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How To Get A CDL License (Complete Guide)

How To Get A CDL License (Complete Guide)

Professional truck drivers navigate the highways and freeways of the United States, passing gorgeous scenes and cities transporting cargos from coast to coast and locally. Professional truck drivers are also fundamental component of a strong economy. The good news is that trucker drivers are currently in really high demand. Per the American Trucking Association (ATA) we’re short somewhere in the range of 50,000 to 100,000 truckers on the road.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were nearly 2 million Heavy & Tractor-Trailer Truck Driving jobs and approximately 1.5 million Delivery Truck Drivers in the United States during the calendar year.

Are you ready for a successful career as a professional truck driver and ready to join the 3.5+ million professional truckers transporting goods locally, or from coast to coast? If so, the first step is to understand CDL license requirements.

Understand CDL License Requirements

To lawfully drive a commercial vehicle in the United States, an individual must earn (and maintain) a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) in accordance with both the federal and state statutes. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sets forth the following basic requirements for CDL applicants:

  • Be 21 years old, or older for interstate travel (18 years for intra-state drivers).
  • Have no disqualifying criminal offenses of record.
  • Have a Driver’s license (non-commercial) that has never been denied or canceled.
  • Pass a General Knowledge written test, a skill’s analysis, and an endorsement test.
  • Proof of a social security number and a United States citizenship.
  • Pass a vision test.
  • Submit a completed Medical Examination Report Form (MCSA – 5875)/Certificate.
  • Pass a pre-trip inspection.
  • Proof of legal residence in the state in which you are applying for a Commercial Driver’s License.
  • Ample knowledge that demonstrates that you can read and speak the English Language.
  • Be physically qualified to drive the commercial motor vehicle.

What are Potential Disqualification Factors?

Your application for a Commercial Driver’s License can be disqualified for the following reasons:

  • If you possess a driver’s license from a different state.
  • If your Commercial Driver’s License is subject to any disqualification from any other state.
  • If your current Driver’s License has been:
    • Canceled
    • Denied
    • Revoked
    • Suspended
    • If you have been convicted of driving a motor vehicle while impaired or intoxicated

How to Determine Which CDL License & Endorsements You Need?

Types Of Commercial Driver’s Licenses

Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDLs) are categorized within three general classes. Each Commercial Driver’s License classification is differentiated based on the vehicle’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), among an assortment of other factors. Some classes of Commercial Driver’s Licenses may require the applicant to obtain an additional endorsement.

The Class A Commercial Driver’s License

The Class A Commercial Driver’s License is required for professional truckers who operate a vehicle with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating that exceeds 26,000 lbs. – With a vehicle in tow weighing more than 10,000 lbs. The Class A Commercial Driver’s License is generally required for professional long-distance tractor-trailer drivers. Class A truckers generally obtain additional endorsements that allow them to carry specific payloads.

  • Double or Triple Tractor-Trailers (aka Big Rig or Semi)
  • Flatbeds
  • Tanker Trailers
  • Most Class B and Class C motor vehicles (endorsement may be necessary)
  • Livestock Carrier Vehicles, to name a few

To obtain a Class A Commercial Driver’s License, a driver-applicant must complete a minimum of 160 classroom hours, combined with wheel training hours. It is noted that with the appropriate endorsements, a Class A license holder may be allowed to drive Class B & C vehicles.

The Class B Commercial Driver’s License

The Class B Commercial Driver’s License is required for those professional truck drivers who operate a commercial motor vehicle that has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) that exceeds 26,000 lbs. – With a vehicle in tow weighing less than 10,000 lbs. Class B Licensed truck drivers operate these types of motor vehicles:

  • A Garbage Truck
  • A Straight Truck
  • A Tow-truck
  • A Dump Truck with a small trailer
  • A Box Truck
  • A Large Passenger Bus, or a Segmented Bus
  • A Delivery Truck

The Class C Commercial Driver’s License

The Class C Commercial Driver’s License is required for those professional truck drivers who operate a passenger vehicle with 15 (or more) passengers, plus the driver, or for the transport of HAZMAT materials as defined by criteria set forth by the Federal Government. Class C Licensed truck drivers operate these types of motor vehicles:

  • Passenger Vans.
  • Smaller HazMat Motor Vehicles.
  • Combo Motor Vehicles that do not meet the requirements for Class A or Class B licenses.

What CDL Written Tests Should I take?

