The first step to becoming a truck driver is getting a commercial driver’s license or CDL. This is a requirement by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to ensure drivers are fit to handle a commercial vehicle. Being fit means they are both physically capable of driving a big rig, as well as knowledgeable about operating the truck. As you start the process of becoming a trucker, begin by understanding everything you need to know about getting a CDL.
A CDL looks a lot like a regular driver’s license. The biggest differences are the driving class designation on the back of the license and the title “Commercial Driver’s License” on the front. You will trade your preexisting driver’s license in for a CDL at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Depending on the type of CDL class you get, i.e., a Class A or Class B CDL, this information will be included on the front of your license. If you have an endorsement on your CDL, such as a hazardous materials or tanker endorsement, this information will also be included on the back of your license.
When you go to the DMV to get a CDL you will have to pay to take at least two CDL exams. There are two exams you have to pass to earn a CDL:
Note that all prices vary from state to state. The knowledge exam costs anywhere from $5 to $15. The road test ranges from $5 to $50. If you take an exam for a CDL endorsement, you can expect to pay approximately $3 to $7 per endorsement exam. These are the types of endorsements you can get for your Class A CDL:
Another fee that you might have to pay is for a commercial learner’s permit. This permit is required for non-CDL holders who are going to go to commercial truck driving school. When you attend truck driving school, you must have this learner’s permit to be allowed to operate a vehicle with a trainer in the cab. The cost for a commercial learner’s permit ranges from $15 to $35.
One way to pass the CDL exams is to attend truck driver training. Every state in the US offers truck driver training either through private schools, community colleges, technical institutes, or trucking company-sponsored training. By going to trucking school you are able to receive the skills and knowledge needed to pass the CDL exam. However, just because you complete truck driver training, this does not guarantee that you will pass the CDL exams.
The cost for truck driving school varies from $1,000 to $5,000. Trucking school applicants may be able to find a trucking school scholarship, tuition reimbursement, or free training. The total time it takes to go to trucking school ranges from one week to eight weeks. There is no guarantee that a shorter or longer training program is any better. Ultimately, the amount of work you put into the training provides you with the best outcome.
A medical examiner’s certificate is, essentially, a clean bill of health that permits you to get a CDL. As a commercial driver, you are responsible for your own safety, as well as for the safety of your equipment, freight, and passenger car drivers around you. For this reason, you must be in good physical shape.
What this means for a truck driver is that you must have good vision and hearing. You must have a healthy blood pressure and your neck circumference cannot be excessive, as this is a sign of sleep apnea. Truck drivers who are diagnosed with sleep apnea, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol will not be permitted to get a CDL. In addition, you cannot be on certain prescription medications that could jeopardize your ability to safely operate a tractor-trailer.
To get a certificate, you must find a DOT certified medical examiner. Doctors, nurse practitioners, chiropractors, and physical therapists around the nation are CME’s. To find a CME near you, check the FMCSA National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. Once you get a DOT medical certificate you will have to present this to the DMV when applying for a CDL. Then you will be responsible for keeping this on you at all times when driving a truck professionally.
You will need to renew your CDL based on the expiration date on your ID. You do not have to retake the CDL exams in order to renew your license. However, you will be required to pass vision and hearing tests, and provide a copy of your DOT medical examiner’s certificate.
When you have your CDL you are ready to get a truck driving job. Here at JiggyJobs, we feature the top paying trucking jobs across the nation. Search for trucking companies hiring near you to begin your trucking career.