How Do You Get a CDL?
Nobody is born with the ability to control an 80,000 pound truck. Not even a standard driver’s license is enough to qualify you for the difficulties of handling and backing up this enormous vehicle. To learn how, you need training, usually at a trucking school.
Fortunately, there are a few different paths to attend school and get your CDL. It usually takes 4-6 weeks to get your commercial drivers’ license, but this depends on your own schedule and the options you choose.
Going to trucking school is the most common way to get your CDL. You have two options:
- Private trucking schools
- Company-sponsored CDL training
Attending a private truck driving school is a great way to get your CDL. These CDL training facilities offer focused education with one goal: get you a license to drive a truck.
Trucking schools will usually work with your schedule and provide flexibility with your training. For many schools, you work at your own pace and can take the road test as soon as you are ready.
Most trucking schools even give you a guarantee that once you finish the training, you will get your commercial driver’s license or you can take the program again.
Once you have completed your training at a private trucking school, you have the ability to choose which company you would like to work for.
Your other option for school is company-sponsored CDL training.
If you can’t afford the full cost of private trucking schools, many trucking companies offer free CDL training. In exchange for this training, you sign a contract to work with them after you receive your CDL. This contract usually locks you in for one year.
The good part of this arrangement is that you get “free” training and are guaranteed a job. The negative is that you do not have a choice as to which company you would like to work for immediately after you graduate training.
Some of the following companies offer company-sponsored training:
- Stevens Transport
- CRST International
- Knight Transportation
- Millis Training Institute
- C.R. England
- Prime Inc.
- PAM Transport
- USA Truck
- Schneider National
- Celadon Trucking
- Werner Express
Trade schools are a less common way to get your CDL. Since these schools are like universities, their programs usually take longer to complete, and they may cost more too.
There aren’t any particular benefits to going to a trade school over the other two options, though you may be able to pay for it with a Coverdell ESA or 529 Funds. These are specific tax-advantaged savings programs, but if you haven’t already been saving up, then your best bet is with a company-sponsored program.
Finding a school may take some digging, but there are a few community colleges that offer commercial truck driver training. For many of these programs within community colleges, you don’t need to be enrolled in the college to attend CDL training. Some programs may even offer funding assistance or job placement assistance.
Community colleges have a few benefits over traditional trucking schools. You may qualify for more conventional financial aid for a community college. If you prefer learning in a class room environment, community colleges may be best for you. Additionally, night classes may be available for your schedule.
Getting a CDL on Your Own
Yes, you can get a CDL without proper training. Essentially, you are doing this on your own. It’s free. And we don’t recommend it.
“Why not?” you may ask. Free is good, so why not get trained all on your own? The answer is simple: You will have a difficult time finding a company to hire you.
Here’s why: When you drive for a trucking company, that company covers you with their insurance. They want to ensure that you have been properly trained. If you have not received training from professionals, companies have no indication that you have been trained properly or that you have the proper knowledge. Without a certificate of schooling, insuring you as a driver becomes too expensive, and companies always go with the cheaper option.
With all of that being said, you can obtain a commercial driver’s license without attending a school or participating in a training program. You can pick up books at your local DMV to study.
You can also search for useful information on the Internet. Once you’re prepared, you can take the test and obtain a permit.
After you have passed the written test, you need to rent or borrow a truck to practice. You should then get a professional commercial truck driver to train you.
This person can teach you about driving as well as the truck itself because you need knowledge of both to pass the CDL test.
If you decide to learn on your own, it’s essential that you feel comfortable behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle.
While this path is possible, we still recommend that you attend a school or training program of some type. In addition to classroom time, you get real hands-on training with professional trainer, and trucking companies are more likely to hire you.
What If I Was a Military Truck Driver?
Veterans make great truck drivers. If you drove trucks in the military, you may be able to receive your CDL without school and still get hired.
For military truck drivers, there is a Military Skills Test Waiver Program that you may be eligible for. If you have two years of experience with driving and operating trucks or other vehicles comparable to that of civilian commercial vehicles, your prior experience can substitute for the skills portion of the commercial driver’s license test.
In order to qualify for this skills waiver, military truck drivers must apply within one year of separation from active duty.
Veterans should complete the Military Skills Test Waiver form, apply for the CDL, and pass the written exam.
Drivers that qualify for the waiver save both money and time by not attending trucking school.
There’s one catch. If you drove automatic vehicles in the military, you should still learn and train on a manual transmission. Companies want you to know stick shift. This will provide greater flexibility for you and for the company that hires you.
What Do I Need for My CDL?
There are a few basic things that you need to have prior to getting your CDL. Make sure to bring your private driver’s license with you to the exam. You also need a Social Security card and possibly a Birth Certificate so that you can prove your citizenship and identity.
You may also need copies of your Motor Vehicle Record (MVR), which you can order at the DMV or request it online. Sometimes the DMV can check this information for you when you go to get your test, but you need to call your licensing office ahead of time to ask if you need to bring your driving record with you.
How you choose to get your CDL has implications for your future career and your safety behind the wheel. Once you have decided your route, your next step is to ensure you are physically capable. For that, you need to get a DOT physical examination.