How to Get Your CDL Permit?

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If you’re looking to start driving a commercial vehicle, getting your CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) permit is the initial step you need to take. Doesn’t matter whether it is for personal reasons or work-related ones. No matter what the job entails, if you’re aiming to drive a truck or a CMV (Commercial Motor Vehicle), you must first obtain your CDL permit.

However, things get a little complicated as you go by. You must go through multiple different steps to obtain your CDL permit. But no matter what you want to drive, if it falls under heavy machinery, you’re required by the law to attain a CDL.

But why would someone even need a CDL? The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) wants to test your skills, training abilities, and aptitude to guarantee you will safely drive the vehicle. Hence, that prevents anyone from operating heavy machinery without having the right to do so.

In this article, we will discuss how you can get your CDL permit, prepare for it, and the various steps you’re required to follow.

What are the Requirements to Get a CDL Permit?What are the Requirements to Get a CDL Permit?

There are multiple CDL permit requirements. They’re usually the bare minimum ones used as baselines to evaluate whether you’ll be equipped to operate trucks and heavy machinery. The baseline requirements are the same for all three class types (A, B, and C).

Hence, before diving deeper into the different types of classes, let’s go over the main requirements you need for the CDL permit:

  • Age: minimum of 18 years of age to acquire a CDL license, but you must be at least 21 years old if you want to drive across state lines or carry along with hazardous objects.
  • Training:if you aim to obtain a Class A or Class B CDL, you must fully and successfully finish a driver training course*.
  • Driver’s License: the applicant must already have a non-commercial, standard driver’s license that is valid.
  • Proof of Driving:you must already have two years of driving before applying for the CDL license. However, keep in mind that those two years are not valid if you’ve previously acquired a violation. That includes a suspension, traffic violation, DUI, failure to appear in court, or failure to support a child.
  • Criminal Record:CDL drivers cannot have criminal records, and they will be subjected to background checks.
  • Citizenship: ability to prove your citizenship using your birth certificate or your social security card.
  • Medical Examination: you’re asked to submit a full Medical Examination Report Form and a Medical Examiner’s Certificate Form, which includes a vision test and an evaluation of your health conditions.
  • Examination:you must pass a knowledge exam to prove your understanding and your English-speaking abilities.
  • Road Exam:after 14 days, you must pass your road skills and driving examinations.
  • Payment:the very last step is paying the fee for your CDL.

*Note: there is now a training course known as the Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT). Anyone applying for the Class A or Class B permits must successfully complete them. This new law has been instilled by the DMW ever since February 7th, 2022.

3 Different Types of CDLs

3 Different Types of CDLs

Before we explain what each class indicates, let’s discuss a term. GVWR, an abbreviation for Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, is the maximum mass of a vehicle, as noted by the manufacturer. That includes the weight of the vehicle’s body, engine, fuel, accessories, chassis, engine fluids, driver, passengers, and cargo. However, it excludes any additional weight from trailers.

Class A

  • GVWR: 26,001 lbs
    and
  • Towed Vehicle Weight:>10,000 lbs
  • Example:commercial vehicles with trailers or semi-trailers with two or more axles.
  • Additional Requirements:
    • Driver training from FMCSA-approved providers.
    • CDL knowledge test and the Combination Vehicles knowledge test.
    • Bringing your own Class A vehicle on the day of your road skills test.
    • You should apply for a recommended Class A endorsement (an example is double-triple).
  • What You Can Operate: 
    • Truck Trailer Combination
    • Flatbeds
    • Livestock Carriers
    • Tractor Trailor Bus
    • Tractor Trailer

Class B

  • Total Combined Weight: >26,000 lbs
    or
  • Towed Vehicle Weight:<10,000 lbs
  • Example:straight trucks
  • Additional Requirements:
    • Driver training from FMCSA-approved providers.
    • Sitting for and passing the General CDL Knowledge Test.
    • Bringing your own vehicle on the day of the road skills test.
    • You must apply for the necessary endorsements such as tanks & air brakes.
  • What You Can Operate: 
    • Tractor Trailer
    • Box Trucks
    • Segmented Buses
    • Large Passenger Buses
    • Dump Trucks
    • Straight Trucks

Class C

  • Total Number of Passengers: >15 (including the driver himself)
    or
  • Other Reasons for Obtaining Class C: if you’re transporting hazardous materials (ones rated dangerous by the government or law).
  • Example:school buses
  • Additional Requirements:
    • You must pass the CDL Knowledge Test.
    • Ability to bring your own Class C vehicle to the road skills test.
    • You have to apply for the required endorsements, including passenger, Hazmat, and others.
  • What You Can Operate: 
    • Hazmat vehicles
    • Any other vehicle that has not been covered above in Class A or Class B
    • Passenger Vans

How Long Does It Take to Get a CDL Permit?

How Long Does It Take to Get a CDL Permit?

Now that we covered the requirements needed to get your CDL permit, let’s discuss how much time obtaining the CDL permit takes typically. It depends on the processing period of your license and the time you schedule your test. Still, it also depends on which training program you’re going through (if any).

However, it takes 4-7 weeks to get your CDL permit. However, you won’t simply “take” the CDL license as it requires ample amounts of studying, preparing, and learning new information. While some people seem to have a natural knack for driving a truck, it won’t be as straightforward for others.

