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What Is a CDL? Commercial Driver’s Licenses Explained

What is a CDL, and why is it important? In this post, we discuss the basics of what they are and how you can get your commercial driver's license.

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You need a commercial driver’s license to drive any vehicle used for commercial purposes.

A CDL license is required to operate large trucks, buses, and trailers.

A commercial operator must complete CDL training and show they have the skill to operate a commercial motor vehicle.

A driver can complete a CDL program to ensure they pass the skills test and road test required to obtain their license.

What Is a CDL?

A CDL is a commercial driver’s license.

Anyone considering a career driving a commercial vehicle will need to obtain a CDL a, b, or c from their state.

Depending on the commercial vehicle you want to operate, you may need a specific endorsement for your CDL license.

There are three types of commercial licenses, and there is a class a,b, and c driver licenses with any added endorsement.

Class A CDL

A Class A CDL is required to operate any combination vehicle with a gross vehicle weight of 26,001 pounds or more, providing the towed vehicle weighs more than 10 000 pounds.

A Class A CDL will allow you to drive livestock carriers, tractor-trailers, truck and trailer combinations, a tank vehicle, and flatbeds with the proper endorsements.

Class B CDL

A Class B CDL must operate a single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more.

Class B CDL drivers can tow vehicles less than 10 000 pounds.

Those with a Class B license can operate box trucks, large passenger buses, straight trucks, tractor-trailers, segmented buses, school buses, and dump trucks with small trailers with the proper endorsements.

Class C CDL

A Class C CDL is required to drive a Class C vehicle, and they are used to transport 16 or more passengers or drive a vehicle transporting hazardous material.

In addition, a Class C license lets you operate passenger vans, small HazMat vehicles, and combination vehicles not covered by Class A or B.

Extended Learning

Class A B C D Drivers License: Exactly What These 4 Letters Mean

What Do You Need a CDL For?

All commercial drivers need a CDL.

This applies to many different types of driver jobs.

vector image showing the different types of class a b c d drivers license types laid out on background

By law, all commercial motor vehicle drivers must obtain CDL Class A, B, or C with a CDL endorsement.

It takes specific knowledge and skills to operate a commercial vehicle.

The CDL ensures that the commercial driver has the training and has met every commercial driver’s license requirement.

Any endorsement guarantees that the operator has the specific knowledge needed to operate his commercial vehicle, which is vital for maintaining public safety.

You will need a commercial truck driver’s license for the following:

  • Commercial truck driving
  • Long-haul truck driving
  • Short-haul cargo truck driving
  • Transportation supervising
  • CDL instructor

How Much Money Can You Make as a CDL Driver?

Salaries for commercial operators will vary.

Several factors will affect wages.

Some factors include the type of commercial vehicle you are operating, where you are working, the endorsement you have, and the company you are working for.

Averages for CDL Drivers

The average salary for a commercial driver in the United States is approximately $62,632 annually, or $30,11 an hour.

Drivers that operate their trucks will make considerably more money than employed drivers.

Conversely, a driver who is just beginning their career on the highway will be earning significantly less than the average.

What Do You Need to Get a CDL?

If you are considering applying for your commercial license, there are a few things you will need to know.

1. Driver’s License

You must have an existing driver’s license for driving a passenger vehicle.

2. Proof of Age

You must be 18 years old to obtain a CDL.

A commercial operator must be 21 years or older to drive across state lines or transport hazardous materials.

3. Driving Record

A driver must have at least one to two years of driving experience before applying for their commercial driver’s license, and they must also have a clean driving abstract.

Driving records cannot include suspensions, traffic violations, DUIs or DWIs, failing to appear in court, or failure to pay child support.

4. Criminal Record

Drivers must be able to pass a criminal check.

Commercial drivers cannot have a history of criminal activity, which is very important for anyone wanting to drive a school bus.

5. Citizenship

Drivers must show proof of citizenship with their social security card or birth certificate.

