How to Get a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)

A Commercial Driver’s License, also known as a CDL, is a must-have for all truck driver hopefuls. Here, you can learn about how to get one – so you can jumpstart a career in truck driving.

What is a Commercial Driver’s License?

A Commercial Driver’s License is a requirement for Americans who wish to become truck drivers. This entitles the bearer to perform the following activities:

  • Operate a commercial vehicle weighing 10,001 pounds or more.
  • Transport hazardous materials with warning placards, as per Department of Transportation statutes.
  • Transport 9 or more passengers (paying customers) or 16 or more passengers (nonpaying clients.)

Before Getting a Commercial Driver’s License

Before you can apply for a Commercial Driver’s License, there are other things you need to accomplish. First and foremost, you need to obtain your state’s CDL manual, as requirements vary per state.

Next, you need to decide the vehicle you want to operate. Do note that there are three types of CDLs and other endorsements. The CDL you will get will depend on the vehicle you want to drive. Endorsements are needed if you plan on operating a specialized truck (i.e. tractor trailers, school buses or tanker trucks.)

how to get a commercial driver's license

How to Get a Commercial Learner’s Permit

Now that you have an idea of the truck you want to drive – as well as the state requirements – you can start with the process of applying for a Commercial Learner’s Permit.  This will give you the opportunity tp drive your vehicle of choice on public thoroughfares, granted that you are chaperoned by a CDL holder.

The steps to obtaining a learner’s permit are as follows:

  1. Fill out a Commercial Driver’s License application form. You can obtain this from a Department of Motor Vehicles branch near you. It is recommended that you apply for a CDL in your home state, even if you wish to practice in another location.
  2. Review your CDL Manual and accomplish the test/s, as prescribed by your state. The general passing rate is 80%.
  3. You might also be asked to present your proof of identity and residency. At the same time, the DMV will check your driver history for the past decade, across the 50 states.
  4. Submit documents that show that you are ‘medically qualified’ to obtain a CDL. This physical exam is usually conducted by the Department of Transportation. The following conditions will render you ‘unqualified’ for a CDL:
    • Inability to hold a steering wheel or operate foot pedals
    • Use of insulin
    • Lung and heart problems
    • Hypertension
    • Epilepsy
    • Mental disorder
    • Color blindness
    • Poor vision
    • Hearing problems
    • Alcoholism

Skills Test

If you have been in possession of your learner’s permit for 14 days, you can proceed with the skills test. Depending on the state, you might be required to undergo a training program.

Remember: Whatever the requirements might be, make sure to review your Commercial Driver’s License manual prior to taking the test.

commercial driver's license exam

Before you can get your CDL, you need to undergo a 3-part skill test. The exam will cover the following topics:

  • Vehicle Inspection
  • Basic Controls
  • Road Test

Some states permit the use of a training aid to help the examinees remember the parts of the vehicle inspection list.

Do remember that taking the skills test does not guarantee passage!

How to Get a Commercial Driver’s License

Once you have passed the skills test, you can finally get your Commercial Driver’s License.

To get your well-deserved certification, you need to take the necessary documents to the DMV counter for processing. Some states release the license on the exact same day, while some send the certification through mail.

Important: Make sure to check the documents before you leave! Check your name, birthday and other particulars to see if they are correct. If there is an error, you will need to pay a certain fee to have it fixed.