Believe it or not, it’s both legal and entirely feasible for anyone in the U.S. to receive a Class A Commercial Driver’s License without any help from a private trucking school. This information can be hard to come by, however, as there are dozens of private trucking schools in most states who make a profit by convincing greenhorns the best way into trucking is through their particular programs.
What You Need to Get a CDL
That being said, there’s a lot of information and many steps required for anyone looking to acquire a CDL. As a result, going the lone-wolf route might not be in the best interest of someone looking for step-by-step assistance. If you’re attempting to get the license alone, you’ll have to do a great deal of research in order to learn what’s needed to pass the written test and then pass the truck inspection that’s required for acquiring a CDL in most states, which can be a challenge for some. The process of obtaining a CDL shares similarity with the process of attaining a regular driver’s license, with different requirements to qualify. Federal regulations require you to be at least 18 years of age before attaining a CDL. But, in order to drive a commercial vehicle across state lines (interstate travel), or haul hazardous materials (HazMat), federal regulations require you to be 21 years of age. To apply for a CDL, you must have a Social Security number assigned to you to verify your citizenship, a conventional driver’s license from your local Department of Motor Vehicles, one year of driving experience, and a good driving record.
Depending on the state where you’ll apply for your CDL, it’s possible your DMV has already published a guide to getting your CDL, like this one created by the state of Texas. Make sure to check your DMV web page concerning CDLs to see if it’s published a similar resource for your state.
To make a long story short, the cheapest way to get your CDL will always be to do it yourself, without putting money down on a private program. On the other hand, there are still potential benefits to the other two options available to new drivers, which are to: 1) Attend a private CDL training program, or 2) Participate in Employer-Paid CDL Training.
The Potential Benefits of Private CDL Training Programs
Many CDL training programs have connections in place that can make it easier for recent graduates of the program to get jobs with carriers. There’s also a very high demand for truck drivers in most states, so most individuals who receive a CDL shouldn’t have too much trouble finding employment in general. With that in mind, tuition for driving school can range from $3,000 to $6,000, making it a significantly larger investment than applying for a CDL on your own, and the most expensive way to get into trucking on average. While many students find it relatively easy to get student loans for their CDL program, interest rates in America have been on the rise in recent years, making private programs a pretty large price to pay for the convenience.
Employer-Paid CDL Training
These programs are more difficult to generalize about, as they’re slightly less well-regulated when compared to true-to-form private driving schools and can differ widely when it comes to day-to-day life in training. While you won’t have to put any money down up front in order to get your CDL, in most cases, receiving training from an employer comes with a requirement that you work for that same company for a minimum amount of time, and being terminated from that position or accepting another can come with financial penalties. If you begin, and then fail to complete Employer-Paid CDL training, it’s likely you’ll have to pay whatever amount that company values the cost of training.
The long and short of this is Employer-Paid CDL training can be an inexpensive and efficient way to get into trucking, but it also carries a great deal of risk. Prime Inc. is a huge trucking company in America that trains thousands of drivers every year; recently, it had to pay $28 million to drivers who participated in their paid apprenticeship program as a result of unfair underpayment to new graduates of their program.
Lawsuits like this aren’t overwhelmingly common, but participating in Employer-Paid CDL training programs inherently gives a lot of power to the employer and can make it difficult for new drivers to have a good understanding of what employment could look like with other companies, essentially reducing their access to the financial cushion afforded by the free market. In general, if you’re seriously considering Employer-Paid CDL training, it’s highly advised that you get a hold of someone who’s participated in that same program before you enroll.
How You Can Get Started
If you need private financing for a truck after you’ve finished your CDL program, consider contacting us at Mission Financial, where we can offer you a direct loan at a competitive rate. Make sure to visit our blog to keep up with recent trucking news as well.