What is a CDL License?
CDL stands for Commercial Driver’s License. A commercial driver’s license (CDL) is a driver’s license required to operate large, heavy, or placarded hazardous material vehicles in the United States in commerce. There are a few different types of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) that require a driver to hold a valid CDL. The driver may be required to obtain one or more special endorsements, such as Air Brakes, Hazmat, Tankers or Passenger Vehicles, in order to drive a truck with double or triple trailers, a truck with a tank, a truck carrying hazardous materials, or a passenger vehicle. Each types of CDL and endorsement requires you pass a skills test and in some cases a written test.
Getting a CDL License Overview
All license classes (A, B, and C) have the same basic requirements. However, there are additional items for each license class – those requirements are outlined in their respective sections.
- Steps required to get a CDL license
- Medical forms you’ll need
- How to get a Class A license
- How to get a Class B license
- How to get a Class C license
- Things you DON’T need
Steps Required to Get a CDL License in 2020
- Be at least 21 years of age (18 to 20 years of age to drive intrastate)
- Submit your state’s CDL Application and pay the appropriate fee
- Provide identity and social security number verification (check your state’s requirements)
- Provide proof of state and US residency
- Submit a completed Medical Examination Report Form and Medical Examiner’s Certificate Form
- Pass a vision test
- Pass a knowledge exam
- After passing, be issued a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP)
- Wait a minimum of 14 days before you can schedule your CDL road skills examination
- Pass a pre-trip inspection
- Pass the road skills and driving examination (you must bring your own vehicle)
- After passing, pay the necessary fees for your new CDL (Optionally, submit a 10 Year Record Check, if you’ve had a driver’s license in any state or jurisdiction other than the one where you are applying for your CDL)
Getting your commercial driver’s license makes you part of an industry that moves the lifeblood of the US economy. While everyone sees trucks on the road, they don’t realize those trucks are moving 70% of the freight in the United States – freight accounting for over $670 billion, more than the yearly income of the entire country of Switzerland!
The average American requires the movement of 57 tons of cargo per year for everyday activities, as a result, trucks are being loaded all around the country
While there are different types of commercial drivers license and some requirements vary by state, many requirements are universal, and some are even federally mandated.
For example, it is a federal law that you must be 21 years of age or older to drive commercially interstate. However, many states will issue a CDL strictly for intrastate driving for those who are 18 or older; check your state’s regulations. When you are completely prepared to apply for your CDL, and you’ve filled out your state’s CDL application, you’ll need to provide proof of the following:
- your social security number,
- your identity, and
- your residency.
Documents accepted as proof of your social security number by most states usually include your social security card, a Medicare ID card, a current ID card from any of the US Armed Forces (active, retired, reserve, or dependent), or a military separation document, otherwise known as a DD-214. Some states may accept some other forms of social security number proof, so check before you go.
The list of documents accepts as proof of your identity varies even more by state. Some of the most commonly accepted include a US birth certificate or certified copy of said certificate, valid US passport, USCIS American Indian Card, valid military ID card, certificate of either Citizenship or Naturalization, Permanent Resident Card, or Temporary Resident ID Card. In all likelihood, your state probably accepts several other documents as proof of identity, so it’s best to check your state CDL manual or DMV website for the latest information.
Proof of residency requirements will vary by state as well. You may only need to provide a copy of a single utility bill for some states, such as Alabama, while others like California may require two or three different documents from a list of up to eighteen different options, and the address on the documents must match the address on your CDL application. Again, it’s best to check your state’s DMV website before you go to avoid any problems.
In addition to providing proof of your given name, birth date, state of residency, age, and social security number, providing proof that you’re medically able to drive commercially is part of how to get your CDL license. The easiest portion of this process consists of a vision exam, which you will take with the rest of your CDL exams, but the more in-depth portion involves submitting required medical reports. Due to a new law, after 2020, whether you drive intrastate or interstate, you must supply two forms to your state commercial driver’s licensing agency: the Medical Examination Report Form (MCSA-5875) and the Medical Examiner’s Certificate Form (MCSA-5876). If you are going to drive interstate, you must use a medical examiner listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners to fill out your forms. If these forms are required part of your job, then your employer must pay for them.
There are more than 55,000 certified medical examiners, make sure you use services of one of them
Once you have provided all necessary paperwork, you must pass your exams. All applicants for CDLs must pass a vision exam as well as a knowledge exam. Once you pass these, you will receive your commercial learner’s permit (CLP). The Code of Federal Regulations states that you must have your CLP for a minimum of 14 days before you can take your road skills test, and the maximum amount of time you can hold a CLP is 180 days. NOTE: THIS MAY CHANGE SOON. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is currently considering extending this to 365 days. This change would save many people CLP renewal fees.
Forms You’ll Need: Medical Examination Report and Medical Examiner’s Certificate
Medical Examination Report (MER) Form, MCSA-5875
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires that all interstate commercial motor vehicle drivers maintain a current Medical Examiner’s Certificate (MEC), Form MCSA-5876 to drive. As part of the physical, drivers are required to fill out the medical history portion of the Medical Examination Report (MER) Form, MCSA-5875.
