CDL Training, Licensure, Certification
and Truck Driving Schools
Whether you have always wanted to be a truck driver, or you are looking to transition to a new career after being in the workforce for a period of time, there is much to know about truck driving and CDL training before you launch into the application process.
A commercial driver’s license is a springboard to countless lucrative employment opportunities. A commercial driver’s license is required for anyone who wishes to work within the transport sector. A CDL instruction permit will get you on your way to driving class A, B, and C commercial vehicles. In this comprehensive overview, we will be taking you through the vehicle classification types, testing requirements, legalities, CDL endorsements, restrictions, violations, and explaining to you in detail the advantages and procedures involved in getting your CDL.
Whether you’re new to truck driving or already know quite a bit, MY CDL Training has something for everyone looking to get into the truck driving industry.
CDL Training & Truck Driving Guides
CDL Training Options
Whereas it is possible to teach yourself everything needed to pass your commercial driver’s license exam, the steep learning curve makes attending a CDL training school a far better option for most. Truck driving theory is covered in its entirety, with the insight of a tutor giving you the practical advice needed to not just remember all the facts needed to pass but to also fully grasp all the concepts of your syllabus. You are also given the hands-on training needed to give you the best chance of success. Most CDL training programs also provide job placement assistance which greatly lessens the burden of upfront tuition costs.
What You Can Operate with a CDL
As stipulated by the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986, all states are required to meet the same minimum testing and licensing standards. A commercial driver’s license enables one to legally operate the following vehicles:
- Any single vehicle carrying a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds and above
- Any combination vehicle carrying a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,0001 pounds and above, with a towing GVWR in excess of 10,000 pounds
- Vehicles designed to accommodate and transport sixteen or more passengers
- School buses (all sizes)
- vehicles designated to transport of hazardous materials and toxins/agents listed in 42 CFR part 73 of the Department of Homeland Security federal regulations
Commercial Driver’s License Types
Depending on the type of commercial vehicle you wish to operate, different CDL classifications are set out. The basic CDL types are as follows:
Class A – Combination Vehicle
A combination vehicle is classified as a vehicle carrying a gross combination weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more. This includes towed units carrying a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds.
Class B – Heavy Straight Vehicle
A heavy straight vehicle is classified as any single vehicle carrying a gross combination weight rating of 26,001 pounds and above. This also includes any heavy straight vehicle towing a gross vehicle weight rating up to 10,000 pounds.
Class C – Small Vehicle
A small vehicle falling under Class C is defined as a vehicle which cannot be defined by Class A or B but is designed to transport 16 passengers (driver included) and above, or a vehicle used to transport hazardous materials.
For standard hauling, CDL endorsements are optional. Yet endorsements obtained via specialized testing make all the difference when hunting for the ideal job. Many career drivers find that the extra endorsements go a long way towards procuring the perfect position. Here is a brief look at the various CDL endorsements available to drivers.
Double/Triple Trailers – Endorsement Code T
The applicant must have knowledge which spans the procedures for assembly and hookup of trailer units, and the correct placement of the heaviest trailer. In handling and stability, you also need to know which includes, but is not limited to, response to steering, advanced braking, oscillatory sway, rollover in steady turns, yaw stability in steady turns, and a sound response to sensory feedback. The driver also needs to be aware of potential traffic problems. This includes creating a slow down for other motorists on steep slopes, passing times, the possibility of blocking entry points on freeways, spray and splash impacts, blocking the view of other motorists, lateral placement of vehicle and trailer, and aerodynamic buffeting. Assessment is made via knowledge test.
Passenger – Endorsement Code P
Passenger endorsement requires certification according to the requirements set out in each specific vehicle class. Knowledge concerning the correct procedures for loading and unloading passengers is required, as well as a sound understanding of the correct use of emergency exits. The driver also needs to know how to respond to emergency situations such as fires and rude/unruly passengers. Drawbridge and railroad-highway grade crossing procedures are also needed to be understood, as is the correct braking procedures for operating a passenger class commercial vehicle. Both practical and knowledge tests are carried out to assess the driver’s capability.
Tank Vehicles – Endorsement Code N
A tank vehicle endorsement requires the driver to hold a detailed understanding of the causes and effects of cargo surge on handling, as well as knowing how to prevent cargo surges and the difference in cargo surges for various densities of liquid. Complete knowledge concerning the correct braking procedure for an empty load, partial load, and full load is required. Applicants also need to know the differences between baffled/compartmental tank interiors over non-baffled vehicles, differences in tank types and the construction thereof. Road grade and curvature effects on handling under various load types also needs to be known, as well as the correct use of emergency systems. A practical and knowledge-based test is used to grant Code N endorsements.
