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CDL License Requirements

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Commercial driving is one of the most integral industries in the United States today with nearly 3.5 million professional drivers nationwide. With the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) continually implementing regulatory and process changes to give motorists a safer experience on the road, truck drivers are some of the most safety-oriented professionals out there. But that reputation doesn’t come without extensive training and going through the process of acquiring one’s Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).

Along with the National Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Transportation Safety Authority (TSA), FMCSA provides the overarching framework for the federal regulations governing safety, licensing, and professional development for professional truck drivers. Although this federal administration sets the main laws of the land, each state will have its own variations as to how these regulations and requirements will be implemented.

CDL License Salary Information

Based on information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers varies from state to state but is expected to grow 5% between now and 2024. Still, however, the number of heavy trucks on the road has not matched prerecession levels, so the demand for truck drivers is expected to remain strong, especially in the oil and gas industry.

IndustryEmploymentPercent of Industry EmploymentHourly Mean WageAnnual Mean Wage
General Freight Trucking602,94061.14$20.99$43,660
Specialized Freight Trucking245,70053.82$20.58$42,810
Grocery and Related Product Merchant Wholesalers65,1508.81$22.40$46,590
Cement and Concrete Product Manufacturing55,97030.13$18.96$39,430
Other Specialty Trade Contractors41,1706.65$19.26$40,060

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2015

 

CDL Requirements By State

States with the Highest Levels of Employment for CDL Holders

StateEmploymentEmployment per Thousand JobsLocation QuotientHourly Mean WageAnnual Mean Wage
Texas181,64015.701.29$19.85$41,300
California129,1708.340.68$21.17$44,030
Pennsylvania76,96013.481.11$21.08$43,840
Florida72,2809.120.75$18.19$37,830
Ohio71,71013.581.12$20.56$42,760

Top Paying States For CDL Holders

StateEmploymentEmployment per Thousand JobsLocation QuotientHourly Mean WageAnnual Mean Wage
North Dakota16,45036.723.02$25.67$53,400
Alaska2,6107.980.66$25.34$52,700
District of Columbia4800.710.06$23.65$49,190
Massachusetts24,0307.070.58$23.60$49,090
Wyoming7,02024.722.03$23.50$48,890

Basic CDL Requirements

As mentioned, the requirements for receiving a CDL in each state will vary according to how the FMCSA’s regulations have been applied. Despite these differences, the main things to consider when thinking about training for your CDL include:

  • Personal Identification / Proof Citizenship
  • Meeting Health Standards
  • Language Requirements
  • Written Tests
  • Practical / Road Tests
  • Age Restrictions (State-Specific)

Applying For a CDL License

Beginning the application process relies on first having a valid non-commercial driver’s license. Having this personal license shows that you already understand the fundamental aspects of signage, road safety, and vehicle operation. Beyond this, your training will rely on the type of license you’ll ultimately be applying for. In most states, applicants must be at least 18 years old with 1-2 years of personal driving experience. Driving interstate, and transporting hazardous materials or waste requires an individual to be at least 21 years old.

To start, you’ll need at least several of the following:

  • A personal driver’s license (Class D, Class DL, or Class E)
  • Your Social Security Card
  • Birth Certificate
  • Valid Passport
  • A Green Card

CDL drivers must also speak English proficiently enough to communicate verbally, read and understand traffic signs, fill out documents, and respond to official inquiries, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (Section 391.11).

Applicants who are accepted into their respective training programs will then be allowed to book and pay for their state-specific CDL Test of Knowledge. This written test will then be followed by the appropriate CDL Road Skills Test.

Keep in mind that applicants may also be required to take additional tests for skill set endorsements or special conditions they may experience while driving professionally. These written tests may include, but are not limited to the following conditions:

  • Passenger Transport
  • Air Brake
  • Combination Vehicles (tractor-trailer)
  • Hazardous Materials
  • Double or Triple Trailers
  • Tanker Vehicles

Types of CDL Licenses

Now, in addition to the knowledge you can acquire through various courses and your standard training, there are also several different CDL class types to be aware of. Most of these license types overlap pending any special conditions and state-specific restrictions.

CDL Class A

With a Class A CDL, drivers can operate vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Weight (GVWR) of more than 26,000 pounds and a rear portion, or trailer weighing more than 10,000 pounds. Drivers with a Class A license usually have a lot of flexibility as to what type of other vehicles they can operate, including Class B and C commercial vehicles. The only thing to consider is what special endorsements or restrictions may apply to these other vehicle types in your state. For truckers looking to drive on interstate highways, a Class A CDL is the standard.