You must take and pass one or more written tests to earn your commercial driver’s license. The tests you will take depend on the license class you are seeking (e.g., A, B, or C) and the endorsements that you need. These written tests are summarized below:

  • General Knowledge – The general knowledge CDL test is taken by all applicants. The test has 50 multiple choice questions. Major topics of the general knowledge test include: CDL rules and requirements, safe driving, safe transportation of cargo, and pre-trip vehicle inspections.
  • Combination Vehicles – If you want to drive combination vehicles you must take and pass this CDL test section. The combination vehicles test has 20 multiple choice questions. The topics on the combination vehicles test include: driving combination vehicles safely, combination vehicle air brakes, antilock brake systems, coupling and uncoupling, and inspecting a combination vehicle.
  • Air Brakes – If you plan on driving a truck or bus with air brakes, or pull a trailer with air brakes, you will need to take the air brakes CDL test. The air brakes test will have 25 multiple choice questions. Topics on the air brake test include: parts of an air brake system, dual air brakes, inspecting air brake systems, and using air brakes.
  • Tank Endorsement – You are required to have a tank endorsement if you plan on driving a CMW over 26,000 pounds that is used to transport liquid/gaseous materials. The materials do not have to be hazardous. This endorsement is only required if the vehicle is a Class A or B vehicle with a permanently mounted take greater than 119 gallons or a portable greater than 1,000 gallons.
  • Double and Triple Trailer Endorsement – If you plan on pulling double or triple trailers, you are required to pass this endorsement test. There are 20 multiple choice questions that assess your knowledge about driving safely with double and triple trailers. This part of the CDL test includes questions on how to couple and uncouple trailers, pulling double/triple trailers, doubles/triples air brake checks, and inspections.
  • Hazardous Materials Endorsement – Hazardous materials (Hazmat) include explosives, flammable and combustible liquids and any materials that the shipper deems as hazardous. You must obtain a HAZMAT endorsement to operate any size vehicle that requires a HAZMAT placard (as further specified in 49 CFR 383.5). This endorsement test has 30 multiple choice questions covering the following topics: intent of the regulations, communication rules, loading and unloading, bulk packaging marking, driving and parking rules, and emergencies.
  • School Bus Endorsement – Although these regulations may vary from state to state, you are required to have a school bus endorsement if you plan on driving a vehicle that carries 16 or more people, including the driver, that is marked with or displays the words “school bus.” A school bus is used to transport students to or from school or authorized school activities. If the school bus is not transporting students, then a school bus manufacturer, dealer or mechanic is not required to have the endorsement. Before receiving a school bus endorsement, you must qualify for a passenger endorsement. This CDL test will cover the following topics: danger zones, use of mirrors, loading and unloading, emergency exit and evacuation, railroad-highway crossings, student management, antilock braking systems, and special safety considerations.
  • Passenger Endorsement – You will need to obtain a passenger endorsement if you plan on driving any vehicle designed to carry 16 or more persons, including the driver. If the vehicle is a school bus, you will need to obtain an additional school bus endorsement. The passenger transport endorsement CDL test will have 20 multiple choice questions on the following topics: vehicle inspection, loading and trip start, on the road, after-trip vehicle inspection, prohibited practices, and use of brake-door interlocks.

All of the information you need to pass your CDL exam will be included in your Washington State’s CDL manual, so please make sure to study the latest version.

The manual also acts as a CDL study guide because it covers all of the information that is required to pass your CDL exam.

How Many Questions Are On The CDL Written Knowledge Test?

In Washington State the general knowledge test has 50 questions on it. You usually are given a time limit of 60 minutes to answer the questions. The combination vehicles test has 20 multiple choice questions. The air brakes test will have 25 multiple choice questions. If you plan on pulling double or triple trailers, you are required to pass this endorsement test. There are 20 multiple choice questions that assess your knowledge about driving safely with double and triple trailers. HAZMAT endorsement test has 30 multiple choice questions covering the following topics: intent of the regulations, communication rules, loading and unloading, bulk packaging marking, driving and parking rules, and emergencies. The passenger transport endorsement CDL test will have 20 multiple choice questions. And finally, the School bus endorsement CDL test will have 20 multiple choice questions. All of the questions that are on it are multiple choice questions just like the ones you remember taking high school.

What Percent Do You Need To Pass The General Knowledge Test?

Many of the questions on it some people would consider “common sense” questions. Don’t take this for granted though. A lot of the questions do require some significant studying in order to pass. Students will need at least an 80% is needed to pass the CDL Knowledge Test. The best way to prepare for the written portion of the CDL exam is to faithfully attend your trucking school classes, take good notes and STUDY!