Hazardous Materials – Endorsement Code H
A hazardous materials endorsement requires a comprehensive understanding of many different regulations. Applicants are required to know the hazardous materials table, shipping paper requirements, labeling and marketing, placarding specifications, the packaging of hazardous materials as well as their definition and preparation. One also needs to understand the handling of hazardous materials in terms of what is forbidden, how to load and unload, the segregation of cargo, how to handle passenger carriers and hazardous materials, parking, routes, cargo tanks, “safe havens” and the operation of emergency equipment and emergency response procedures. Code H endorsements are granted via a knowledge test only.
School Bus – Endorsement Code S
Those applying for a school bus endorsement have to pass both a knowledge and practical skills test. Applicants are required to have complete knowledge of the loading and unloading of children. This includes the safe operation of stop signaling devices, external mirrors, lights, and passenger safety devices set out by state and federal law. The knowledge test also tests for complete competency in handling emergency procedures including passenger evacuation, and it covers state and federal laws concerning railroad-highway crossings. A driving test is carried out in a school bus of the same vehicle group as that of the applicant’s prospective employer.
Combination of Tank Vehicle Endorsement and Hazardous Materials Endorsement – Code X
Code X combines the knowledge of Code H and Code N, namely tank vehicle endorsement and hazardous materials endorsement. Both a knowledge test and practical skills evaluation will be carried out. The knowledge test combines the syllabus of both Code H and N. You will be tested in a vehicle of a matching class to that of your prospective certification.
Air Brake Endorsement
By standard regulatory policies, an air brake restriction is imposed upon every CDL certification. If you plan to drive a commercial motor vehicle with air brakes, be sure to take the air brake test to obtain the endorsement necessary.
CDL Restriction Codes
Every commercial driver’s license indicates the restrictions set in place by the testing and endorsements of the driver. Here is each CDL restriction code defined.
- Code K – Allows the commercial motor vehicle driver to operate within intrastate areas only
- Code L – Indicates that the driver is not certified to operate a commercial motor vehicle with airbrakes
- Code Z – This is a code reflecting that the skills test of the driver was completed in a vehicle with air over hydraulic brakes
- Code E – Driver is only competent to drive an automatic transmission commercial vehicle
- Code V – Shows a CDL medical variance waiver
- Code O – An indication that the driver is qualified to operate a combination vehicle from Group A without a tractor trailer, instead capable of operating a towed unit connected via a pintle hook or other non-fifth wheel hook-up
- Code M – Qualification to operate a Class B bus only
- Code N – Qualification to operate a Class C bus only
Vehicles Exempt from CDL Certification
Farm transport, firefighters, and law enforcement personnel may be exempt from requiring a CDL. If you drive or plan to drive any of the following vehicles, then you do not need to carry a commercial driver’s license:
- Vehicles operated by farmers and their employees
- Any transport vehicle used within 150 miles of the farm
- Any transport vehicle carrying wood products or Christmas trees weighing less than 40,000 lbs. (gross vehicle weight)
- Firefighters and law enforcement officials carrying an emergency vehicle accident prevention certification card & emergency vehicle incident prevention card
Commercial Driver’s License Prerequisites
Whereas every state has its own selection of legislation regulating the certification process of a commercial driver’s license, the requirements across the country are standardized and thus, fairly similar. Here are the basic prerequisites to obtaining your CDL.
- A valid standard driver’s license
- You need to be at least 21-years old (in certain states the legal age is 18)
- Depending on state requirements, one to two years driving experience is needed
- Proof of citizenship or lawful permanent residency in the form of a social security card, birth certificate, or green card is needed
- The state names of all states where the applicant is licensed to drive across a ten year period
- No active driver’s license suspensions or revocations
- No prior disqualifications for criminal felonies
- Read, write, and speak English
- Driver’s need to certify that they are not subject to disqualification; please see FMCSA 383.51 List of Disqualifications
Medical/Physical Requirements for Obtaining a Commercial Driver’s License
Truck driving and transport using commercial vehicles can be extremely taxing on the body. Depending on the nature of your industry, heavy lifting may be needed, while every long-distance driver needs to be capable of managing irregular sleeping schedules while maintaining mental acuity and alertness over long periods. Prior to receiving a CDL, you need to be a holder of a valid medical examiner’s certificate give you a clean bill of health. The bill can be self-certified, obtainable from any licensed medical examiner. The Medical Examination Report For Commercial Driver Fitness Determination is available from the FMCSA for your reference, however here is a concise look at the main physical prerequisites:
- 20 / 40 Snellen Acuity in each eye – correction allowed
- While eyeglasses and contact lenses are allowed, they need to be noted
- Diabetics taking insulin injections are not eligible for a CDL (Exemptions are Noted)
- Hearing aids are permitted with a hearing standard of perceiving a forced whispered voice at roughly five feet away enforced
- High blood pressure interfering with the ability to operate a commercial motor vehicle safely will bar a driver from a CDL
- Blood sugar levels above 200 make a driver ineligible for a CDL
- Sleep apnea, vision loss, and epilepsy may disqualify applicants
An Overview of Knowledge and Skill Tests
Depending on which endorsements and restrictions you require for your commercial driver’s license, either a knowledge test alone or a knowledge test and practical skills test is carried out. Here is a look at both.
