How Can I Become a Class A CDL Truck Driver?

Explore the career requirements for Class A CDL truck drivers. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, professional licensure, and the employment outlook to determine if this is the right field for you. Schools offering Driver Training degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a CDL Truck Driver?

A CDL truck driver is a professional truck driver who is licensed to operate vehicles exceeding 26,000 pounds. They transport goods and materials from one place to another by road. They may also be known as tractor-trailer truck drivers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that as of 2014, 33% of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers worked in general freight trucking. CDL truck drivers are responsible for inspecting their trailers before and after their trips. They need to maintain vehicle records and note any damage. They may perform basic maintenance but are responsible for reporting any serious damage or mechanical concerns. They are responsible for following all traffic laws and drive long distances to complete their deliveries.

Education Required High school diploma (or equivalent)
Training Required Short-term on-the-job training
Key Responsibilities Understand and follow applicable traffic laws
Drive long distances
Track data related to each haul
Licensure Required Commercial driver's license
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 5%*
Average Salary (2015) $42,500*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

How is a Class A CDL License Different From Other Classes?

You need a commercial driver's license (CDL) to drive any vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) in excess of 26,000 pounds, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT). Class A CDL allows you to drive tractor-trailer vehicle combinations with a trailer or towed vehicle that has a GVWR of over 10,000 pounds ( Class B certifications relate to single vehicles weighing 26,001 pounds or tractor-trailer combinations with lighter trailers than the Class A license. Class C certification is for hazardous materials (hazmat), vehicles that transport 16 or more individuals or commercial vehicles that do not fall into either Class A or B, according to the U.S. DOT.

You may drive passengers and hazmat with a Class A CDL that has additional endorsements. Depending on the type of vehicle you decide to drive, you may need to obtain other specific endorsements or restrictions on your Class A CDL to haul double and triple trailers, tanker trucks or school buses, according to the U.S. DOT. Each endorsement has its own requirements for written and road tests. The hazardous materials endorsement also includes a Transportation Safety Administration Threat Assessment test.

Complete a Training Program

To learn the rules of commercial truck driving and gain experience, you might consider taking a truck driver training class. These types of classes are available at community colleges and for-profit truck driving schools across the country. As a student in a Class A CDL training program, you'll learn about securing the loads you're transporting, pre- and post-trip inspections and record keeping. In beginning classes, you'll learn the information and skills necessary to obtain a CDL learner's permit, which is required to apply for and complete the test to gain your license. Advanced classes focus on maneuvering large trucks in a variety of situations, as well as defensive and night-time driving skills.

Pass the Required Skills, Knowledge and Medical Tests

The U.S. Department of Transportation notes that although each state designs their own knowledge and skills tests, any basic knowledge test must have a minimum of 30 questions and as the test-taker, you must answer 80%, or 24, of those questions correctly to pass. The in-vehicle skills tests vary depending on the type of vehicle you intend to drive, but you're required to take a road test in a vehicle similar to the one you intend to drive. You must also pass a test on air brake usage to obtain your CDL without a restriction stating that you can't operate trucks with air brakes, per the U.S. DOT.

To become a Class A CDL drivers, you must also pass a medical exam to ensure that you are physically capable of driving a truck and do not have any medical conditions that could make you an unsafe driver. You'll need to recertify your medical examinations every two years, or more often if you have specific health conditions like high blood pressure.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Bus drivers and delivery truck drivers share similar duties and responsibilities that CDL truck drivers also have. CDL truck drivers, bus drivers and delivery truck drivers all need to obey traffic laws. They are all responsible for driving an assigned route. Bus drivers also need a CDL license. They key difference between a bus driver and a CDL truck driver is that bus drivers transport passengers. Delivery truck drivers transport goods and materials, like CDL truck drivers, but they operate vehicles that weigh less than 26,000 pounds. when the vehicle, load and passenger weights are combined. Bus drivers and delivery truck drivers need a high school diploma. Delivery truck drivers need a regular driver's license; bus drivers need a commercial driver's license (CDL). They also need to have a clean driving record. Bus drivers also have to meet hearing, vision and physical requirements and typically complete on-the-job training.

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