How to Obtain A Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP)?

Obtaining a Commercial Learner’s Permit is the first step towards obtaining your Commercial Driver’s License.

A Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) is a certificate-like document that is provided by the state in which you live, that allows the CLP holder to practice driving a commercial motor vehicle. It is noted that there are federal regulations that apply to CDL license requirements in addition to the state regulations that may apply. Each state’s guidelines differ, so check your state to be sure.

The Commercial Learner’s Permit authorizes the permit holder to practice on public roads with a qualified CDL licensee sitting alongside them. Obtaining a Commercial Learner’s Permit involves:

  • Submitting all required documentation, which includes:
    • A current driver’s license
    • A five-year driving record generated from the Department of Licensing (DOL)
  • Completing the Medical Exam Self Certification
  • Successfully passing the Commercial Learner’s Permit’s road test and written knowledge test
  • Paying the required application fees

Once you have earned your Commercial Learner’s Permit, it is essential to clock practice-driving time in preparation for Commercial Driver’s License road test requirements.

How Do I Get A CDL License?

To obtain your Commercial Driver’s License, one must follow these guidelines:

  • Maintain your Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) for a minimum of two weeks
  • Schedule the road test portion of the Commercial Driver’s License requirements. Note – the vehicle you take the road test with must be the same type of motor vehicle that will be driven once you are licensed
  • Pass the Commercial Driver’s License Skill’s Test(s). These Commercial Driver’s License tests include:
    • The Vehicle Inspection Test
    • The Basic Controls Test
    • The Road Test – waivers available to military veterans

How Do I Pass the CDL Pre-Trip Vehicle Inspection Test?

The pre-trip inspection test determines whether or not you know how to inspect your commercial vehicle correctly before driving it. Your job is to make sure that you can demonstrate to an examiner that the vehicle you are driving is safe to drive and that you are familiar with it’s external and internal parts. You are also expected to bring the vehicle with you that you will be testing with. You will have an examiner assigned to you and you will be required to walk around the vehicle and point to external and internal parts and explain what you are checking and why you are checking it. Make sure you are very familiar with the vehicle you are going to be driving because the examiner is going to ask you to explain and check different parts during the inspection.

What is the CDL Basic Skills Test?

Once you have passed the pre-trip inspection test the next test on the list is called the basic vehicle control skills test. The basic skills test is the first test that you will be behind the wheel for. There will once again be an examiner with you during this test that will be scoring your performance. The CDL school where you received your training will prepare you for each of the exercises that you have to complete. The skills test is given in the class of vehicle the driver intends on using in their future career. An instructor will sit in the passenger seat and markdown notes and deductions as the drive perform the instructed directions. The instructor will tell the driver which route to take and give specific maneuverability instructions for the course.

What is the CDL Road Driving Test?

The CDL road test is also done with an examiner at your side making sure you are not making any mistakes. Knowing what to expect during the road test and training properly can be the difference between passing and failing. During the road test you should drive as safely as possible, wear your seat belt, obey traffic laws, and complete the test without an accidents or violations. To prepare for the driving portion of the CDL exam your best bet is to get as much time behind-the-wheel as possible. Again, be present and alert during your driving classes. Practice checking your mirrors a lot! You will have a professional tester in the cab with you, so you might want to practice driving this way. Have a helper tell you which turns to take and where to park.

What Happens If You Don’t Pass Your First Time?

Don’t panic if you don’t pass the Pre-Trip Inspection or the Basic Controls test on your first try. You are able to retake it in 3 calendar days. But you will have to wait 7 days to take the Road Test again.

When Can I Get My CDL After Passing the Skills Test?

You must wait 24 hours after passing all 3 components of the skills test before the CDL can be issued. Skills test scores are valid for 180 days. We calculate the 180 days from when you passed the first component of the skills test.

Take the following, if you haven’t already, to a driver licensing office to get your CDL:

  1. Your valid driver license.
  2. Your Medical Examiners Certificate and if applicable any other medical documents.
  3. Proof of U.S. Citizenship or Lawful Permanent Residency. See list of approved documents.

At NSTS Truck Driving School our focus is you! We partner with numerous trucking companies that need drivers now! We want you to be successful, so we take a lot of one-on-one interest in our CDL students. Contact us for more information about our CDL Truck Driving Course today!

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