Each specific class of license and the endorsements which you require will determine which knowledge tests you take. Your knowledge test scores remain valid for 180 days, on average, state law dependent. They are also renewable across the course of one cycle. Typical knowledge tests include the following:
- A general knowledge test (taken by all)
- A passenger transport test which is completed by bus driver applicants
- An airbrakes test which may include an air over hydraulic brakes test as well
- A combination test required to drive Class A combination vehicles
- A hazardous materials test for those who wish to transport hazardous materials defined in 49 CFR 383.5
- A tank vehicle test for hauling liquids or gases, or for carrying tanks with a capacity exceeding 119 gallons with an aggregate rated capacity of 1,000 gallons or more
- A double/triple trailer test to pull double or triple trailers
- A school bus test for the driving of school buses.
Once you have passed the relevant knowledge tests you will proceed to the commercial driver’s license skills tests. Vehicle inspection, basic vehicle control, and on-road driving will be evaluated in the type of truck which you wish to be licensed for. There is a 24-hour waiting period consequent to taking the test before which your results will be issued. All CDL test skill scores remain valid for an average of 180-days, state law dependent. Scheduling is typically set at three days in advance, as a minimum. At times you will be assigned a retest to ensure that testing policies were enforced correctly. Testing is required to upgrade an existing CDL from Class C to Class A or B, or to upgrade a Class B to a Class A. Practical skill tests are also required for passenger and school bus endorsement, and to remove restrictions.
Veterans May Be Eligible to Have Their CDL Skills Test Waivered
If you are a veteran who has at least two years’ worth of military truck driving experience and are processing your application within one year of your discharge, all that you need is to pass the written knowledge test to have a commercial driver’s license granted.
Your license cannot also ever have been suspended, revoked, or canceled. Other disqualifying CDL offenses include alcohol and drug convictions, a record reflecting leaving the scene of an accident, having operated a vehicle with a suspended license, or any fatalities which resulted from negligence. Serious disqualifying traffic violations include reckless driving, speeding according to state law, driving a commercial motor vehicle without a commercial driver’s license, and the operation of a commercial motor vehicle without carrying the required endorsements.
If you qualify, complete the Application for Military Skills Test Waiver, being sure to have the necessary section filled in by your commanding officer. Deliver the waiver to your local CDL licensing office, completing the CDL application and providing your proof of identity and all necessary paperwork. A written knowledge test will be administered, allowing you to drive commercial motor vehicles of the same class which you drove in the military, consequent to passing. For passenger and school bus driving, endorsements are still needed.
Act and Get Your Commercial Driver’s License Today
From self-study to paid tuition reimbursement, scholarships, government grants, financial aid in the form of study loans, and paid driving programs whereby you are pre-hired – there are countless ways to begin your truck driving career today. A CDL is a sought-after asset in today’s transport industry. Now that you have all the information need to fully comprehend what is required, there is nothing standing in your way of jumping into a career in the trucking and transport sector. Getting your commercial driver’s license generally takes an average of four weeks. You could be employed and crossing the country within five.
Truck Driving Schools
This section will provide you with everything you have ever wanted to know about CDL training and truck driving school.
Let’s be honest. One of the main reasons that you are looking into a truck driving career may have to do with money. There is no shame in wanting to make more money to care for your family. In fact, that is a noble reason to want to become a truck driver. Before you can set out to start making money, you will need to earn a commercial driver’s license or a CDL.
This license will allow you to operate semi-trucks and other large vehicles. You will need to enroll in a program that can teach you everything that you need to know about truck driving. However, this training can cost money.
