There are many understandable reasons why you may have decided to get your commercial driving license. Having your CDL opens your career options to a wide range of public service professions and prepares you to become a truck driver as an owner-operator or with companies. Read more to learn the steps you’ll take toward earning your commercial driver’s license, including driving courses, regulations and commercial truck financing options.
Why Get A CDL?
Many people pursue their CDL for financial security. Entry level drivers start at about $30,000 dollars a year, but as drivers gain experience this number rises. Experienced drivers can make up to $50,000 or $60,000 per year. While semi truck driving and cargo transportation is the most common reason to earn your CDL, it isn’t the only job opportunity that comes along with the license. Garbage men, firemen, bus drivers, commercial grain haulers, tow truck drivers and more all need commercial driver’s licenses. A commercial vehicle is generally defined as any vehicle with a GVWR of 10,000 lbs or more pounds or any vehicle designed to transport more than 16 people including the driver. It’s easy to imagine how many careers you can pursue with a commercial driving license in the transportation industry. So where do you start?
Check Out State Regulations Where You Live
In addition to federal requirements, every state has slightly different rules and regulations for obtaining your commercial driver’s license. The first step will be to identify the requirements for your state. A good place to start is with the federal minimum requirements, listed below:
- Have a valid regular (non-commercial) driver’s license and be at least 18 years old to travel within our state (in most states).
- Be at least 21 years old:
- To drive a commercial motor vehicle across state lines (interstate).
- To drive a commercial motor vehicle that contains hazardous materials.
- Supply proof of lawful citizenship and residency
- Social security card or birth certificate.
- You’ll need to pass background screens.
- You can’t have current driver’s license suspensions or revocations in any state.
- Must surrender your regular state driver license once you earn a CDL.
- Can’t have a driver’s license in more than one state.
- Be able to speak and read English to drive a CMV in the United States. The written exams are only given in English.
Beyond these basic federal requirements, your state may have other things to make note of before you can work in commercial transportation. For example, in Georgia, there is an application fee of $35 and a $10 fee when you are given the license. Additionally, in Georgia you are not required to take CDL classes, however it is often recommended that you do. You’re more likely to pass your test the first time and have a better understanding of the knowledge you need for the road. This means you’ll be on the road truck driving sooner.
Types of CDL
There are three classes of CDL, based on different weight and seating standards. A class A CDL is required to professionally drive trucks with a greater GVWR than 10,000 pounds. Class B is for operating a vehicle of that size or pulling another vehicle of that size. Class C licenses are for driving buses with more than 16 passengers. Many professional drivers will actually obtain all of these. You can also earn “endorsements” in addition to your license that solidify your qualifications to drive school buses, tanker trucks, and passenger transport vehicles like tour buses. For example, a truck driver with a class A license can also drive other class B and C vehicles if endorsements are added.
Submit the Application
Once you’ve checked the regulations and required documents for a CDL in your state, you’ll be ready to fill out and submit your application. You can submit this application at your local DMV, and as always it’s recommended that you make an appointment to avoid a long wait at the DMV. You’ll then take your written test before you are given a permit and later, a road skills test.
Just like a regular driver’s permit, you’ll take your written test at the DMV and it will be scored immediately on the spot. If you pass this initial written exam, you’ll be issued your permit. The permit is what will allow you to practice driving and learn your road skills alongside a professional, usually from a driving school. Before you take your CDL test, you’ll need to practice your driving with a qualified license holder in the car with you.
