What Is a CDL?
A CDL is a Commercial Driver’s License and is a requirement to operate certain commercial motor vehicles. If you were the kid playing with toy cars and trucks and now you want to make that into an adulthood reality, the CDL is what you need. This all-powerful license lets you become a truck driver and deliver packages for FedEx or hit the open road and drive a tanker cross-country.
If you are planning on driving any vehicle that falls in the following list, you need to get a Commercial Driver’s License and fit the CDL requirements:
- A gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 lbs. or more, to include a towed vehicle that is heavier than 10,000 lbs. (tractor-trailers, flatbeds, and tankers)
- A single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 lbs. or heavier and/or any vehicle as described above that is towing another vehicle weighing up to 10,000 lbs. (delivery box trucks, straight trucks, and large buses)
- At least 16 passengers (including you the driver) or Hazardous material (HAZMAT) as laid out by federal guidelines
There are some exceptions that don’t require a commercial driver’s license, for instance: farm equipment operators, emergency medical, and workers removing snow and ice, among others.
There are also vehicles that require specific endorsements to drive. These endorsements, added onto your CDL let you drive such as vehicles containing hazardous materials or a school bus.
If you have a specific driving job that you’ve been dreaming about, be sure to take the time to research what license and endorsements you need.
What Are the CDL Requirements?
Now that you know you need your Commercial Driver’s License to begin your truck-driving journey, it’s important to make sure you fit all of the prerequisites. Truck driving is subject to rigorous regulation to keep the roads safe for both truckers and the four-wheelers that share the pavement. These CDL requirements may seem onerous at first, but an 80,000 pound truck can pose a lot of danger if it’s not handled correctly.
Stipulations for CDL vary by state, but there are basic CDL requirements mandated by the federal government. In order to obtain your CDL, you must be at least 21 years old to drive interstate and have no disqualifying felonies. Your driving record will be checked, back at least 10 years. Additionally, many schools and companies will want at least one full year of clean driving with a regular license, so it’s unlikely you will be able to go from no license at all to a CDL.
Aspiring truck drivers need to have a firm grasp of English, both written and spoken. It’s essential that you can read road signs and communicate with the general public. There aren’t federal requirements for education level, but most companies want a high school diploma or equivalent before they hire you.
You also need to be medically qualified according to the Department of Transportation. This includes:
- Vision: Your eyesight must be at least 20/40, and you have to be able to distinguish color.
- Hearing: You must be able to hear a forced whisper from at least five feet away, or take an audiometric test which shows no hearing loss greater than 40 decibels at 500 Hz, 1,000 Hz, and 2,000 Hz. Hearing aids are allowed, but you will be required to wear them at all times while driving.
- Blood Pressure: The maximum allowable blood pressure is 160/100. It’s acceptable to use medication to lower your blood pressure.
- Diabetes: Diabetics are not permitted to drive trucks if the illness is controlled through insulin injections, but they are permitted if it’s controlled through diet and/or medication. Maximum blood sugar is 200.
- Cardiovascular issues: Drivers must submit to a stress test and provide a doctor’s note that you can drive a commercial motor vehicle with no restrictions.
You then need to carry your DOT medical certificate/physical card with you. Your DOT medical card is then valid for two years if you pass all of the standards.
Lastly, effective as of May 10, 2017, you need to provide proof of U.S. citizenship/lawful permanent residency/legal presence as well as proof of residency (domicile).
There are also factors that can disqualify you from getting your CDL or prohibit you from using your CDL for at least one year (first offense), if you already have it.
- Driving a commercial motor vehicle with a BAC of .04 or over. If you are found to have a BAC over zero but under .04, you will be restricted from driving for 24 hours.
- Driving a commercial motor vehicle OR your personal vehicle under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance.
- Refusing breath or blood alcohol testing in your commercial motor vehicle OR personal vehicle.
- Leaving the scene of an accident.
- Committing a felony involving the use of a motor vehicle
- Driving a commercial motor vehicle with a suspended, revoked, cancelled, or disqualified license.
- Causing a fatality through negligence while operating a commercial motor vehicle.
- Driving a commercial motor vehicle while in possession of a controlled substance.
A second offense or using a commercial motor vehicle to commit a felony causes a loss of your CDL for life. There are even more serious consequences if you are driving a commercial motor vehicle with hazardous materials. Truck driving is a challenging and demanding job so be safe, be responsible, and be smart.
Aspiring truck drivers should read through this section to make sure that they fit the CDL requirements. Those who don’t meet these standards will not be allowed to drive a truck for a living. (NOTE: If you’re unsure that you fit the medical requirements, skip ahead to Step 5 in order to take your DOT Physical!)
After reading through this list and confirming that you are fit and ready to get a CDL, the next step is to decide which CDL classification you need to get the truck driving job of your choice. Read the next section to learn the three different classes of CDL and get our recommendation for which CDL class you should target.