If you do not have the funds to pay for the training out of pocket, you can consider seeking employment from a company that will provide training and pay you. While this sounds like an amazing deal, there are pros and cons to this type of gig.
Pros and cons of attending an employer-sponsored training program
- Free training with no experience required
- Earn money while you are learning so you don’t have to skip having paychecks
- Short training and you are guaranteed a job after you complete the program
- Sign-on bonuses
- Increase in pay after 1 year of positive employment
- You can earn between $45,000 – $75,000 annually
- Annual pay raises for good performance
- A 1-year commitment of being employed and if you fail to meet this requirement, you will have to pay back the company for your training
- You may be away from family for weeks at a time
- You may be in training for 10-15 hours per day
- During training, you may have to pay for living expenses
- You may have to travel a significant distance to attend training
- Busy schedule
- The job has a high turnover rate
If you are still interested in obtaining a job as a truck driver and have an interest in finding a company to help you pay for your training, continue reading. There are some things that you will need to do in order to find a company to help you pay for schooling.
Requirements for company-paid truck driver training
- Check the program for age requirements. Most require you to be at least 21 years of age, while some require that you are 22 or 23 years old
- You will need to have a clean driver’s license from the US that is at least a year old
- You will be required to prove that you are eligible to work in the US, whether you have a social security card or a green card
- You will not be admitted to the school if you have any records of driving under the influence within the past 5 years. In addition, your driving record needs to possess no moving violations for the past 3 years
- You will be required to pass a Department of Transportation medical examination
- You will be required to pass a Department of Transportation drug test
- It will be required that you agree to a criminal background check
- You will need to have a good work history record with at least 3 years of solid work experience
- Some trucking companies require that you work for them for 1-2 years after you have completed training
It may seem like these requirements are quite stringent, however, you are seeking employment where you will be spending a great deal of time on the road, driving a large vehicle that could potentially do some serious damage. It is important for the company to make sure that they are hiring people who are sound in mental and physical health so that they can be the best truck driver possible.
Some find that committing to a company for an extended period of time after they attend training is too much to ask. While you may choose to take the route of having your training paid for by a trucking company, you can also choose to pay for it on your own and attend a private truck driving school. For those who do not want to feel as if they “owe” something to their employer, there are private trucking schools that you can pay to attend independent of your employer. There are pros and cons to doing so which we will explain further.
Pros and cons of attending a private truck driving school
- You can determine where you will work after you have completed your training
- Flexibility in when and where you attend training
- You can live at home while attending the training which can cut down on paying for accommodations while in training
- You will be available to work for any company of your choosing
- As you may be paying for the course yourself, you will have more motivation to finish the program
- There are federal and state grants that may be able to help you with the cost of the program
- You will have to pay for the training out of pocket which can be a significant expense
- You won’t have a guaranteed job waiting for you after completing the CDL course
- You may find yourself having to take out a loan to pay for the school which can be hard if you have less than desirable credit
- Financial aid options may be minimal
There is much to think about when trying to decide whether or not you will attend an employer-sponsored training program or if you will choose to pay for a private training by yourself. If you are worried about committing to a potential employer for a period of time after you have completed the training, you may be a better candidate for paying for the training on your own so that you can work for any company of your choosing after you receive your CDL.
Selecting your training program or private truck driving school
Now that you know the costs associated with the training as well as the options to how you can go about obtaining your CDL, we will now discuss the importance of choosing a reputable program. Here are some things to look for when selecting a training program or private driving school.
When choosing a training program, it is important to confirm that they have the credentials that are important to you and your career goals. It would be detrimental to spend money and time to attend a school that does not have the proper credentials to get you a good job upon certification.
The training you attend to obtain your CDL should be from a training program that is PTDI certified. PTDI stands for the Professional Truck Driver Institute and they are the premier certifying body of CDL and private truck driving programs.
When you obtain certification from a school that is PTDI certified, you will have a better chance at getting a job as it will set you apart from other certifications that are not certified by the PTDI. This is important because the PTDI programs are typically considered to be more thorough and rigorous than other programs which means that you will be a better driver upon completion of the program.
Accredited by a reputable national organization
In addition to attending training that has a state license as well as PTDI approval and certification, you should also make sure that the CDL training and trucking school has been accredited by a national organization. The reason for this is that anyone can say that they have a trucking program for those looking for a career in truck driving, however their program may not be of good quality and may not teach you everything that you need to know to be the best driver that you can be.
