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How to Become a Class B Commercial Driver in 5 Steps

Obtaining a commercial driver's license (CDL license) is necessary for certain careers that involve driving large vehicles. Find out more about what obtaining this licensure entails.

What Is a Class B License?

A commercial driver's license (CDL) is a specialist driving license that certifies you to drive large vehicles, such as trucks or buses. A Class B license permits the driving of a single vehicle that has a gross vehicle weight of 11,794 kilograms or a vehicle that is towing another vehicle that has a gross vehicle weight of 4,536 kilograms.

Driving a vehicle that is significantly larger and potentially more difficult to handle than a normal passenger vehicle means there needs to be a higher level of skill and training. This licensure must be obtained in your home state and it is not legal to have a CDL in more than one state. Although there are general federal requirements, each state may be slightly different.

How to Get a Class B License

Step 1: Obtain a Commercial License Permit (CLP)

The first step to obtaining a CDL is to get a commercial license permit (CLP), which is required to be held for a minimum of 14 days (some states require more) before you can move forward with the other steps. In order to get the CLP, drivers must pass a knowledge test. Additionally, your driving record in the past 10 years will be examined to ensure that there are no concerning incidents. Medical clearance is also required to confirm you are healthy enough to successfully carry out your work as a driver effectively and safely. This might require a Department of Transportation (DOT) medical card, which can be obtained after a DOT physical assessment.

Step 2: Complete CDL Training and Practice

Depending on the state, you may be required to complete CDL training prior to applying for the license itself. However, in order to ensure you are best prepared for the upcoming tests, it is highly recommended to spend time practicing, training, and studying the CDL manual prior to the testing, regardless of the minimum requirements. The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) provides a CDL manual that has been approved by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Additionally, the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) develops standards for schools that provide training classes where you can learn skills under the supervision of driving instructors.

Step 3: Complete Class B License Requirements

After holding the CLP for the minimum number of days and completing the required training, you can move forward with pursuing your CDL. There are both written and practical tests that must be passed and the CDL Skills Test includes three sections, including a vehicle inspection test, basic controls test, and road test. The format of the test itself will depend on your state of residency. For example, in Washington D.C. you are required to hold the CLP for a minimum of 30 days and the road test takes approximately two hours to complete. In Michigan, all three parts of the test are completed in the same session in a particular order and candidates cannot move on to the next section without passing the previous one.

Step 4: Get Your Class B Driver's License

If you pass your Skills Test, you will then need to submit all your paperwork to the relevant office. It will depend on which state you live in whether or not you receive your CDL on the same day or if it is sent in the mail.

If you fail your Skills Test, there may be an option for a retake, although you may not be able to do so immediately. In Washington D.C., for example, if you fail the Skills Test once, you are required to wait at least three days before taking it again. However, if you fail it a second time, you will not be allowed to take the test again until a waiting period of 90 days is over. In Vermont, if you fail the test three times, a six-month waiting period is enforced.

Step 5: Pursue Special Endorsements

Some vehicles require special endorsements beyond the basics of a CDL. For example, a 'T' endorsement allows you to drive double and triple trailers, an 'H' endorsement lets you drive vehicles with hazardous materials and an 'S' endorsement gives you the ability to operate a school bus.

Which Careers Require a CDL License?

Some of the careers that require a CDL license include different types of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, as well as bus drivers. For people in these careers who want to advance their careers, they may be interested in pursuing training in transport logistics

Job Outlook (2018-2028) 5% (for Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers and Bus Drivers)
Median Annual Salary (2018) $43,680 (for Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers) $34,450 (for Bus Drivers)