Download it here.
Medical Examiner’s Certificate (MEC), Form MCSA-5876
If the Medical Examiner determines that the driver examined is physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle in accordance with the physical qualification standards, the Medical Examiner will complete and provide the driver with a Medical Examiner’s Certificate (MEC), Form MCSA-5876. The Medical Examiner will keep a copy of the Medical Examiner’s Certificate (MEC), Form MCSA-5876 on file for at least 3 years.
Download it here.
So once you know how to get a CDL license in 2020, how do you determine which license class is right for you? States have tried to make it as simple as possible.
How to Get a Class A License
- everything to get a normal CDL
- pass general CDL knowledge test
- bring a class A vehicle to your road skills test
- apply for recommended class A endorsements (double-triple, combinations, etc.)
You need to get a Class A License if you are driving a combination of vehicles with a weight of over 26,000 pounds, and the vehicle that is being towed is over 10,000 pounds. For many states, this would include commercial vehicles that have trailers or semi-trailers with two or more axles.
Class A License is the most comprehensive commercial driver’s license you can get, it allows you to operate a truck with double and triple trailers used by top trucking companies
In order to get a Class A license, you need to do everything previously discussed and depending on your particular vehicle, you may need to take extra endorsement exams. Firstly, you need to bring a class A vehicle to your driving skills test. You may want or need to take the double-triple endorsement exam, which allows you to drive with double and triple trailers, and the combinations endorsement exam. In some states, these exams are only allowed with a Class A license. If your vehicle has air brakes, you’ll also need to take the air brakes endorsement test. Once you’ve filled out all the relevant paperwork, filed all necessary documentation, passed your written and driving tests, you’ll have your new class A commercial driver’s license!
How to Get a Class B License
- everything to get a normal CDL
- pass general CDL knowledge test
- bring a class B vehicle to your road skills test
- apply for any necessary class B endorsements (air brakes, tanks, etc.)
A Class B license is necessary if you are going to drive a single vehicle that is over 26,000 pounds, and the GVWR of any vehicle being towed is under 10,000 pounds. Because the majority of the weight is in a single vehicle with a class B license, you do not need either the double-triple endorsement or combination endorsement. However, if you are driving a tank vehicle or one with air brakes, you will need to get endorsements for those.
To drive a refuse truck you’ll also need an air brakes endorsement in most states
The key to getting on the road with your new class B license is just ticking off the boxes: complete the paperwork, file your medical documents, pass all your exams with flying colors, pay your fees, and that’s it.
How to Get a Class C License
- follow the steps to get a CDL
- pass general CDL knowledge test
- bring a class C vehicle to your road skills test
- apply for the necessary endorsement (passenger, school bus, Hazmat, etc.)
If you’re going to drive a vehicle for transporting more than 16 passengers or hazardous materials, then you need a class C license. The process of how to get a class C license is very similar to the class A or class B licenses though it depends on which type of vehicle you will be driving. The one way in which the class C license is unique is that you must apply for some endorsements with it. If you are just transporting passengers, you will need the passenger transport endorsement. For driving a school bus, you’ll need the school bus driver endorsement.
A school bus endorsement requires you to be able to load kids, operate the lights, stop signs, and other devices on the bus
For hazardous materials transporting, you’ll need the Hazmat endorsement. For hazardous materials, you will also need to undergo additional state and/or TSA background checks. Your state may also have additional safety checks for school bus drivers, which should on the state DMV website. As long as you complete and turn in your paperwork and all medical documents, take and pass all necessary tests, pay all required fees, and go through any security checks, you’ll soon have your new CDL class C license.
Things You Don’t Need
Don’t pay money for what you don’t need
First, unfortunately, one of the biggest pieces of misinformation out about how to get your commercial driver’s license is that you must go to truck driving school. We’ve even seen it printed on the website for a large national trucking firm. It is NOT a federal law or requirement that you attend a truck driving school or any formal education to get your CDL. While you need to practice with a licensed driver once you get your commercial learner’s permit, in order to prepare for your road skills test, it is not required that said licensed driver be at a trucking school. Driving practice requirements may vary by state, though, so check to make sure, but DO NOT commit to spending money on something that is not required by most, or any, states. Second, you do not need to pay for your state’s CDL manual. Some websites offer to sell it to you, which is very unethical when it is free on your state’s CDL licensing website and free right here, either to read or to download and print. If you check your state’s DMV page, they may also list locations where you can get it in print free. Lastly, there are numerous sites trying to charge for practice tests, which we find ridiculous since there are plenty of high-quality free CDL practice tests. Your state’s DMV probably offers some, and you may find them in your state CDL manual. You can also find plenty of completely FREE CDL practice tests here that do not require any personal information, sign in, or any payment or commitment of any type.
Test prepration made easy- just choose your state and proceed (free CDL tests)
The most important factor in how to get a CDL license is not money – it’s your time and determination.