Before going into details, let’s say that truck driving is one of the most demanding and most difficult job you can image. Just ask someone who used to work as a truck driver, and will probably tell you the same about this profession. Long shifts, insomnia and high risk are among the job descriptions of a professional truck driver. Namely, in percentage terms, truck drivers are on the seventh place on the list of most dangerous professions in United States.
But high-risk jobs are usually accompanied by high earnings. Many people decide to drive a truck primarily because of their good earnings.
Below we present in detail what does it take to get a CDL, and become a professional truck driver in America.
What is a Commercial Driving License (CDL)?
“CDL” means Commercial Driver’s License.
It’s an official document required to drive large, heavy, or vehicles with hazardous materials for commercial purposes throughout the United States.
Several types of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) require the driver to have a valid commercial driver’s license. Drivers may also be required to obtain one or more special categories called endorsements, such as air brakes, hazardous materials (Hazmat – hazardous materials), tanks or passenger vehicles, in order to drive a vehicle equipped with air brakes, a tank truck, a truck carrying hazardous materials or a passenger vehicle.
Each type of CDL and endorsement requires a written test; some require a skill test. Some types of categories have additional requirements. For a hazmat, the driver must also take fingerprints and pass a Traffic Safety Authority (TCA) security threat assessment.
The process of obtaining a CDL
All license categories (A, B and C) have the same basic requirements. However, there are additional items for each category of permit – these requirements are listed in their respective sections, which you will find below:
- Necessary steps in the process of obtaining a CDL
- Medical reports
- How to get a category A license
- How to get a category B permit
- How to get a category C permit
- Things you don’t need
Necessary steps in the process of obtaining a CDL
- You must be at least 21 years old (at least 18 to drive within the state).
- Submit your permit application and pay the necessary fees.
- Attach personal documents as well as the SSN (check the requirements of your state).
- Attach proof of legal residence in your state and the United States.
- Attach a completed medical examination report form and a doctor’s certificate form.
- You must pass a vision test.
- You must pass a knowledge test.
- After passing the exam, you will be issued a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP).
- Wait at least 14 days before you are scheduled for the CDL Road Skills Exam.
- You will also take an examination before hitting the road.
- Pass the road and driving skills exam (you have to come by your own vehicle).
- After taking the exam, you must pay the necessary fees for your new license (if you wish, you can submit a ten-year check of records if you already have a driver’s license in any country or jurisdiction other than the one you are currently applying for).
Note: If you are a military veteran with experience in driving military buses or military trucks, the state may allow you to waive any or all of the following written tests: CDL General Knowledge, Passengers, Tanker or Hazmat, with evidence of relevant military experience. Each state will also allow you to cancel your driving test.
Obtaining a CDL makes you part of the industry that drives the American economy. Although everyone sees trucks on the road, people do not realize that these trucks move 70% of the freight in the United States, worth more than 670 billion dollars, more than the annual income of the entire Swiss state! In addition, trucking move 67% of the US freight to Canada and 81% of the US freight to Mexico.
For different types of commercial driving licenses, the basic requirements are federal, but states are allowed to impose their own additional requirements.
For example, federal law requires that you must be 21 years of age or older to drive an interstate vehicle commercially. However, many states will issue CDLs exclusively for driving in the state for those aged 18 and over. When you are ready to apply for your CDL and complete your country’s CDL application, you will need to provide proof of the following:
- Social security number.
- Proof of identity.
- Proof of legal residence.
Documents accepted by most states as proof of your Social Security number usually include your Social Security card, Medicare identification document, your ID card from any of the United States Armed Forces (active, retired, or dependent), or a military separation document known as DD-214. Some states may accept some other form of proof of social security number, so check before you go.
The list of documents accepted as proof of your identity varies even more from state to state. Some of the most commonly accepted documents include a U.S. birth certificate or a certified copy of a certificate, a valid U.S. passport, a U.S. USCIS Native American card, a valid military ID, a certificate of citizenship or naturalization, a residence card, or a temporary residence card. In all likelihood, your state is likely to accept a few more documents as proof of identity, so it’s best to look for the latest information in your state CDL manual or on the official DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) website.
Proof of residence requirements will also vary between states. You may need to provide a copy of one utility bill in some states such as Alabama, while others such as California may require two or three different documents from a list of up to eighteen different options, and the address on the documents must match your registered CDL address. Again, it is best to check the official DMV website of your state to avoid potential document problems.
In addition to providing proof of your name, date of birth, residence, age and social security number, providing proof that you are medically fit to drive is also part of the process of obtaining CDL. The easiest part of this process consists of a test of your eyesight that you will take with the rest of the examination for a permit, however the more detailed part involves submitting the necessary medical reports.