Taking a Driving Course
It’s true that not all states require commercial driving school to gain your CDL. However, many states do, and the class will only benefit you on the road. Just like earning a regular driver’s license at 16, a permit is required first before you’ll be given a full commercial driver’s license. You earn your permit by passing a few written exams. Truck driving classes will teach you everything you need to learn to obtain your permit and then your license. Trucking schools can cost anywhere between $1,500 and $8,000. The classes usually last around eight weeks, and teach you the following necessary skills:
- Vehicle Systems
- Road Operations
- Operating Systems
Driving school classes are specific to the class of license you’d like to get, so that you’ll be as equipped as possible to drive a semi truck (Class A). Certain driving schools or classes may have their own requirements for admission, particularly medical health standards such as 20/40 vision, healthy hearing, and cardiac health. You’ll also probably take a drug test upon admission as well. Once you follow through your courses, you’ll be ready to schedule your road skills test. Passing your road skills test in the car with the examiner will be your final step in receiving your official license, excluding any additional endorsements you want to pursue. The steps in every state vary, so depending on where you live there may be varying required forms or time restrictions associated with this process.
Financing Your Commercial Vehicle
When you do receive your commercial driver’s license, you’ll eventually be ready to finance a semi truck. Because semi trucks are more expensive than most people can purchase outright, you’ll likely need to take on a commercial vehicle loan. Factors like your credit, current child support and bankruptcy status, and more will affect the rate and terms of your loan. Once you select the right vehicle for you, your dealership will usually have a partnered lender to finance your loan for you. You can also reach out to commercial vehicle lenders to facilitate a direct loan.
Deciding to pursue your commercial driver’s license is an exciting step forward in your career. By doing your research and following these steps, you’ll be able to begin driving trucks in the commercial transportation industry! Don’t forget to plan your financing options as you plan for the future and gather your paperwork.
Autonomous Vehicles: What Does it Really Mean?
Autonomous vehicles are on the cutting edge of technology. Vehicles equipped with autonomous capabilities and technology are even available today for regular citizens with the purchasing power. But what about commercial vehicles? It’s no surprise that autonomous technology would be a great asset in the world of commercial transportation. Autonomous vehicles have the power to drastically reduce accidents by eliminating human error, and cut down on driver fatigue to keep drivers on the road for more hours. But how will they influence the commercial transportation and commercial truck financing industry?
The Latest Strides
In March of 2018, Google and Waymo announced that self-driving semi trucks would debut in Atlanta, transporting cargo bound for Google’s data centers. Waymo’s had this on the map for some time: they’ve actually been road testing autonomous vehicles in Arizona and California for a year. These vehicles are a distinctive bright blue and operate using the same technology that Google’s autonomous minivan, the “Pacifica,” uses. Driver distraction is one of the greatest threats to road safety, and autonomous vehicles offer protection against this.
The world’s first shipment carried out by a self-driving truck occurred in October of 2016, moving a large transport of Budweiser (over 50,000 cans).
When people think of autonomous vehicles, they picture a driver reading a book or watching a movie in the cab of car while the vehicle assumes complete, trusted responsibility. But the truth is that’s not always how it works. There are actually varying degrees of autonomy that demand different levels of “driver readiness.” So what is driver readiness? It is the state of a driver being ready to respond and act while operating an autonomous vehicle. Today, all autonomous vehicles require a base level of driver readiness.
There are six levels of driver readiness. For example, level zero is full control over the vehicle, the way you normally drive a regular car. Between levels 3-5, the system becomes more equipped to change lanes and turns. Level 5 is defined as a vehicle with autonomy to perform all driver functions that a human driver can. However, these vehicles still require someone to pilot the car to ensure safety, and must remain ready to intervene. This is good news for truck drivers worried about losing their jobs to autonomous vehicles, because the technology is still a bit removed from allowing unmanned vehicles onto the road. Highway driving is significantly easier for the AI technology to adapt to, but urban and narrow roadways prove more complicated. The ideal scenario would require a human driver to take over during more complex traffic scenarios, but allow the AI to take over once on the highway.
The University of Michigan’s Center of Sustainability predicts that these vehicles have the ability to reduce crashes by 90%. Not only is this valuable in preventing injury or deaths on the road, it also saves time by preventing delays that would result from accidents. This would also prevent potential costly damages against cargo as well. It’s easy to see the benefits that AI could have for the commercial transportation industry. Not to mention that autonomous technology would allow drivers to make fewer stops, saving time on their trips.