6. English

Potential drivers must be able to read and speak English, and drivers must be able to read and understand all road signs.

7. Medical

Drivers must provide a valid Medical Examiner’s Certificate showing that they have passed the vision and health requirements.

The medical examiner must be a part of the national registry.

How Much Does a CDL Cost?

Obtaining your commercial driver’s license is not as easy as getting your driver’s license.

First, you must remember that you are investing in a license that will allow you to earn a living.

The average cost of a truck driving school or CDL school can range from $3000 to $7000, and most schools charge the entire amount in one payment rather than by term.

The cost will depend on whether you want a class A, B, or C license and any endorsement.

Once you have your tuition paid, you will also have to consider the licensing fees for obtaining your CDL.

Licensing fees will differ from state to state.

You will have to pay for:

  • Knowledge test – $5 – $20
  • Road skills exam – $30 -$60
  • Standard CDL license – $75 – $100
  • Endorsement – $5 – $10 each

It is possible to get a commercial driver’s license without going to a trucking school.

You can obtain your commercial learner’s permit and practice with a licensed commercial driver.

Most companies will not hire drivers that go this route.

Most companies want drivers that have completed at least 160 hours of instruction at an accredited truck driving school.

How Long Does it Take to Get a CDL?

It usually takes four to seven weeks to obtain your commercial license.

A potential CDL driver must complete training, exams, air brake training, and a CDL practice test before receiving their CDL.

Even when drivers receive their CDL, most companies require several weeks of entry-level driver training to ensure that the driver is ready to drive a commercial motor vehicle.

How to Get a CDL

If you are considering becoming a truck driver, here are the steps to get you on the road.

Step 1 – Age Requirements

Most states allow drivers to obtain their CDL when they are 18 years old, but most driver services are recruiting drivers that are 21 years of age so they can drive across state lines.

Step 2 – CLP

A commercial learner’s permit allows you to practice driving commercial vehicles.

Some schools expect you to have your CLP, while others include obtaining your CLP as part of their course.

You can get your CLP and drive with a licensed commercial driver, but this is not a recommended route.

Step 3 – Attend a CDL Program

You will need to decide between attending a truck driving school or a community college.

Trucking schools usually last about three weeks, while community colleges offer courses that are about six weeks long.

You will complete classroom instruction and behind-the-wheel training with a skills test with whichever program you choose.

The road experience will teach you to operate a commercial vehicle in traffic.

Step 4 – Skills and Knowledge Tests

An online knowledge exam will test what you know about the rules of commercial driving based on the CDL manual.

The skills test will determine your ability with vehicle inspection, basic controls, and a road test.

Step 5- Documentation

States will require additional documentation, but in general, you should be able to provide:

  • Driver’s license
  • Social security card
  • Birth certificate
  • Green card (if you are not an American citizen)

Step 6 – Background Screen and Medical

To get your CDL, you must pass a DOT medical examination.

The physical must be performed by a medical examiner from the national registry.

This registry oversees the medical tests of commercial drivers.

A CDL holder must be in good health to operate a motor vehicle.

Commercial operators spend a great deal of time driving, so they must be in good health to ensure public safety.

You will also have to pass a background check, and you must not have any criminal record.

This background check is crucial for anyone wanting to operate a school bus.

Step 7 – Additional Requirements

Some states will have additional requirements or restrictions that you should be aware of.

For example, you will need to know which endorsement you will need for the specific commercial motor vehicle you would like to operate.

Check the CDL requirements in your state so you are fully prepared.

Wrapping Upf

Commercial drivers operate some of the largest and heaviest motor vehicles on our roads.

They must have the necessary skills and knowledge to use these vehicles safely.

A CDL will ensure that they are qualified to handle a commercial truck.

A CDL will also give a driver many career options.

They can work locally for short-haul truck deliveries or deliver long-haul across the country.  

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