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Step 7: How do I get my CDL?


This article is step 7 in our multi-step Beginner’s Guide to Becoming a CDL Driver. To read the entire guide follow the link above to be taken to our step by step slideshow.

If you are still with us up until this point that’s great! We have already covered a lot, but we are just getting started. Hopefully, you have a better idea by now about whether you still want to become a truck driver. The next few topics in our beginners guide to becoming a CDL driver will focus on the various ways that someone can go about obtaining their CDL. The information provided to you in this section should give you a high level overview about the various steps that a person needs to take in order to physically obtain the CDL.

History of the CDL

The Commercial Driver’s License dates back over 30 years, when Congress signed the Commercial Motor Vehicle Act of 1986 into law. The purpose was to improve highway safety by ensuring truck drivers were qualified to operate their equipment. The Federal Highway Administration developed testing standards for licensing drivers and on April 1, 1992, all truck drivers were required to have a CDL.

Truck driving schools existed before that time, but after the CDL law came into existence, schools became necessary, and while attending a school is not required to obtain a CDL, it was and still is one of the better ways to obtain your license. Today, schools teach almost everyone seeking a CDL the knowledge and skills necessary to safely operate a big truck.

How do I get my CDL?

Although there are federal guidelines in place for obtaining a CDL, each state has its own set of guidelines that must be followed in order to get your CDL.  To operate a commercial vehicle across state lines (Interstate) you must be at least 21 years old. If you are 21 years of age or older you can present yourself to your local DMV office to fill out and submit your application for your CDL. There will typically be a application fee involved so verify the amount to make sure you have the funds needed to cover the application cost.

When you submit your application to your local DMV you will be required to take a series of CDL exams.  Depending on the requirements of your state you will need to pass the general knowledge test. Once you pass the general knowledge test you will be able to get your Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) which will allow you to start driving a commercial vehicle as long as another CDL holder is present in the truck with you.

After you have had some time to train behind the wheel and you start feeling comfortable driving a commercial vehicle you will need to schedule an appointment to take a driving skills test at your local DMV. During this test a CDL examiner will take you out and ask you to perform a series of truck driving maneuvers to ensure that you are capable of driving a commercial vehicle safely. Make sure you research this process because some states are overbooked and it could take months before the state can get you in.

In addition to the general knowledge test you are required to pass other tests such as combinations vehicles test, air brake test, and the pre-trip inspection test. If you want to add endorsements on your license additional testing is required such as the hazmat test, doubles/triples test, and the tanker test.

Don’t get too stressed about this process. There are a lot of options out there and plenty of resources to help you get your CDL. For most new drivers there are 3 different options that they can use to help them get their CDL.

  1. Option 1: Attend a local truck driving school
  2. Option 2: Qualify for a company sponsored training program.
  3. Option 3: Do it all on your own.

Each option comes with their own pros & cons so if you have not yet decided which method you are going to use to get your CDL then you need to continue reading before rushing off to your local truck driving school and paying tuition or deciding to sign up through a company for their company sponsored training program. We want to make sure that you have considered all scenarios and that you have been provided with the pros and cons of all options.


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