How Can I Earn My Commercial Driver's License?

If you want to be a truck driver, a limo driver or a bus driver, you'll need a commercial driver's license (CDL) in order to work in these occupations. Continue reading to learn how to earn your CDL. Schools offering Driver Training degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Commercial Driver's License Defined

In the United States, a driver's license used for commercial large vehicles or vehicle transporting hazardous materials is referred to as a commercial driver's license (CDL). Some of the vehicles that require their drivers to hold a CDL are buses, tractor trailers, tow trucks, limousines, large vans and transportation trucks. The CDL you will need is dependent on the weight of the vehicles you will be driving or the number of passengers or type of freight you will be carrying.

CDLs are divided into three classes: A, B and C. Class A CDLs are for driving multiple combined vehicles that weigh 26,001 pounds or more with the weight of the individual towed vehicle being greater than 10,000 pounds. Class B is similar to Class A except that the vehicles only tow other vehicles under 10,000 pounds. Class C is for vehicles that do not fall under the first two classes, but are designed to have 16 or more people aboard or are carrying hazardous materials.

These rules are put into place by the federal government. However, as long as states meet these minimum requirements, they are allowed to add additional requirements or include additional vehicles in the CDL. If you are planning on driving a commercial motor vehicle, you will need a CDL. Before looking into acquiring your CDL, check out what your state regulations are and then prepare for the examination.

Important Facts About Occupations That Require A CDL License

Class A and B Licenses: Heavy and Tractor Trailer Truck DriverClass C License: Bus Driver
Average Salary (2014)$41,930$39,410
Job Outlook (2014-2024)5%6%
Work EnvironmentPhysically demanding; solitary profession; extended travel required; driving time limited to 11consecutive hours by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety AdministrationEmployed by school districts, local governments, and urban transit systems; heavy traffic and bad weather conditions
Key SkillsHand Eye Coordination
Hearing Ability
Physical Health
Visual Ability
Patience
Visual Ability
Customer Service Skills
Good Physical Health

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Requirements

Before earning your CDL, you normally have to be at least 21 years of age or older. In certain states, you might be able to acquire a CDL as early as 18. If you are between the ages of 18 and 20 and have this special CDL license, you are only able to drive the commercial motor vehicle in your state. When you reach the age of 21, you are automatically qualified to use your CDL in other states.

Like a regular license, CDL renewal is necessary. A good driving recorded is needed which means you can certify that in the past two years you have had an accident record that does not include you being at fault, and you have a maximum of one serious traffic violation. You also must show you only hold one license and it has not been suspended or revoked.

Preparation

There are several educational options available to help you prepare for the CDL exam, but the most common choice is truck driving school. These CDL educational programs are geared towards covering the information and practical skill training you will need to obtain your CDL. The length of these programs varies, but some only take a couple of weeks to complete.

Examination

When you are ready to earn your CDL, you will need to find an approved testing facility in your area and sign up for your examination. You will need to show up on the assigned date and complete a written examination. Exams are designed by each state, but federal regulations mandate they cover your knowledge about parts of the vehicle you will be driving and highway safety. Federal regulations require you to pass the exam with at least an 80 percent.

A practical driving skills examination also has to be completed, which may differ by state, but must follow federal guidelines. This portion of the test has to be taken in a similar vehicle to the one you will be operating with your CDL. If you can complete this practical examination with a passing grade, then you will be given your CDL.

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