Interested In Driving Commercial Vehicles? What You Need To Know About Obtaining Your CDL And Jumpstarting Your New Career

Finding a full-time job that offers flexibility and good pay if you do not have a college education or specialized skills can be a challenge. However, there are some occupations such as commercial truck driving that provide a more than decent salary, great benefits, and the ability to set your own schedule. You can even take on commercial driving as a part-time occupation to help supplement your income and build your savings.

In order to become a commercial driver, you need to first obtain your commercial driver's license (CDL). The following guide can help you embark on your journey to earning your license and starting your career as a commercial driver.

Meet the Minimum Qualifications

To become a fully licensed commercial driver, you must meet state and federal requirements including a minimum age and no criminal convictions. In some states, the minimum age to drive a commercial vehicle within the state is 18, but it's 21 to transport materials across state lines.

You must also be in good health. After your training, when you apply for a CDL with your state licensing agency, you need to provide a medical examiner's certificate from a physician to verify your health status. In addition, you must have a clean driving record, with no major traffic violations, in order to apply for a CDL.

Obtain the Proper Training

You can obtain the training you need to learn how to drive large trucks used for commercial deliveries at trade schools, such as Center For Transportation Safety. Many programs offer flexible schedules so you can obtain your training around your full-time work schedule.

Trade schools will provide comprehensive classroom and practical training that includes the following subject matter:

  • Commercial driving laws for your state
  • Federal regulations for commercial drivers
  • Basic driving skills for large trucks
  • Operating vehicles with air breaks
  • Managing combination vehicles
  • Driving vehicles with hazardous materials and tanks
  • Managing hazardous conditions, inclement weather, and bad traffic
  • Conducting pre- and post-trip vehicle inspections
  • Maintaining federally-mandated service logs

During your training, you should be able obtain a commercial learner's permit (CLP) so you can practice driving on the road with a qualified CDL driver sitting next to you.

Studying and Getting Your License

Your trade school training will include practicing for your licensing exam. However, you should also complete practice tests on your own. You can purchase written practice exams or sign up for online practice tests.

When you finish your training, you need to decide what class of license you want to apply for. There are three classes of CDLs based on the weight and type of truck or bus you want to drive.

Surveying the Job Market and Enhancing Your Prospects

One of the advantages of becoming a commercial driver is that the job market for CDL holders is stable with average growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that more truck drivers will be needed in the future, at least until 2024, as the demand for goods rises and transportation companies invest in new trucks.

If you want to enhance your job prospects and increase your salary, you can also apply for special endorsements to your CDL.

These special endorsements include driving the following types of vehicles:

  • Hazardous waste trucks
  • Tank trucks
  • School buses
  • Double and triple trailers
  • Large passenger vans and buses

Some states have additional endorsements that you can apply for or additional restrictions on CDLs.

As with any type of driver's license, you will need to renew your CDL every few years. Your state will set the time limit for your CDL renewal. You may also be mandated to re-take an exam or complete other requirements to renew your CDL special endorsements.