CDL Class B

Getting a Class B License will allow drivers to operate commercial vehicles with a GVWR of 26,000 pounds, although the towed portion must weigh less than 10,000 pounds. For drivers who specialize in intrastate “short hauls” or “commercial deliveries,” a Class B CDL is an adequate license type. This type of license will also allow drivers to operate Class C vehicles, pending any additional endorsements or training requirements.

CDL Class C

A Class C CDL essentially covers the remaining types of commercial vehicles, which fall within the framework set by the FMCSA. This licensing applies specifically to vehicles designed to transport more than 15 people, and those that are placarded against hazardous materials, waste, toxins, and other select agents. For drivers operating under a Class C license, each individual is held responsible for making sure they have the necessary endorsements on their CDL. Additionally, the tonnage of the vehicle during transport is what will be used to determine class and how closely someone is adhering to the FMCSA’s regulations.

Types Beyond a CDL

Of course, a CDL will not cover all of the many types of vehicles out there — those designed for military, emergency, construction, funeral services, food delivery, agricultural or recreational purposes are not likely to fall under a commercial licensing. Again, this is something that each individual state works with the FMCSA to agree on.

CDL Restrictions

The CDL restriction system allows law enforcement and licensing clerks to quickly learn about any particular driver and their technical ability to be operating any given vehicle. Although each state has its own set of restrictions and additional codes, the following restrictions apply to every state on a federal level:

Restriction CodeDescription
LIndicates the driver did not pass the Air Brakes Knowledge Test, or cannot correctly identify air brake system components. May also indicate a failure to conduct an air brake systems check, or even that they had not taken the Skills Test in a vehicle with a full air brake system.
ZThis means a driver has taken the test in a vehicle with an air over hydraulic brake system, resulting in their inability to operate a CMV equipped with full air brakes.
EDrivers who take their Skills Test in a vehicle with an automatic transmission will have an “E” placed on their license indicating that they are not legally able to operate a manual transmission CMV.
OIf the driver takes the Skills Test in a Class A vehicle with a pintle hook or other non-fifth wheel connection, an “O” restriction will be placed on their CDL indicating they cannot operate a vehicle with a fifth wheel connection.
MFor drivers with a Class A CDL who have obtained a passenger or school bus endorsement in a Class B vehicle, the State must place an “M” restriction to indicate that the driver may only operate Class B and C passenger vehicles or school buses.
NFor drivers with a Class B CDL who have obtained a passenger or school bus endorsement in a Class C vehicle, the State must place an “N” restriction to indicate that the driver may only operate Class C passenger vehicles or school buses.
VIf a medical variance has been issued to a driver on the CDLIS driving record, the FMCSA will notify the State to document the variance by placing a “V” on their CDL. This indicates that information about this variance is available on the CDLIS record.
 

CDL Endorsements

Like the CDL restriction system, the endorsement system allows state troopers, police, and other official licensing bodies to quickly evaluate the skills and abilities of any given commercial driver. Even though states can create additional endorsements, there are several federal endorsements that function the same way on a national scale:

Endorsement CodeDescription
TDouble / Triple Trailers (Knowledge Test Only)
PPassenger (Knowledge and Skills Test)
NTanker vehicle (Knowledge test only)
HHazardous Materials (Knowledge Test Only)
XCombination of tank vehicle and hazardous materials endorsements (Knowledge test only)
SSchool Bus (Knowledge and Skills Test)

Frequently Asked Questions About Your CDL

How much does a CDL cost?

Costs will vary depending on the way you go about receiving your training and education. The main options include private truck training schools, public technical schools, and even company-sponsored CDL training. With formal training programs through a college, the costs can be anywhere between $1,000-$7,000 dollars. Any additional courses for endorsements will add to these costs. You’ll also have to consider the costs of renting a truck for your test, an average of $150. 

Are there any financial aids available to people looking to become commercial drivers?

Yes, there are several different options! For those looking to help pay for trucking school, there are scholarships, grants, and loans that are specifically designed for this purpose. A common place to start is by applying for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which works for technical schools, colleges, and CDL schools with the right requirements. Eligibility for FAFSA also determines whether you are able to receive the Pell grant for CDL schools lasting a minimum of 24 weeks. Consider finding a company-sponsored training program as well – some may actually pay you to get your certification!

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