Due to the new law, after 2021, regardless of whether you drive interstate or within the state, you must submit two forms to your state licensing agency: the Medical Examination Report Form (MCSA-5875) and the Medical Examination Certificate Form (MCSA-5876). If you are going to drive an interstate vehicle, you must use the doctor listed in the National Register of Certified Medical Practitioners to complete your forms. If these forms are part of your business, your employer must pay for them.
Once you have provided all the necessary papers, you must pass the exams. All CDL candidates must pass a vision exam as well as a knowledge exam.
Once you pass them, you will receive a learner’s permit (CPL). The Code of Federal Regulations states that you must have a certificate of at least 14 days to be able to take a skill test on the road.
(Some jurisdictions may require a longer detention period). Depending on the issuing state, the certificate can be valid for one year and is non-renewable, or valid for less than one year and is renewable.
Forms you need: Medical report and medical certificate
The Federal Road Safety Administration requires that all interstate drivers of commercial motor vehicles have a valid medical certificate (MEC), MCSA-5876 form for driving.
As part of physical fitness, drivers must complete a medical history report (MEP), MSCA-5875.
Medical Certificate (MEC), Form MSCA-5876
If the medical doctor determines that the examined driver is physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle in accordance with the standards of physical qualification, the medical doctor will fill in and submit the medical certificate of the medical doctor (MEC) form MCSA-5876.
The medical doctor will keep a copy of the certificate (MEC), form MCSA-5876, in the records for at least 3 years.
How to get a category A license?
Everything you need to get a classic driver’s license.
Pass the general CDL knowledge test and the knowledge test for combined vehicles.
You must provide an A-category vehicle during the road skills test.
Apply for all required Class A approvals (such as double and triple).
You must have a category A license if you drive a combination of a vehicle that weighs more than 11,000 kilograms and a towed vehicle that weighs more than 4,500 kilograms. For many states, this would include commercial vehicles that have trailers or semi-trailers with two or more axles.
To get a category A license, you need to do everything you have read about so far and also pass the combined written test. First, you must provide a Class A vehicle on your driving test. Depending on your particular vehicle and the type of job you will be looking for, you may need to pass additional exams, such as the Double or Triple Test, which will allow you to drive with double or triple trailers. If your vehicle has air brakes, you will need to pass an air brake test. After filling out all the relevant paperwork, submitting all the necessary documentation, passing the written and driving exams, you will receive a new category A driver’s license!
How to get a B category license?
Everything you need to get a classic driver’s license.
Pass the general CDL knowledge test.
You must provide a B-Class vehicle during a road test.
Apply for all necessary category B approvals (air brakes, tanks, etc.).
A category B license is required if you are going to drive one vehicle heavier than 11,000kg and the total gross allowable value of any towed vehicle is less than 4,500kg. since most of the weight is in one vehicle with a category B license, you do not need double or triple approval, nor combined. However, if your vehicle has air brakes or you are towing a trailer, you will need to obtain special approvals.
The key to traveling with a new category B license is just filling in the fields; fill out the paperwork, submit the medical documents, pass all the exams with excellent grades, pay the fees And that’s it!
How to get a C category license?
- Everything you need to get a classic driver’s license.
- Pass the general CDL knowledge test.
- You must provide a C-Class vehicle during the road test.
- Apply for all necessary approvals (passengers, school buses, Hazmat, etc.)
If you are going to drive a vehicle carrying more than 16 passengers or hazardous materials, then you need a category C license. The process of obtaining a category C license is very similar to that of category A or B licenses, although it depends on what type of vehicle you will drive. The only way Category C is unique is that you have to apply for some approvals. If you are only transporting passengers, you will need a permit to transport passengers. You will need a school bus driver’s license or a passenger’s license to drive a school bus.
You will need a Hazmat certificate to transport hazardous materials. For hazardous materials, you will also need to pass additional state and / or TSA security checks. Your state may also have additional safety checks for school bus drivers, which should be on the DMV’s official website. As long as you fill out and submit the papers and all medical documents, take and successfully pass all the necessary tests, pay the fees and pass the security checks, you will soon receive a new category C CDL license.
Find out more: 16 Types of Jobs That Require CDL
Things you DON’T need
The commercial driving school will provide training in the classroom and behind the wheel. What if you think you need more written instructions than the basic course provides? Before you spend more money on extra classroom instruction, consider whether you could learn more on some online sites. For example, there are a lot of free high-quality CDL exercises for driving tests, without the need to register or provide any personal information or commit.
Note: You do not have to pay for the CDL manual in your country. Some sites offer to sell it to you, which is very unethical when it can be found for free on the CDL licensing site in your country. If you check the DMV website in your country, they may also list locations where you can get a free copy.
The most important factor in how to get a CDL license is not money – it is your time and determination!
Whether you get a category A, B or C license, we hope you will be on the road, in the new 2022!