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What is the process for getting a CDL?

GETTING A CDL: The process of getting a Commercial Driver's License (CDL) is basically the same in every state. States require those that are learning to become commercial drivers to first obtain a state CDL permit. To get the permit, a student has to take written exams at the state department of motor vehicles (or Driver's License Bureau--each state has its own name for the agency). These include the General Knowledge test, the Combination Vehicle test and an Air Brakes test. Most truck drivers also usually take the optional endorsement tests for Hazardous Materials ("Hazmat"), Double and Triple Trailers ("Doubles/Triples") and Tankers. These endorsements are marked on the permit so that the driver is authorized to operate this type of equipment. After a permit is issued, a student driver can only drive a tractor-trailer when there is a CDL-licensed driver accompanying him or her in the passenger's seat. Permits usually expire after six months. Once you have the Permit, you have to learn how to drive a truck. That's where truck driving schools come in. A primary objective for a school is to give you the driving instruction so that you can maneuver a truck and pass the driving skills exam.

After the driver is trained and learns to maneuver the truck, a driving skills exam is administered by the state (some states allow private "third party testers" to administer the test on behalf of the state). The driver must demonstrate he/she knows how to inspect the vehicle prior to operating it, how to conduct an air brake test and then demonstrate basic parking, backing and other driving skills. The driving skills test takes place on a closed driving range as well as public roads. Although the process of getting a CDL is straight forward, it takes time to learn the information necessary to pass the written knowledge tests, the inspection and air brake exams and the driving skills test. Plus there is a lot of information beyond what is needed to get your CDL that you need to know. Good schools focus on this.

It is very important to get as much good classroom instruction as you can for the written CDL tests. This is the fundamental information upon which your career will be built. It is your starting point, so be sure to find a school that offers a course which includes a good basic CDL preparation class. Some schools require you to take the tests after self-study (in other words, you have get your CDL permit on your own). And other schools may only give you the bare minimum instruction necessary to pass the test. We don't recommend these types of programs. You may get your license this way, but you probably won't have the knowledge you need to drive safely. "Quick and dirty" schools like this focus only on minimum driving skills so that you pass the driving test to get your CDL. That way you are "out the door" faster. These schools graduate a lot of students and are known as "CDL Mills". We definitely recommend a more complete course that offers a combination of live instructors, video or computer-based training and practice CDL tests. You should be able to ask questions of instructors and review your tests with them.
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