How does this technology work? Some AI systems reportedly function through a network of cameras that record a images that it then pieces together to form an idea of what’s going on in the “world” around. These images are processed constantly to form an ever changing “map” of the moving world.
Impact on Commercial Transportation
ABI Research conducted a survey to determine how likely large transportation companies are to utilize new technology with in their commercial vehicles. They found that 18% of respondents indicated that they are already in the process of addressing their options for autonomous vehicles.
The advent of advanced autopilot systems for commercial vehicles and semi trucks may also affect the industry by encouraging more people to become truck drivers. According to Fortune, there is a shortage of truck drivers on the road today. For every 12 loads in need of transportation, there was one 1 available truck driver, according to industry analysis. The average pay for drivers has even increased in the last several years. Yet, many people don’t feel comfortable taking on a job that requires long hours and lengthy sleepless shifts. These “copilot” systems would ease the strain placed on truck drivers, preventing accidents (particularly at night) and allow drivers to relax more during their trip (or even sleep in some cases). The technology also makes truck driving a safer job, for those who are interested in truck driving but were concerned about the risk of accident.
The systems simultaneously allow one driver to maximize their time by almost triple, a valuable asset in a market with limited drivers right now. Today, the FMCSA limits drivers to working 60 hours per week and taking specific breaks, but these regulations could yield more profit in that time with the advent of AI.
Another possibility is known as “platooning,” in which a trio of semi trucks drive in unison—one or two of them manned by drivers and a third truck self-driving. Platooning is a strategy that keeps trucks driving at a constant speed, less likely to be disrupted by traffic flow. This means lower fuel consumption, lower carbon dioxide emissions, greater traffic safety and it allows the truck technology to communicate.
Impact on Semi Truck Financing
At this stage, it’s unclear how this technology will impact the semi truck and commercial vehicle financing industry. The availability of autonomous vehicle technology to owner-operators is most likely a ways off. These semi trucks today are financed by large companies and carriers (like Otto, owned by Uber) who have invested in research and testing.
Dealership lending and direct lending to owner-operators is a vital component of the commercial transportation industry. Drivers need loans to afford their trucks—whether it’s one truck for a single owner-operator or an additional truck to add to their fleet. Whatever changes arise in the commercial trucking industry, lenders are invested in providing a means for drivers to earn a living.
“Commercial vehicles” is an umbrella term that includes any large vehicle used for vocational transport or a service. This means dump trucks, box trucks and vans, semi trucks, tractors and even fire trucks. What makes a commercial truck loan unique? Banks commonly offer auto loans for a normal car, and small business apply for loans at banks all the time. But banks usually don’t finance commercial vehicles to small businesses or owner-operators with less than perfect credit.
This means that your first step toward financing your truck or fleet of trucks is to find an agency that specializes in lending for commercial vehicles. Often, these agencies work directly with dealerships to provide financing options.
What’s the Cost?
If your goal involves putting your Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) to use as an independent driver (owner-operator), you’ll want to finance a semi-truck. New semi-trucks start at about $80,000 and run up to $150,000 dollars. However, the range in cost of semi-trucks is wide. Factors like horsepower, cargo capacity, fuel efficiency and custom features could push the price up to $200,000. However, pre-owned vehicles are commonly financed as well and are much more affordable.
Commercial vehicle financing refers to either an equipment lease or loan. When you finance a loan, this means that once your debt is paid off you own the vehicle. When you take on a lease, you make payments on the use of the vehicle for the span of your lease term instead of towards ownership. At the end of a lease, you are usually given different options between walking away from the vehicle or buying out the remaining value. Most people prefer loans so that ownership is guaranteed at the end of the term.
