Trucking is a lucrative career that’s only possible with a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). The steps to getting your CDL is similar to getting a driver’s license, but it opens the door to a wide range of job possibilities.
Nearly 2 million drivers in the U.S. have their CDL. If you love the idea of life on the open road, check out these 7 essential steps to getting your CDL.
1. Why Trucking?
The first step in getting your CDL is to understand what it is and what it isn’t. A commercial driver’s license gives you the authority to operate large trucks and machinery.
It’s permission to follow state and federal transportation regulations since you’ve proven you understand the responsibility. It isn’t a premium version of a driver’s license that offers more perks to drivers.
You’re actually subject to more scrutiny with a CDL than with a normal driver’s license. Consider whether trucking, with all it’s regulations is right for you.
You might like to take road trips with your friends, but driving a truck on a tight schedule to meet a customer deadline is a wholly different animal.
Trucking isn’t a leisure activity. Even thought you’re driving long distances, you can’t lose your focus on drivers around you. Cars make sudden moves around trucks that can be fatal for everyone driving around you.
On a road trip, you can get lost in the monotony of the trip and coast along. This isn’t possible with a truck.
Along with these considerations, you must meet the following requirements in order to drive a heavy duty truck:
- Be 21 years of age.
- Be literate.
- Have held your current driver’s license for at least 2 years.
- Pass a Department of Transportation medical exam
- Pass a Department of Transportation drug test
- Maintain a good driving record
- Have verifiable work history
If you meet all these requirements and are ok with being away from home from long stretches of time, a CDL might be right for you. Keep in mind that you’ll also be working independently without direct supervision.
This means you’re own your own for any mistakes you make. Under tight deadlines, it means you need top notch time management skills.
2. Apply for CLP
The next step in the process is to apply for a CDL. You’ll read statements and answer questions to make sure you understand the program.
Here’s general information you’ll need to apply for a CDL:
- Social Security Number
- Date of Birth
- Address History
- Employment History
- Accident History
- Motor Vehicle Record
- Personal References
The application process is fairly straightforward and doesn’t require a large fee to complete.
3. Study for the CLP
Drivers don’t simply apply for a CDL, take a test and wait for it to come in the mail. There’s a credential ahead of getting your CDL called a CLP, or commercial learner’s permit.
The commercial learning permit includes three written tests at the local DMV. You’ll need to study well for this test to remember all the regulations included.
Studying now makes it easier down the road when you go for your CDL.
4. Pass a DOT Physical
A department of transportation medical exam is required to get approval for your CDL application to be approved. The medical examination includes a physical and drug test.
It’s a standard physical where you discuss things like preexisting medical conditions, injuries and prior surgeries. Make sure you follow the instructions carefully in this area.
Medical history is one of the top ways the DOT keeps you and other drivers safe on the road. If you’re high risk for heart attacks, for example, you might not be eligible to operate heavy trucks.
The impact of a driver having a sudden heart attack on the road could be tremendous. You’ll also be asked about any medications you’re taking.
These medications shouldn’t cause things like drowsiness or impaired reactions. The DOT wants both past and present medical information.
Everything on your medical exam must be true and accurate. A urine and hair follicle test is required. At the end of your physical, you’ll get a medical examiner’s certificate.
5. Interview Process
If you’re going through the CDL process under a company, this is the point in the process where you’ll be interviewed. The initial application helps companies weed out serious drivers from rest.
Take the interview process seriously because it helps companies like LTL trucking decide whether you’re a strong candidate for the heavy demands of the job.
6. Pass CLP Test
The next phase is to pass the CLP exam. If you’ve studied well, you should have no issues passing the test on the first try.
Many truck driving schools promise drivers they can pass on the first time using their study methods. But there are many methods to study for the test.
The most important traits you need to pass are determination and commitment. Regular studying will almost guarantee you’ll pass the test and move on to the next step.
7. Pass CDL Road Skills Exam
After 14 days with your CLP, you’re eligible to schedule a CDL road skills exam. A CDL road skills exam starts with a pretrip inspection.
CDL candidates use their own vehicles to take the test. Once you pass, pay the fees required.
You might also need to submit a 10 year record check if it was in a state other than where you are applying now.
Getting Your CDL
One important thing to note about getting a CDL is that it’s not a permanent thing. You’ll need to renew your license reguarly with new medical exams and drug tests.
As long as you’re an active truck driver, updated medical exams are required. For more information and tips, visit our blog for updates.