Job placement assistance to those who qualify
Another great perk to choosing a reputable truck driving school is that they often help those who are in search of a job, find once upon completion of the program. Job placement assistance to those who have completed the program successfully can make all the difference in finding a job after you receive your CDL.
Truck Driving Schools to Consider
Now that you know what to look for in a truck driving school, here are some schools to consider. For each school highlighted, we have once again provided the pros and cons to each school. Knowing the pros and cons will help you decide what will be the best option for you and your family. It is important to note that the schools are in no particular order.
Swift (Company sponsored)
This company is well known for providing top-notch company-sponsored CDL training. In this training course, you will have 2 weeks of total training with some in-classroom instruction and testing as well as on-the-road training and testing.
- You have a variety of locations to choose from when it comes to training. There are 5 locations within the US for training. They are Arizona, Idaho, Texas, Tennessee, and Virginia
- The company will provide students with financing for accommodations. It is important to note that there can be 2-5 students in one room
- Complete online training at home before you arrive on location
- 40 hours of classroom construction
- Work for Swift for 13 months and the training program will only cost you $1800. Work with them for 26 months and the training is free
- You must stay with the company for 26 months to receive the training program for free. If you choose to leave the company after 13 months, you will be required to pay back $300 per month for the training program
- If you do not live near the truck training, you will need to pay for your private accommodations
- All students are required to pay a $150 seating fee on the first day of class
- All students will be required to purchase permits for various states as well as pay for Department of Transportation drug testing
Stevens Transport (Company sponsored)
If you have an interest in working with a temperature-controlled trucking company, Stevens Transport is one to consider as it is highly reputable. This trucking company is privately owned and has been in business since the 1980s. They are well known for training skilled truck drivers who stay with the company for a noteworthy amount of time.
- A variety of training program locations are available. Texas, North Carolina, Colorado, Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee all have training locations which can make it convenient to find a place closer to home
- You can attend their training or pay for a training through another school if you choose
- You can choose to finance your training and accommodations through the company or you can go through the program completely free.
- The way that this works is that you will pay back your training expenses with an interest-free loan. You will be charged $27 per week via payroll deduction for the course. If you have personal expenses such as accommodations, you will pay the company back $25 per week via payroll deduction
- The training program is 3 weeks long with 1 day off per week.
- You will be required to pay a $100 non-refundable registration fee and a $70 licensing fee
- You may start off with a low annual pay, but this will increase each year that you are employed
Knight Transportation (Company sponsored)
You have probably seen Knight trucks on the highway as they are one of the leading trucking companies in the industry. Students may find it competitive to be accepted into the training program as they have to meet with a recruiter before submitting their application. While this training is considered to be a top-tier program, it is not for the faint of heart.
- Highly reputable program
- Required to pass a CDL exam, obtain a learner’s permit from their home state, and pass the CDL skills training test before they can start their driver training
- Training does offer students a $400 per week stipend to help cover food and other expenses
- Students can opt to pay for training up front and will receive a 10% discount for doing so
- Guaranteed a job upon graduation of the program
- Program costs are covered up front by the trucking company
- You are required to apply to the program and get accepted by a recruiter
- Students are required to log over 30,000 miles before they can officially graduate from the program
- Must stay with the company for 1 year after the program
- $50 per week payroll deduction will be taken from the employee’s paycheck to help pay back the training expenses
- 9-week program with 6 weeks behind the wheel. This training is extensive and can be a challenge for those who will want to see their family more often than a few times over several months
SAGE Driving School (Private)
SAGE is a well-known private truck driving school that teaches many drivers that work for leading companies around the nation. The training is considered comprehensive which includes CDL courses with in classroom instruction as well as “hands-on the steering wheel” instruction. When you attend SAGE, you can rest assured that you will be receiving training that is modeled after the highest curriculum standards in the trucking industry.
- Privately owned training program which means that you can work for any trucking company that you wish upon completion and certification
- Offers training at over 25 locations in the US, which is convenient
- SAGE will help train you to work in the industry. They will also help you find a job
- The cost is not readily available on their website. You will need to submit your contact information to receive additional details about the costs associated with the program.
Becoming a truck driver can be a rewarding career choice and one that is highly profitable. To become a truck driver, you will need to complete an extensive training program. There are perks to attending both a company-sponsored CDL training or a private truck-driving school.
When it comes to determining which option is best for you, you should consult your finances and see if you can afford the out-of-pocket expense. If you are unable to do so, you may want to consider a company-sponsored training program. The are several company-sponsored programs that are worth looking at to determine if there is one that best fits your career goals.
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