driver in the trucking industry altogether, a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), can go a long way in building a long-lasting, successful career in trucking.

A CDL is required to operate any large, heavy, or placarded hazardous material vehicles in commerce. Additionally, there are three types of CDLs available, including Class A, B, and C.

With a Class A license, drivers can operate any combination of vehicles including tractor-trailers, tank vehicles, livestock carriers, and flatbeds, among others. The gross combination weight rating for this license is 26,001 or more lbs, provided the towed vehicle is heavier than 10,000 lbs. With this license, you can also operate Class B and Class C vehicles. 

Utilizing a Class B CDL, drivers can only operate a single vehicle, which includes straight trucks, various buses, box trucks, and tractor-trailers. The gross combination weight rating for this one is 26,001 or more lbs and can also tow a trailer that does not exceed 10,000 lbs. A Class B holder can also operate Class C vehicles, but not Class A. 

Finally, there’s the Class C CDL. With this license, drivers can operate a vehicle with the capacity to transport 16 or more occupants or hazardous materials. Vehicles that can be operated under this license include Small HazMat vehicles and passenger vans, among other vehicles. 

While a CDL is necessary to work in most places throughout the trucking industry, there are a couple of exemptions. Some examples of non-CDL trucking jobs include farm equipment operators, firefighting equipment operators, military vehicle operators, recreational vehicle operators, and some forms of hotshot trucking as well. 

Consequently, if you’re not working in one of the aforementioned categories, you more than likely will require a CDL in order to perform your duties. So, here are some steps to take in order to obtain a CDL:

Steps to obtain a CDL

One thing that’s important to remember about the process of obtaining a CDL is that requirements will likely differ from state to state, so depending on what state you’re based in, you’ll want to do additional research. 

1. Review CDL Requirements

First, review the specific CDL Requirements to see if you actually qualify for a Commercial Driver’s License. Make sure you meet the minimum age requirement and physical requirements. By doing so, you will ensure that the process of getting your CDL will go much smoother.

In addition, make sure that you have the state-specific forms on hand in order to get your CDL. This includes your current driver’s license, a 10-year driving record, and a medical examination certificate.

2. Get a CDL Permit

Similar to getting a regular driver’s license, a permit is necessary to obtain a CDL. You can get this by passing a series of written exams that include:

  • General Knowledge
  • Air Brakes
  • Combination Vehicles

A CDL handbook to help you study and prepare yourself for these exams can be found at the testing site in each state or online. Make sure that you also pay the associated fees for your permit, which vary by state as well.

3. Add CDL Endorsements

Next, you will have to pass a written CDL endorsement test based on the type that you wish to obtain. Some endorsements, like Hazardous Materials, for example, may also need a background check. These extra endorsements help drivers broaden their employment opportunities, but they aren’t cheap.

Check the endorsements section of your CDL handbook to learn more.

4. Take a CDL Skills Test

The last step to get your CDL is to pass a CDL driving test. This is a three-part exam that includes a pre-trip inspection test, a basic control skills test, and a driving test at a pre-approved test site.

Once you’ve passed, you can officially receive a CDL license from your state.

Attending a Driving School

This part is not included as part of the list, as it is not a requirement by law, but can be useful for drivers if they choose to attend.

Driving schools can provide drivers with crucial safety information and skills, which could be difficult to find on their own. With access to additional resources, the knowledge that can be provided at a trucking school is invaluable. 

In addition to providing useful skills and knowledge, driving schools can be leveraged to build connections with trucking companies, allowing drivers to go from school to work right away. 

That’s not to say that you can’t find a job if you do the process on your own, but trucking schools can provide much easier access to a potential job. Jobs can come from schools having particular partnerships with certain companies, and sometimes you can even attend a school that belongs to a certain company. 

So, while trucking schools are not necessary for acquiring a CDL, they can be a huge help down the road when you’re looking for employment in the trucking industry.

Why it's worth it to get a CDL

In 2020, having a CDL can make a world of difference when starting your career in the trucking industry. As long as you’re prepared for the potential hardships of being away from family and sitting in a truck for hours on end, this career path can be a fruitful one. 

While pay can differ greatly depending on region, experience, and connections you may have, annual wages for truckers can be generous for beginners. According to the U.S. Labor Department, the median annual salary for truck drivers is somewhere around $40,000, while the median hourly rate is $19.36.

As folks continue to gain experience, however, they’re likely to see an increase in wages, as companies value experience above all else, especially in a business where trucker retention is a real issue. 

Additionally, according to Smart Trucking, one major reason for considering a career in trucking is job security. 

“Ever look online for truck driving jobs?” they said in a blog post. “There are no shortage of ads for openings for professional truck drivers.”

This sentiment is also echoed throughout the industry, as high demand for truckers has been caused by factors such as industry growth, a shortage of drivers, and an aging workforce. 

With job openings available year-round, there is seemingly always a demand for drivers. The fact is more than 70 percent of the freight that travels across the country and internationally is moved by trucks. What that means is that trucking will never go out of fashion, it’s an essential cog in the American economy. 

It’s also important to note that having a CDL does not mean you have to work for or lease under a company if you want to make a living. There is also a viable career path as an owner-operator, where you can have full freedom to choose what routes you take and what loads you want to haul.

While this line of work comes with its own difficulties, such as self-dispatching, costly breakdowns where you have to pay out of pocket yourself, among many others. It can be ultimately rewarding for those who seek to be fully independent, however.

Ultimately, by obtaining a CDL, you can have a plethora of freedom in the trucking industry. While it’s possible to be a non-CDL trucker and still find success, having a CDL can create unlimited opportunities for you as you continue to navigate through the industry. 

So, what do you think about the process of obtaining a CDL? Let us know in the comments or on social media!

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