Get a CDL
The first step to becoming a trucker is to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL), which is required to operate any commercial auto vehicle. To do this, you have to be 18 years old (or 21 if you plan to drive interstate) and pass both a knowledge test and a skills test.
While you can obtain your CDL without going to truck driving school it is widely discouraged and strongly recommended that you attend a company sponsored or private CDL school.
A, B or C? Do you know the class of CDL license you need. Find out your CDL class here.
CDL Knowledge Test
The knowledge exam tests your basic understanding of various rules and provides questions in the form of situation analysis. There are also more specific types of knowledge tests depending on the type of vehicle you hope to operate (e.g. a tanker test is required to drive any commercial vehicle designed to transport liquid in a tank).
Also, note there are a number of free resources online that provide CDL practice tests. Be sure to familiarize yourself with these tests to make sure you are ready when test day comes.
CDL Skills Test
The skills test consists of three components:
- Vehicle Inspection
- Vehicle Control
- On-Road Driving
Keep in mind that while the federal guidelines are the same no matter where you live, each state has its own set of application procedures and training regulations. Please contact your state licensing bureau for details.
Here’s a basic checklist of items you’ll need to apply for a CDL:
- A Social Security Card
- Proof of Age and Identity
- Proof of Residency
- Proof of Insurance
- A valid USDOT medical certificate
To obtain a valid USDOT medical certificate, you must get a physical conducted by a licensed medical examiner listed on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) National Registry. A USDOT exam is valid for up to 24 months.
Your specific state or license may require more or different items, so make sure you check with your state licensing bureau.
There are a few other ways to obtain your CDL. For example, the law allows military members to substitute two years of CMV safe driving experience in military equivalents of commercial motor vehicles, for the skills test portion of the commercial driver license skills test.
Military drivers must apply within one year of separation from active duty, be able to certify certain facts, including: his or her safe driving experience, have never had his/her state license suspended, or have any convictions pertaining to motor vehicles.
Once you’ve received your CDL, you will likely need to get authority to operate, which means you’ll need an MC number and a USDOT number. This typically takes 5-7 weeks but there are companies such as DAT’s TruckersEdge that can expedite the process and file all of the paperwork on your behalf for a fee. This should hopefully “take a load off” and make the process easier.