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How to Get a Class A License for Commercial Driving

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Key Takeaways

  • A Class A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is required for driving large trucks and vehicles over a certain weight.
  • Obtaining a Class A CDL involves meeting eligibility criteria, attending training, passing written and skills tests, and completing medical examinations.
  • Training for a Class A License includes both classroom instruction and hands-on practice with commercial vehicles.
  • Class A CDL drivers have access to a variety of high-paying jobs in the trucking and transportation industry.

What Is a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)?

A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is required for driving large vehicles or those carrying hazardous materials for commercial purposes.

It comes in three classes: A, B, and C, with Class A covering the operation of trucks and trailers over certain weight limits.

Obtaining a CDL involves meeting eligibility criteria, attending an accredited training program, passing written and practical tests, and completing medical evaluations.

Class A Commercial Driver’s License

A Class A CDL allows you to operate any combination of commercial motor vehicles with a gross combination weight rating of 26,001+ pounds and tow vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of over 10,000 pounds.

This is the CDL class that permits you to operate vehicles in the greatest weight category. With this license, you’re allowed to drive:

  • Box trucks
  • Tractor-trailers
  • Truck-and-trailer combinations
  • Tank vehicles
  • Livestock carriers
  • Flatbeds

Additional Endorsements You Can Get With a Class A Commercial Driver’s License

You’ll need to get extra endorsements for certain CDL driving jobs. The endorsements require additional testing, both written and practical.

A few endorsements to be aware of are:

  • H: For transporting hazardous materials. You’ll need to pass a written test.
  • N: For operating vehicles with a tank (to transport liquids or gasses). You’ll need to pass a written test.
  • P: For driving passenger vehicles with 15 or more passengers (including the driver). This requires both a written test and a road test.
  • S: For driving a school bus. It requires a P endorsement, additional written tests, and a background check.
  • T: For towing double or triple trailers. It requires a written test.
  • X: For a combination of H and N endorsements: operating tank vehicles carrying hazardous materials. It only requires a written test.

Brett’s Take: Thoughts From an Expert

Going through the process of obtaining a CDL provides quite a bit of job security.

Truck drivers are almost always in high demand, which means once you have a CDL, you’re pretty likely to continue to find work when you want to.

However, driving a truck isn’t without its downsides.

The trucking lifestyle and being on the road for extended periods of time can affect a driver’s health, social life, and overall well-being.

While some truckers enjoy the lifestyle that trucking brings, others regret the decision, but find changing careers a bit too much work at this point.

My Suggestion: Before you pursue a CDL, consider both the pros AND the cons. Fully understand the trucker lifestyle before committing to it.

How to Get Your Class A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)

Getting your CDL is a long process, but you can do it if you stay focused.

To start the process of getting your Class A CDL, you’ll need to ensure you qualify, fill out the right documents, complete a few tests, and pay your fees.

1. Meet the Qualifications

You need to meet these criteria before applying to get your CDL:

  • Have a high school diploma or GED.
  • Have a good driving record.
  • Have a Class D license in good standing for at least 1 year.
  • Be at least 18 years old in certain states, or 21 years old in others.

The few states that allow 18-year-olds to enroll in commercial driver’s license classes will only give an intrastate license.

This restricts you to driving a commercial motor vehicle only in the state you took classes in, rather than receiving an interstate license that allows you to drive across state lines.

2. Find an Accredited Class for CDL Training

Starting in 2022, all new drivers must attend a registered school to acquire their license. You can find training providers in the FMCSA Training Provider Registry.

Expect to pay around $3,000-$7,000. If the cost is too expensive, financing options like grants, scholarships, and educational loans can help.

3. Complete the CDL Application

You’ll start the process by applying to get your commercial learner permit (CLP).

You’ll need proof of residency, identity, and your Social Security number. This can be done at any DMV in your area.

There will be fees and additional documents to fill out based on your state’s requirements.

4. Get Your Medical Reports

You’ll need two medical reports to get your commercial motor vehicle license.

The first is a Department of Transportation (DOT) Physical. This can be booked online through certified physicians.

The second medical is a vision test, which the DMV can do for you in person.

5. Pass Your Written Tests

You’ll need to take at least one written test. The CDL written test for Class A vehicles typically consists of 60 questions. There are plenty of online resources and classes to help you learn the intensive material more effectively.

If you’re new to a state, you’ll also need to take their written exam. There may be additional written tests you’ll need to take for extra endorsements such as double or triple vehicle towing.

After passing all the necessary tests, you’ll receive your Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP). This allows you to drive vehicles with someone who already has their Class A CDL.

6. Pass Your Practical Skills Test

After 14 days (or more, if specified differently in your state), you’ll be able to take the skills test. This involves a vehicle inspection, basic controls, and a road test from a DMV tester.

Once passed, you may pay your fees and receive your CDL.

What Does Class A License Training Entail?

For Class A License Training, attending a CDL training school is essential. This training is critical for safely operating large vehicles like semi-trucks and acquiring a Class A CDL.

Training programs vary by state, with unique course materials and approaches. Most schools offer a combination of classroom and hands-on training:

  • Classroom Training: Focuses on the theoretical aspects of operating a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV). It covers road rules, signals, and state-specific driving requirements.
  • Hands-on Training: Provides practical skills for safely maneuvering commercial trucks on the road.

Types of CDL Training Schools:

  1. Licensed Schools: These schools meet the minimum requirements set by a state, including curriculum, facilities, instructors, and training standards.
  2. Certified Schools: Subject to third-party inspections and reviews, these schools require students to meet standards established by the Department of Transportation for graduation.
  3. Accredited Schools: Fewer in number, these schools are accredited by an agency authorized by the US Department of Education, ensuring a high standard of training and education.

What Type of Tests to Expect When Getting a Class A License

To obtain a Class A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), most states require passing two main tests: the knowledge exam and the skills tests.

Knowledge Tests

This written test assesses the applicant’s understanding of road rules and the operation of Class A vehicles.

It consists of several sections, including general knowledge, combination vehicles, specific endorsements, and air brakes.

The duration varies by state, often with the general knowledge section lasting 90 minutes and endorsements 60 minutes. Check your state’s CDL manual for specific test durations.

Skills Test

Only those who pass the knowledge tests can attempt the skills test. It is divided into three areas:

  • Vehicle Inspection Test: Tests the ability to inspect a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) for safe operation.
  • Basic Controls Test: Requires completing basic truck maneuvers, such as parking, turning, and backing up.
  • Road Test: A practical exam assessing the ability to drive a Class A vehicle on public roads.

Jobs for Class A CDL Drivers

There are many well-paying opportunities for drivers with a Class A license. The average rate for a Class A driver is $38 an hour.

You may consider any of these top-paying careers after acquiring a license:

Brett’s Take: Thoughts From an Expert

It is hard to disagree with how lucrative the trucking industry can be for drivers, especially with specialized endorsements like HazMat.

However, factors that greatly influence income include the company a driver is hauling for, the the type of load they’re taking, and the location they are going to and from.

Do your research before taking a load. Local driving jobs might offer a better work-life balance, but lower pay may come as a result.

Wrapping Up

Becoming a truck driver is a fantastic career choice, but it requires hard work to get the necessary license. Still, with focus and determination, you can do it with no major issues.

To ensure it’s your best option, consider the types of jobs you want to work before applying for the Class A license.

Within a few months, you could already be done with CDL school, have your CDL, and be on the road driving large trucks.

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