Hence, it all depends on several factors, which include the following:

  • Type of CDL Class: Class A usually takes a little more time to obtain than the two other options as it requires you to learn how to drive larger vehicles and tow heavier loads.
  • Course/Study Time: depending on the type and length of the course you’re sitting for, it could take you anywhere between 30 hours to 80 hours to successfully complete it.
  • Driving Time: you need time to practice with your specific vehicle with someone who already has a verified CDL license before your driving skills test.
  • Endorsements:endorsements are additional certifications that you can earn (albeit smaller ones) that will help you have more range to work with when it comes to heavy machine driving.
  • Full-time or Part-time: while most trucking schools operate like normal ones, 5 days out of the week, you might be following a night program or an online one that could run a tad bit slower.
  • Automatic Vs.Manual: usually, learning to drive a manual truck is more time-consuming as it is considered to be more complex than the automatic one.
  • Personal Factors: sometimes, you might run into some family problems or simply feel the effect of the course a little more than others.
  • Availability of Tests:depending on the state you’re applying in, you might run into some issues scheduling your tests as they’re often only available in specific places and times.

Keep in mind that after you finish your course instruction, you’d be expected to spend some hours on the course outside learning some fundamental aspects of driving a truck. That could include performing yard chores, backing up in the vehicle, and learning how to parallel park.

Can You Get a CDL License Without Going to School?

Can You Get a CDL License Without Going to School?

Well, to condense a long answer, yes, you could get your CDL license without having to attend any schools or take courses. However, it generally was not a recommended course of action. Most reputable companies expect you to complete at least 160 hours of instruction time.

However, since February 22nd, 2022, you CAN NOT take the CDL license without completing entry-level driver training. You can take a course or training from any provider listed on the Training Provider Registry.

So, why is this new policy added to Class A and Class B licenses? We have already mentioned that most companies will look for a formal training program. Moreover, a training course will provide you with the theoretical aspect needed for the exam and allow you to practice using your own vehicles.

How to Pass the CDL Permit Test?

How to Pass the CDL Permit Test?

The CDL permit test, also known as the commercial learner’s permit (CLP), is an examination that consists of three sections. These all combine into about 100 questions on general knowledge, combination vehicles, and air brakes.

  • General Knowledge: you’ll be asked about driving and transporting material and cargo safety. It consists of 50 questions.
  • Air Brakes:since tractor-trailers and similar vehicles use air brakes, a section of the exam tests you on those systems. It is made up of 25 questions.
  • Combination Vehicles:this section is a little simpler than the other two. It tests you on safe driving and inspections for the tractor-trailers. It is made of 20 questions.

You must correctly answer 80% of the questions on each test to pass it. Moreover, keep in mind that the above sections do not include any additional endorsement tests that you might be required to take.

So, let’s get to the nitty-gritty of it all. Here are our tips and tricks on how to pass the CDL permit test:

  • Obtain your CDL Manual: you’ll have to obtain your CDL manual according to your testing state. Driving-tests.org offers you a list of all the CDL manuals you can receive according to your state.
  • Don’t Study Everything: as the manual can be pretty hectic to go through, don’t study every part of it. Stick to the Class license you’re obtaining, and you won’t have to check endorsements if you’re not attaining one.
  • Understand, Don’t Memorize: while it will be tempting to simply memorize your way through the exam, understanding it will make things easier. Many of the questions make more sense than they would if you learned them.
  • Vary Test Mode: Trucker Country offers three different test modes to prepare you for the actual examination in various methods. These include a classic, practice, and exam mode. Check them out on their official website.
  • Practice Tests: there never was a more effective way of studying than practicing and reviewing older exams. Hence, go through as many practice exams as you can. The driving-tests.org website is a fantastic option, which gives you a practice test according to the state, is the driving-tests.org website.

When Do CDL Permits Expire?

When Do CDL Permits Expire?

CDL permits expire within 6 months of obtaining them. Hence, you’ll have to get another CDL permit test appointment, pay the fee for renewal, and retake the exam.

On the other hand, a commercial driver’s license will last for 5 years without renewing it. However, you’re expected to maintain your license through regular physical checks within those five years.

If you’re wondering what the renewal procedure is in your state, it completely varies. However, the typical period before your license expires is 5 years.

Can You Transfer Your CDL Permit to Another State?

Can You Transfer Your CDL Permit to Another State?

You’re not allowed to transfer your current CDL to another state, as it is actually considered illegal. On the other hand, if you decide to move to another state, you’ll have to transfer your commercial driver’s license to the new state.

However, keep in mind that it is against the law to have two driver’s licenses at the same time in two different states. Hence, once you get your new CDL in the state you moved to, you’re not allowed to use your personal driver’s license or previous CDL.

But how much time do you have until you’re forced to change your CDL license? It totally depends on the type of state you’re going to. The typical amount of time is 30-60 days since you became a resident in the new state.

However, other states give you the space and time to surrender your former CDL only once your old one expires. Either way, you should keep track of the time you state asks for. Otherwise, you might run into trouble if you don’t surrender it during that time.

Wrapping Things Up: How to Get Your CDL Permit?

All in all, getting your CDL license is quite the hassle nowadays. You were once able to obtain it without thorough training. Still, now you’re expected to follow a program if you’re getting Class A or Class B licenses.

Moreover, studying for the examination is not difficult. You only need to get 80% of the answers correct. While that might seem a lot, you have very high chances of passing with flying colors if you earn a good experience. For moderately experienced drivers, the passing rate has been estimated to be around 80%. Hence, simply practice, and you’re good to go!

Professor Conquer
Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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