How to Become a Commercial Truck Driver

Commercial vehicle operator

If you want to drive a commercial vehicle in the United States, you typically need a commercial driver's license (CDL). To get a commercial driver's license, start by contacting the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) nearest you. Each state has slightly different procedures and requirements. Generally, you will have to complete a written application, maintain a learner's permit for a period of time, and pass a skills test before you'll be eligible for a CDL.

Check your state's eligibility requirements

Each state has its own age, residency, and medical requirements for licensed commercial drivers. Generally, you must be at least 18 years old, or 21 years old if you plan to drive across state lines. Even if you never drive across state lines, you may need to be 21 if you work for a transportation or trucking company that is involved in interstate commerce.

Some states require you to have been a resident of the state for several months before you are eligible to apply for a CDL.

Choose the type of vehicle you want to drive

There are three different classes of CDLs. You also can get different certifications or endorsements depending on the specific work you want to do. The class and endorsements you need will determine what you will be tested on and how much your CDL will cost.

If you already have a job lined up, your employer will be able to tell you exactly what CDL class and endorsements you need.

What is the difference between a class A and class B license? With a Class A license, you can drive a vehicle with GVWR 26,001 pounds or greater and tow a trailer heavier than 10,000 pounds. A Class B license permits you to drive a vehicle with GVWR 26,001 pounds or greater and tow a trailer up to 10,000 pounds.

Get a copy of your state's CDL manual

You can get a copy of your state's CDL manual at your local DMV office. Some state DMVs also have digital copies of the manual available for download on their websites.

When you apply for a CDL, you'll have to take a written knowledge test. Study the manual carefully, as it contains all the information that you'll be tested on. You may be able to get sample questions or copies of old knowledge tests. These can help guide your study, but don't simply memorize the answers. The questions asked on your test will likely be different.

Complete your CDL application

Your state has a specific form you must complete if you want to apply for a CDL. You may be able to download this form online and complete it ahead of time. Many states require you to fill out the form in person at the DMV.

You may have to bring documentation to prove parts of the application. Read the instructions carefully and look through the entire document once before you start filling it out. Part of your CDL application will be a 10-year history record check. You must provide information regarding all other states in which you were licensed to drive, including the dates you lived there and your legal address.

Getting Your Learner's Permit

Gather required documents

To apply for a CDL, you must bring identification, proof of citizenship status, and proof of residency. Beyond these documents, other medical certifications or background documentation may be required, depending on the type of license and endorsements you need.

Check with the local DMV or visit your state DMV's website to find out exactly what documents you need to bring with you. If you have any questions about whether a particular document will work, call the DMV and ask. Having all the right documents will save you a lot of time.

All states charge fees for issuing a CDL. You may be required to pay all fees at once, or you may have to pay individual fees at separate times. For example, you may pay the application, written test, and permit fee all at once, then pay the skills test and license fee later.

Turn in your CDL application

Turn in your application along with all required documents in person at your local DMV office. If you live in a larger metropolitan area, find out if you can schedule an appointment so you don't have to wait as long.

You must bring documents that prove your identity and your residency. Different states may accept different types of documentation to prove residency. Check with your local DMV. There typically will be a list of accepted documents on their website.

Some states, such as California, require you to schedule an appointment if you're applying for a new CDL.

Pass the written test

Before you can get your CDL permit and start driving a commercial vehicle, you need to demonstrate knowledge of the rules of the road. All CDL applicants take a general written test. Some endorsements, such as those for driving a school bus or transporting hazardous materials, may require you to take an additional written test.

Once you've completed your test it will be scored immediately. If you earn a passing score, you'll be issued your permit. If you don't pass, find out what you can do to retake the test. Keep in mind you may have to pay an additional fee to retake the test.

Start the TSA background check process

If you plan to drive across state lines, or will be transporting hazardous materials, you may be required to complete a background check with the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

You can schedule an appointment with a TSA agent online at, or you can call 1-855-347-8371.

There is a fee for the TSA background check. You also will have to be fingerprinted.

Practice with a supervising driver

Restrictions on commercial driving permits vary, but generally you can't drive solo. You need a supervising driver who has a CDL of the same class and type as the one you want.

Some states require your supervising driver to fill out a form clearing you to take the skills test. If this is a requirement for you, you'll be given a copy of the form when you get your permit.

Complete any required training

In some states, you must complete a state-approved training or certification class before you will be eligible to take the skills test for your CDL. DMV staff will advise you of classes are required for you.

Whether you're required to complete a training or certification class also may depend on the type of CDL you're getting. For example, some states require specialized training for people who want to drive a school bus, or for people who will be carrying hazardous materials.

Getting Your Full License

Before applying for your CDL, you need to have a DOT physical. Your doctor will give you a medical certification card if you meet the physical requirements.

Schedule your CDL skills test

Once you've gotten enough practice in and feel comfortable behind the wheel, look into taking the skills test necessary to get your full license. Keep in mind that you may not be able to schedule an appointment for several months.

Many states require you to drive on your permit for a certain period of time, typically at least two weeks. Some states also may require you to log a certain number of hours driving on your permit before you can schedule your skills test.

In some states, you may be able to use a third-party examiner service. Staff at the DMV will tell you if this option is available, or you can check the state DMV's website.

Pass your CDL skills test

Before you can get a full CDL, you must pass a driving skills test with a licensed examiner. The skills you will be tested on depend on the type of vehicle you're driving and the operations you will commonly perform.

You must take the CDL skills test in the exact vehicle that you will be driving. This includes transmission and air brakes. For example, if you're going to be driving a vehicle with a manual transmission, you must take your skills test in a vehicle with a manual transmission.

If you don't get a passing score on your skills test the first time around, you may be able to retake it. For example, in California you can take the CDL skills test up to three times. Ask your examiner about your options.

Receive your CDL

Your examiner will issue your CDL after you pass the skills test. Each state varies regarding when and how you will receive your official CDL. In some states you can come into the DMV office and pick it up the next day. Others mail it to you.

When you get your CDL, check over it carefully to make sure all the information on it is correct and your name is spelled correctly. Get any errors changed immediately or they could cause you problems later on.

Keep in mind that federal regulations no longer permit states to issue temporary CDLs, so you may have to wait a day or two before you can begin work.

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