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Things to
Know Before CDL Training

A man showing his CDL license.

A Truck Driver's Guide to Commercial Driver's License (CDL) Training

Embarking on a career as a truck driver paves the way for a stable and rewarding journey. But before you hit the road, obtaining a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is crucial.

This comprehensive guide delves deeper into the world of CDL training, equipping you with the necessary knowledge to navigate your path to becoming a professional truck driver.

A person with a nametag that says "Hello, I am a... CDL Driver".

Why is Having a CDL Important for Truck Driving

A CDL grants you the authority to operate large commercial vehicles, ranging from tractor-trailers and tank trucks to passenger buses.

These vehicles demand special skills and knowledge, which is why CDL training exists. It ensures you possess the necessary expertise to handle these powerful vehicles safely and efficiently.

What are the Requirements Before You Start CDL Training

Before you can start CDL training and CDL application, you’ll need to meet certain eligibility requirements. These requirements vary slightly by state, but they generally include the following:

A checklist to start CDL training
    • Age: You must be at least 21 years old to obtain a Class A or B CDL. You can get a Class C CDL at 18 years old. There are a few exceptions to this rule which allow 18 year olds to obtain a Class A under the following circumstances:
        • Stay within the state 

        • Part of a veterans’ trial program 

        • Part of a general trial program.

    • Driver’s License: You must have a valid license from the state where you are applying for your CDL.

    • Medical Examination: You must pass a medical examination conducted by a medical examiner certified by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). During this examination, your vision, hearing, blood pressure, and overall health will be assessed.

    • Written Knowledge Test: You must pass a written test that covers topics such as vehicle operation, traffic laws, and safe driving practices. The specific topics covered on the written tests will vary depending on the class of CDL you are applying for.

    • Skills Test: You must pass a skills test that demonstrates your ability to safely operate a commercial motor vehicle. The skills test will include vital truck driving tasks such as backing up, maneuvering in traffic, and how to do pre-trip inspection.

  • Additional Requirements: Some states may have additional requirements, such as a criminal background check or a drug test. You can check your state’s DMV website to see your state CDL manual.

It is important to note that these are just the basic requirements. It is always best to contact your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for the most up-to-date information on federal regulations before you get your CDL.

Why Having CDL Training Matters

CDL training isn’t just for show. It plays a vital role in shaping you into a safe, well trained and responsible driver. Through comprehensive training programs, you’ll gain valuable knowledge and skills in various aspects:

  • Vehicle Inspection and Maintenance: Learn how to identify potential issues and perform routine maintenance on your truck.

  • Safe Driving Practices: Master defensive driving techniques and regulations to ensure the safety of yourself and others on the road.

  • Hours of Service Regulations: Understand the regulations governing your driving hours to prevent fatigue and promote safe operation.

  • Cargo Securement: Learn the proper techniques for securing cargo to prevent accidents and damage.

  • Emergency Procedures: Be prepared to handle emergencies calmly and effectively, minimizing potential harm.

A fleet of trucks of different CDL classes.

Navigating Different CDL Classes

The world of CDL licenses is divided into various classes, each with its own unique requirements and endorsements.

CDL Class A

A Class A CDL is required to drive any combination of vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of more than 26,001 pounds, provided the towed vehicle weighs more than 10,000 pounds. This includes tractor-trailers, semi-trucks, and double or triple trailers.

CDL Class B

A CDL Class B is required to drive any single vehicle with a GVWR of more than 26,001 pounds, or any combination of vehicles with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or less, provided the towed vehicle weighs more than 10,000 pounds. This includes straight trucks, buses, and some recreational vehicles.

CDL Class C

A Class C CDL is required to drive any vehicle with a GVWR of less than 26,001 pounds that is designed to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver), or any vehicle used to transport hazardous materials. This includes passenger vans, school buses, and some box trucks.

Class C licenses can also be personal in some states. 

Other CDL Endorsements

In addition to the three main classes, there are also several endorsements that can be added to a CDL. These endorsements allow you to drive specific types of vehicles or transport certain types of cargo.

  • Hazardous Materials (H): The hazmat endorsement allows you to transport hazardous materials.

  • Passenger (P): This endorsement allows you to drive vehicles designed to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver).

  • School Bus (S): This endorsement allows you to drive a school bus.

