How to get a cdl

A CDL drivers license is necessary when drivers want to legally operate commercial vehicles throughout the U.S. Motorists who want to get a commercial drivers license in their respective states must hold valid driver’s licenses issued from their state motor vehicles department. Drivers need commercial drivers licenses if they want to operate motor vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more and vans that can transport more than 15 passengers. A motorist can obtain a commercial drivers license from the state DMV after satisfying several requirements and submitting the applicable documentation along with a payment of CDL fees. In addition, the CDL license requirements may vary based on the class of licensure you want to apply for. Therefore, motorists who want to find out more CDL information are highly encouraged to read the sections below:

  • CDL classifications.
  • Requirements for obtaining a commercial driver’s license.
  • Required documents for a commercial driver’s license.
  • Fees for a commercial driver’s license.

Steps Involved in Getting Your CDL

1. Meet the CDL requirements.First, make sure you meet minimum Federal CDL requirements as well as a directory to the CDL requirements in your state.

2. Get your state CDL manual.Your state CDL manual is the basis for all your official state written CDL exams. In addition, the manual has specific information for your state such as age and medical requirements, as well as testing locations and fees.

If you already know what type of CDL you need, proceed to step 4.

3. Decide which types of CMVs you want to drive. To proceed, you need to know your options. This will help you determine which tests you need to take to get your CLP (Commercial Driver’s License Learner’s Permit) in Step 4 below.

At the very minimum, you’ll need to study the first 3 sections of your CDL manual to prepare to pass the General Knowledge exam. Take General Knowledge practice tests here.

You’ll also need to pass the Air Brakes exam. Otherwise, you’ll have an air brakes restriction on your CDL leaving you unable to drive a CMV with air brakes. Take Air Brakes practice tests here.

If you’re planning on driving a tractor trailer of any kind, you’ll have to pass the Combination Vehicles exam. Take Combination Vehicles practice tests here.

For more information on the different CDL endorsements there are, plus advice on which ones you should get, click here.

A CLP authorizes the operation of any vehicle (except a motorcycle or a vehicle carrying hazardous materials), when accompanied by a person who:

  • Is 21 years of age or more
  • Has a valid CDL for the class of vehicle being driven by the permit holder
  • Has the proper endorsements for the type of vehicle being operated and
  • Is sitting in the front seat next to the CLP holder.

To get a CLP, you’ll need to pass the test for the type of vehicle that you plan to operate. Check out this chart:

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Type of Vehicle Test Required
All commercial vehicles General Knowledge test
Any CMV with Air Brakes Air Brakes test
Combination Vehicles Combination Vehicles test
CMV with Hazardous Materials Hazardous Materials test
CMV with Bulk Liquids or Gases Tank Vehicles test
CMV with Double or Triple Trailers Doubles and Triples test
School Bus School bus endorsement test and passenger transport test
Other Bus Passenger transport test

Go back to Step 3 above for more info about how to determine which tests you’ll need to take to get your CLP.4. Take and Pass your state CDL exams.

Once again, to be able to train in and drive most truck driving school’s vehicles, you’ll need to pass the General Knowledge, Air Brakes, and Combination Vehicles tests. You may need to pass additional endorsement tests, depending on the school. For example, if it’s a truck driving company sponsored school where that company hauls doubles/triples, or tankers, you’ll need to pass those tests as well.

In most states, the issued CLP is only valid for a limited period of time, often 180 days.

A CLP holder cannot operate a vehicle carrying hazardous materials. Also, obtaining a hazardous materials endorsement involves more than just passing the Hazmat written exam. See about the requirements and procedure involved in this process.

5. Obtain CDL Permit General Guidelines (For exact information for YOUR state, go to Trucker Country’s state CDL requirements directory here.)

  • Be at least 18 years of age.
  • Hold a valid driver license.
  • Pass the knowledge tests for the type of vehicle you will be driving.
  • Have a valid federal medical card. Persons who do not have a valid federal medical card will be restricted to:
    • No CMV operation in interstate commerce.
    • No CMV operation in intrastate commerce unless exempted by federal or state law (for example, employed by a governmental agency or operating a school bus). A state medical form is required for school bus operation.
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Additional information regarding CLPs with Endorsements.

Even with your endorsements, as a CLP holder, you cannot do the following things until you’ve actually acquired your CDL. Read more information about this from the FMCSA.

  • P (passenger endorsement): Cannot operate a CMV carrying passengers
  • S (school bus endorsement): Cannot operate a school bus with passengers/students
  • N (tank vehicles endorsement): Can only operate an empty tank vehicle.

Step 3: What Happens Next

Call TDI’s main office 1 800-848-7364 and set up an appointment to meet with your local recruiter.

Please bring the following information to your appointment for completing your initial paperwork:

  • Your state-issued driver’s license
  • Complete details about your work history (going back 10 years if you have worked that long)
  • Work references we can contact

TRUCK DRIVER INSTITUTE’S 3 WEEK CDL PROGRAM DETAILS

WEEK 1

  • Orientation
  • Drug Screen and DOT Physical Exam
  • CDL Instruction – General Knowledge
  • Sections 1, 2 & 3 of state CDL Manual
  • CDL Preparation
  • Section 5 Air Brakes
  • Section 6 Combination Vehicles
  • Take written CDL Test
  • Log Books, hours and service requirements
  • Trip Planning using a map
  • Smith System
  • Weight Scales and Staying Legal
  • Cargo Claims
  • Basic Mechanical Knowledge
  • Written Permit Test (you must pass your permit test to move on to WEEK 2)

WEEK 2

  • On-Range Driving (off-road)
  • Pre-trip Inspection
  • Backing Maneuvers, straight line and offset backing
  • Beginning road driving with instructor (progresses from driving in low traffic, to light traffic, etc.)

WEEK 3

  • Practice advanced driving skills on the driving range and on the highway
  • Night driving
  • CDL Driving Skills Test — Highway/Street Testing
  • Graduation
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