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.