  • Tank Vehicle (T): This endorsement allows you to drive a tank vehicle used to transport liquids or gases.

  • Doubles/Triples (X): This endorsement allows a driver to drive double or triple trailers.

Taking the First Step Towards Your CDL

Ready to embark on your journey as a truck driver? Here’s how to get started with CDL training:

  • Explore Training Options: Choose from various truck driver training programs offered by truck driving schools, community colleges, technical institutes, or even trucking companies.
  • Meet the Eligibility Requirements: Ensure you meet the age requirement (21 years old), possess a valid driver’s license, pass a medical examination, and successfully complete both the written knowledge test and skills test.
  • Choose the Right Truck Driver Training Program: Research different programs and consider factors such as duration, cost, curriculum, and reputation before making your decision. Make sure that they are a registered training provider, as well.
A man receiving a handbook during truck driver training for his CDL license.

Is It Difficult Getting a CDL?

Whether getting a CDL is difficult depends on your individual skills and experience. Here’s a breakdown:

Factors that make it challenging:

  • Learning curve: Operating a large commercial vehicle requires new skills and knowledge, which can be challenging to master, especially for individuals with no prior driving experience.
  • Technical aspects: Understanding the technical aspects of the vehicle, including pre-trip inspections, air brakes, and shifting gears, requires dedicated learning and practice.
  • Testing requirements: Passing both the written and skills tests can be nerve-wracking and require thorough preparation.
  • Physical demands: The job can be physically demanding, requiring long hours behind the wheel and potential physical exertion for loading and unloading cargo.

Factors that make it easier:

  • Prior driving experience: Individuals with prior driving experience, particularly with large vehicles or in demanding environments, will likely have an easier time adapting to commercial driving.
  • Mechanical aptitude: For individuals comfortable with mechanics and technology, understanding the technical aspects of the vehicle may come more naturally.
  • Strong learning skills: Individuals who learn quickly and effectively will find mastering the required knowledge and skills less challenging.
  • Access to quality training: Enrolling in a reputable CDL training program with experienced instructors and adequate resources can significantly increase your chances of success.
  • Physical fitness: Maintaining good physical fitness will make it easier to handle the physical demands of the job.

Overall, the difficulty of getting a CDL depends on your individual circumstances. While it requires dedication, effort, and preparation, many individuals achieve it successfully with the right support and mindset.

A truck driver looking at obstacle.

Should You Get Commercial Truck Insurance Before You Get Your CDL?

While you technically can obtain commercial truck insurance before getting your CDL, it’s generally recommended to wait until you have your license in hand. 

Here’s why:

Reasons to wait until after getting your CDL:

  • Lower rates: Insurance companies typically offer lower rates to drivers with a valid CDL, as they demonstrate a certain level of training and competence.
  • More accurate quote: Rates are based on various factors, including your driving record, experience, and the specific type of truck you’ll be operating. Without a CDL, it’s difficult for insurance companies to accurately assess your risk and provide a reliable quote.
  • Avoid unnecessary costs: You might be paying for insurance coverage you don’t yet need if you purchase it before obtaining your CDL.
  • Compliance with regulations: While not a requirement in all states, some trucking companies may require you to have insurance before hiring you. Waiting until you have your CDL ensures you’re compliant with any such regulations.

However, there are some situations where getting insurance before your CDL might make sense

  • You already own a commercial truck: If you already own the truck you intend to drive commercially, obtaining insurance beforehand might be wise to protect your investment in case of any unforeseen accidents.
  • You’re enrolled in a CDL training program: Some insurance companies may offer discounts to students enrolled in CDL programs, making it potentially beneficial to inquire about options.
  • Requirement for training program: Some CDL training programs might require you to have insurance before you can start.

Ultimately, the decision of when to obtain truck insurance is a personal one based on your specific circumstances.

If you’re unsure, it’s always best to consult with an insurance agent specializing in commercial vehicles. They can help you understand your options, assess your individual needs, and provide the best advice for your situation. You can get a truck insurance quote with the help our TRS-certified agents before you get your CDL.

Remember, a successful career as a truck driver is built on dedication, knowledge, and a commitment to safety. By taking the time to properly prepare through comprehensive CDL training, you’ll be well-equipped to navigate the open road and enjoy the rewards of this exciting profession.