Are you considering starting a career as a truck driver? Before you can be hired to drive a commercial motor vehicle (CMV), you’ll need to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). In order to earn a CDL license, drivers must meet a number of qualifications and pass several types of examinations. The process can be a bit confusing, so to lead you through it, we’ve provided an in-depth guide to CDL license requirements.
First of all, it’s important to know what a CDL license is and why you might need one. A CDL is a license that is required to legally drive any CMV. Vehicles in this category include those over 26,000 lbs., those with trailers over 10,000 lbs., and those carrying 16 or more passengers, including the driver. If you intend to have a job that involves driving a CMV, you’ll need to hold a CDL license in order to be hired for the position.
In order to successfully obtain a CDL license or permit, you’ll need to meet a number of requirements. The general requirements are explained in detail below. Keep in mind that the exact requirements will differ from state to state, so if you’re planning to get a CDL, be sure to familiarize yourself with your state’s processes.
In most states, the minimum age requirement to apply for a CDL is 21 years old. Certain states allow drivers to apply for CDLs as early as age 18, but usually, drivers under 21 are only allowed to drive within the state in which the CDL is issued. If you’re under 21, keep in mind that many employers prefer to hire drivers who are over 21 and can drive across state lines.
Another basic requirement for getting a CDL is for the driver who is applying to have a regular state driver’s license, as well as a clean driving record. Any driver who does not have a non-commercial driver’s license will be denied a CDL. So, if you’re not already a licensed driver, earn your non-commercial driver’s license before you even think about applying for a CDL.
Once you’ve confirmed that you meet the minimum requirements to be allowed to apply for a CDL, you’ll need to submit your CDL application. The application will be specific to your state, so be sure to read the application instructions carefully and note any additional or differing requirements that are a part of your state’s process.
If you want to practice driving commercial vehicles before your CDL license test, you’ll need to apply for and earn a CDL permit, also called a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP). As a holder of a CLP, you’ll be able to drive a CMV alongside an experienced, licensed CDL driver. One of the requirements for earning a CLP is passing a written exam—be sure to familiarize yourself with the rules of the road and knowledge surrounding CDL driving before taking the test. When applying for a CLP, you’ll also need to bring proof of your identity, proof that you’re medically qualified to drive a CMV, and the required fee for obtaining the license.
Strictly speaking, attending a trucking school is not always a prerequisite of getting a CDL, but it’s certainly a good idea to attend one if possible. A CDL program at a community college or trucking school will teach you all the skills you need to succeed as a CDL driver. It will also give you the opportunity to practice driving with a skilled instructor, which will prepare you for the tests you’ll need to pass to get your CDL license.
Getting a CLP means passing a series of written examinations that will test your general knowledge of driving and CMVs. Written testing includes three parts: the General Knowledge Test, the Combination Knowledge Test, and the Air Brake Knowledge Test. You must pass all three before you can be issued a permit. Study beforehand by reading your state’s CDL manual.
Once have your permit and you’re ready to get your CDL license, there are a few more steps to take and requirements to meet. In addition to the written testing required to earn your CLP, you’ll need to take a skills test that tests your skills on the road. The skills test consists of three parts: the Vehicle Inspection Test, the Basic Controls Test, and the Road Test. Passing each part of the test is essential to gaining your CDL license.
In addition, you must be physically and medically qualified in order to get a CDL. This will involve getting the physical examination required by the Department of Transportation (DOT). It may also involve submitting a form to the state to self-report on whether you are physically qualified to drive a CMV. One thing to be aware of is that certain medical conditions can disqualify you from becoming a CDL driver, so check whether you have any of these conditions before applying for your license.
When you’ve passed your written, skills, and physical examinations, gather the necessary documentation to get your CDL license. The last thing you want is to arrive at the counter to request your license and realize that you are missing a crucial piece of documentation, so be sure to look over the requirements and be prepared. Examples of required documents include birth certificates, social security cards, proof of residency, your non-commercial driver’s license, and other legal documents.
Finally, depending on the type of CDL license you’re applying for, a background check may be conducted. This will ensure you are, in fact, qualified for the license you’ve applied for and that the information you’ve presented about your identity and medical history is accurate and truthful.
Reading this in-depth guide to CDL license requirements will help you be fully prepared for the CDL license application process. As you progress through the process of getting your CDL license, remember that DOT and FMCSA requirements don’t end with the application process—other requirements, including required drug and alcohol testing, will continue to impact you during your career as a CDL driver. To help you stay DOT compliant and manage those required tests, consider enrolling with a consortium third-party administrator like Labworks USA. We’ll help you remain DOT compliant and enjoy your career as a CDL driver without incident.Back to Blogs