Becoming a truck driver gives you the keys to the open road, but before you can hit the road, you'll need to get a commercial driver's license (CDL). Learn how to get a CDL, the requirements you have to meet, and how to get a job once you earn your CDL.
Know the Federal CDL Eligibility Requirements
When you're getting ready to apply for a CDL, it's important to know that you have to meet both federal and state requirements. The federal requirements are the same for CDL drivers across the nation:
- Be 18 years or older for intrastate trucking
- Be 21 years or older for interstate trucking or for driving a truck with hazardous materials
- Have no criminal offenses on your record disqualifying you from earning a CDL
Determine Your State CDL Requirements
Next, you'll need to know your state's CDL requirements since your state is responsible for issuing your license. These vary but requirements typically include the following:
- Provide proof of identity
- Release your driving record dating back 10 years
- Prove that you meet medical qualifications for a CDL
- Pass a written and skills tests
- Pay a road test fee, which typically costs between $50 and $200
- Complete a professional training course
Keep in mind that you're allowed to hold just one CDL at a time. If you move across state lines or want to work in another state, you'll need to get familiar with the new state's requirements before transferring your CDL to your new location.
Pass Written Tests and Earn a CLP
Before you start driving a truck professionally, you'll need to earn a commercial learner's permit (CLP). You can do this by passing a written knowledge test for the CDL class of your choice. All states allow you to become licensed in the following classes:
- Class A: Gross vehicle weight rating (GWVR) over 26,000 pounds, with the vehicle being towed in excess of 10,000 pounds.
- Class B: GWVR over 26,000 pounds, with the vehicle being towed not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
- Class C: Commercial vehicle designed to transport 16 or more passengers or hazardous materials.
When you earn your CLP, you'll also have the chance to get special licensing. This adds endorsements to your CDL and gives you license to drive certain kinds of commercial vehicles:
- H: Hazardous Materials
- N: Tank Vehicles
- P: Passenger Vehicles
- S: School Buses
- T: Double and Triple Trailers
Pass CDL Road Skills Test
After you've had your CLP for a minimum of 14 days, you can apply to get out on the road and take the CDL skills test. If you applied for endorsements, you may have to take another road test or two to complete the process.
If you need more practice, be sure to check your state's requirements. Most CLPs are valid for 60 to 180 days, so be sure to complete testing before your CLP expires.
Use Your CDL
Once you've passed the road skills test and met all other state and federal requirements, you can put your CDL to work. Use CDLjobs.com to search hundreds of CDL driver positions with respected trucking companies and find one that's a great fit for you.
Don't forget that you'll need to renew your CDL from time to time, typically every five years. As long as you renew it before it expires, you won't usually need to retake the written or road tests. Instead, you'll just have to pay the renewal fee before getting back on the road again.
Earning a CDL takes focus and skills and may even require you to enroll in professional classes. Once you have this qualification in your back pocket, however, you'll be eligible for CDL driver jobs across your state and ready to launch a lucrative new career.