What vehicle you choose will depend on the routes you’ll take as a driver, fuel costs, maintenance costs and the cost of insurance. However, many lenders will finance pre-owned highway trucks up to 15 years old, so it’s not necessarily required to invest in a brand new truck. For example, a 7 year old preowned semi truck could run as little as $30,000 to $40,000 dollars. Since most people won’t have the finances to buy a truck up front, the most important questions are:
- How much your monthly payments will be as part of a financing plan
- How much your down payment will be
Your downpayment and monthly payment will generally depend on how good your credit is, how much equity you have, the truck you choose, and/or your payment history with an already established commercial vehicle loan (if you’re looking to refinance it or add another vehicle to a fleet). If you’re applying as a brand new owner-operator, this will affect your rates but is certainly not an issue.
When you’ve decided that you want to apply for a loan, there are a few main steps you’ll go through.
1) Consider Your Eligibility
You’ll be able to determine your eligibility for financing depending on a few major factors. The better your credit is, the lower your downpayment and monthly payments will likely be. Many financing servicers will work with you to find a solution even when your credit isn’t good. If you’re a new owner-operator, your down payment may be a little higher (18-27%). The age of the condition of the truck you choose will also be a factor. Additionally, outstanding serious issues with child support payments, a history of repossessed vehicles, or current bankruptcy proceedings could prevent you from qualifying for the loan as well. Outside of these exceptions, most issues involving credit and history can be worked out with your lender. There are lenders that specialize in loans for people who would have trouble attaining a commercial vehicle loan from a big bank.
Owner Operator Loan Types:
- First time owner/operator financing
- Drivers with limited experience
- Owner Operator with bad credit, bankruptcies, child support or tax liens
- Small fleets
So when you’re planning your purchase and loan, consider where you stand. Your semi truck dealer may even supply you with financing options via lenders that they work with. Keep in mind that lenders want to work with you to come to an agreement. So what’s the next move?
2) What Documents Will I Need?
Whether your working through a dealership with your lender, or the lender directly, you’re going to need a few documents to get the ball rolling. These will likely include:
- Documents proving your registered business
- Current and past bank statements (up to 1 year)
- Business tax returns (up to 3 years)
- Current year P&L for your business
- Current business balance sheet
- Any business licenses or required certifications
- Your CDL (commercial drivers license)
- US Department of Transportation Number (USDOT)
- Motor Carrier Number
3) Select Your Commercial Vehicle
Decide if you want to finance a new or preowned semi truck. You’ll probably want to select a truck under ten years old to avoid excessive maintenance costs and higher payments. However, many agencies will still finance older trucks up to 15 years old. If you’re looking for a loan for a slightly different reason, some lenders also provide loans for:
- Truck Repairs
- Operating Capital
- Loan Refinance
- Licensing and Permits
- Tire Replacements
- Lease Purchase Buy-Outs
When you’re choosing your vehicle, remember that maintenance is going to be a part of your career. Older trucks may require more frequent or more expensive repairs, and newer trucks are going to have higher price tags initially. Refinancing is also an option if you choose a pre-owned vehicle and later need cash flow for repairs.
4) Select Insurance
Make sure you plan for your insurance coverage as you work out your purchasing options for your semi truck or commercial vehicle. Commercial vehicles need different insurance than regular cars, because they endure much more wear and tear than regular cars. However, the parameters of commercial vehicle insurance are very similar. This kind of insurance still includes liability for property damage and bodily injury, collision coverage and uninsured motorist coverage. However, commercial vehicle insurance includes some features different than regular car insurance, such as coverage for loading and unloading liability. Your insurance plan may even include substitution transportation when your commercial vehicle is being repaired and you need a loaner from the repair shop. One benefit of commercial vehicle insurance coverage is that it’s actually tax deductible.
5) Submit Your Documents and Application
Submitting your application for your loan is the final step. You’ve made it through the process and are one step closer to hitting the road! Your lender will walk you through the process from there and help you set up your payments. Happy driving!