Pass CDL Driving Skills Test

Logging truck steering wheel

In our previous chapter, we covered the Vehicle Inspection Test, or the Pre-Trip Inspection Test. But that’s just one part of the CDL Skills Test. To get your Commercial Driver’s License, you need to pass every trial.

Here’s a reminder of how the CDL Skills Test break down:

  • CDL Road Test
  • CDL Basic Control Skills Test
  • Pre-Trip Inspection Test (Now called the “Vehicle Inspection Test”)

In this chapter, we’ll cover the CDL Road Test and the Basic Controls Test.  These tests require you to actually get behind the wheel.

The CDL Road Test:

The road test is where the CDL examiner takes you out into the real world of traffic and watches you drive the truck. To put it bluntly, the CDL road test is going to be the most nerve-racking thing that you will do on your path to become a truck driver.

The DOT officer that gives you the test is going to put you under pressure. You may think any added stress is unfair, but that person is looking for one thing: Are you a professional driver that works well under pressure?

Orange traffic cone for CDL driving test
Drivers must be able to handle a big rig.

Their job is to make sure you are comfortable handling an 18-wheeler, weighing up to 80,000 pounds, out driving on the public roads in a variety of situations and all types of weather conditions. 

These officers are going to make sure you can do the job safely, and it’s better to find out sooner rather than later whether or not you’re qualified.

The DOT officers are going to test your skills on two levels: How you handle the truck and your professional attitude.

Both are very important as a professional truck driver. They don’t want to license drivers that are subject to road rage or meltdown when the going gets a little tough. Therefore, they are going to turn up the heat and see how well you can take it.

Quick Tips:

  • Be cool. Don’t panic. Take a deep breath and tell yourself you can do this.
  • Don’t be obnoxious or abrasive towards the DOT officer. Even if you’re nervous!
  • Don’t get locked into staring straight ahead. If you don’t pay attention to your surroundings, you will inevitably fail the CDL Skills Test.
  • Remember to keep your head moving to all the mirrors, not just the ones attached to the doors.
  • Give plenty of warning to motorists when you change lanes or plan to make a turn. Use those turn signals!
  • Never assume other vehicles are looking out for you. Look out for THEM!

For additional tips, we have interviewed a couple of CDL examiners.  You can read those interviews at the following links:  

Automatic Failures

Not all mistakes are automatic failures, but any errors you make related to safety will send you home for the day. Automatic failures are obvious and not so obvious.

The obvious failures are running a red light or getting into an accident. The less obvious failures are hitting the curb, forgetting to use your turn signal, rolling backwards before taking off from a stop, and not checking your mirrors when changing lanes.

If your mistake can be classified as a safety violation, it’s an automatic failure.

Some mistakes you can get away with, like swinging a little too wide. After all, it’s better to swing wide rather than to hit the curb. Loaded trailers tend to blow out tires when they are crushed up against the curb. This can cause damage to the trailer or any nearby vehicles.

If you hit the curb during a test, you fail and go home for the day. Try to keep your swing to a minimum though. Swinging too wide on a regular basis may make the DOT officer think that you don’t know how to judge distance (and they could fail you based on that too).

Another less-severe mistake is missing a shift or grinding gears a little. The officer knows you’re new to this truck driving thing. They  know that being a shifting pro comes with practice. Just don’t constantly grind the gears. Then they may think you don’t know how to shift the truck properly, and once again you may go home for the day.

The CDL Basic Control Skills Test:

You must pass the Pre-Inspection Test, the live Road Test, and the CDL Basic Control Skills Test to get your CDL.

The Basic Control Skills Test is where you do all your backing and parking tests, which includes straight backing, offset backing, alley dock, and parallel parking.

Parking dock
Backing up is an important part of driving a truck.

Straight Backing – This term generally speaks for itself, and backing up straight is the easiest task you are assigned. The officers look for how you set up the truck and ensure you frequently check your mirrors.

Offset Backing – This is where you may need to move over one lane when backing. 

You’re basically moving straight ahead and then angling your trailer over into the next lane.

This only works if you have enough room to pull straight out and then over.

Alley Dock – Most truck stops and almost all factories that you deliver to or pick up from require you to back into a space with other trucks sitting on both sides. You will get a lot of alley dock practice in your career as a truck driver.

The alley dock is all based on setup, and sometimes you have to go in on a 90-degree angle to park the truck or bump the dock.

During the CDL Basic Control Skills Test, you will back up between traffic cones that simulate the trucks at a dock. If you run over a cone, it’s the same as hitting the truck that was sitting there. That means you go home for the day. While you’ll be disappointed if you fail this part, it’s better than calling the insurance company and telling them you just hit a truck in the parking lot!

Parallel Parking – Compared to city driving in a four-wheel car, parallel parking is not used much by truck drivers, but it does come in handy on occasion. If you must make a delivery down a narrow street, you may need to parallel park if the dock is in the back of the building running parallel to the street. This is where this maneuver comes in handy, as you would pull up and parallel into the dock area much like you would parallel park your car.

During the skills test, you are allowed two free pull ups and you can get out and look twice before you start losing points. In the real world, you should “get out and look” as many times as you need to make sure you don’t hit anything.

If You Don’t Pass the CDL Test. . . 

Don’t panic! It’s not the end of the world if you don’t pass the CDL road test on your first try. You can schedule another test soon after. Depending on which state you live, the wait time between tests is different. In some states, you can re-schedule another test as early as the next day. For others, you must wait a week or longer.

Some DOT officers require you to do a minimum of driving hours before you come back and try again. Most states charge you a fee (which also varies by state). You should call your local DMV to find out what it will cost and when to reschedule your driving test.

Other Notes on the CDL Skills Test

Last thing to remember: practice makes perfect. Practice until all your moves become second nature, and you will have no problem passing the test. Be friendly and talk a little to the officer. Ask questions if you don’t understand what they want you to do. Never assume.

Once you pass this test, you finally get your CDL! Read our next chapter to learn what’s next.


About The Author
Contributor: Franklin Thompson (10+ experience in OTR truck driving, training, and technical writing).

Expert Review: Luke Nold (Experienced truck driver for 5+ years and published writer for Fleet Magazine).