Complete Guide: Learn All About New CDL Requirements

The trucking industry has a lot to offer. Some even say it is reminiscent of the old American frontier, perhaps even the days of the cowboy. But instead of horse and saddle you have a truck and trailer. A truck driver is free to roam the open road, traveling from one destination to the next.

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Much like the saddle was once the office, so now the truck serves that same purpose. But just like it took more than a ten gallon hat and fancy spurs to be a real cowboy, it takes more than a truck and trailer to be a real trucker.

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Along with a lot of practice, self discipline, and the ability to get the job done, there are other requirements as well. It takes training and proper licensing. Many companies offer training schools some even promise employment at the end of the course. But remember you must obtain a proper Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), and the proper endorsements for the load you are hauling.

Just like any industry, there are federal guidelines and state level licensing requirements. But also most companies have additional policies in place. Insurance companies usually will add additional requirements depending on the nature and products being transported.

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In general, there are 3 classes of CDL’s; these have further endorsements for specific/specialized qualifications (tracker trailers, tankers, buses, etc.). Each one requires the driver to pass certain skills and written test. The three basic classifications are:

  • Class A CDL, for most any size vehicle as long as you have the proper endorsements. (Class A Driver License permits, preparation for drivers to obtain/become CDL drivers.)
  • Class B CDL, for most any vehicle, provided the trailer is less than 10,000 pounds.
  • Class C CDL, for the transportation of 16 or more passengers (including driver). Also applies to 8 or more passengers (including the driver) for compensation. Can apply to small commercial vehicles as well.

So before you embarking on a career as a professional truck driver make sure you know what is involved. Just like any career choice, it is highly recommended to look into the various requirements and regulations required by FMCSA The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the available training, and such.

But here in today’s article, we will try to touch on the basics and get you pointed in the right direction to be the next modern day cowboy…

What are the CDL eligibility requirements?

The United States is unique that when issuing driver’s licenses there is not a set federal standard. That is not to say the federal government doesn’t regulate the industry, but getting the actual CDL is a state level issue. The requirements to obtain a CDL vary from state to state. It is highly advised that you check with your individual state.

Common CDL requirements may include:

  • Age requirements
  • (Some states allow a CDL at 18.)
  • (Federal law mandates, 21 to drive interstate.)
  • Proof of citizenship and/or residency;
  • DOT medical and physical standards;
  • English comprehension (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (Section 391.11);
  • Written knowledge tests;
  • Skill and road testing.

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Depending on the state there may be other requirements such as 2 years of driving experience. Federal law also has set requirements for hauling hazardous materials, chemicals, or special freight. Make sure you are properly trained and have all the appropriate endorsements.

What are the steps to get CDL

Typically there are several steps to getting your CDL. Two key issues are the medical requirements (DOT physical exam), residency requirements in the state which you’re trying to get your license.

Then you need to know the type of vehicle and the kind of driving you’re getting your license for.

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Here is the most important step in the process. As stated each state has its own guidelines, in addition to federal requirements. You must obtain a copy of your individual state’s CDL manual. This is available for pickup at field locations or can be down loaded from state websites.

I can’t stress enough the fact that each state has its own CDL requirements. These are based off the state of your legal residence.

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Now once you have researched the company you wish to train with and know your state regulations here are some other basic steps in the process:

Step 1: The Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP)

A CPL only authorizes you to practice on public roads with a qualified CDL holder sitting in the vehicle with you. Getting the permit is more than just passing the written test and showing you to be knowledgeable. Your driving record will be checked, going back 10 years (checking all 50 states and Washington DC).

You will need to submit proof that you are medically fit/qualified (usually a DOT physical). Be prepared to prove that you meet the residency requirements. Last but not least be prepared to pay all associated fees. (Hopefully you carefully studied your state’s manual as all this is spelled out in detail.)

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Step 2: The Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)

Typically companies (and some states) require the completion of officially recognized CDL training prior to testing. Most places also require you to maintain your CPL for a minimum of 14 days before taking the actual skills test.

These tests are broken up into 3 parts:

  • The Vehicle Inspection Test,
  • The Basic Controls Test and
  • The Road Test.

You must pass all three! However, some states do allow you to use their supplied training aids to assist. Success is based off of your knowledge and abilities.

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Step 3: Get your CDL (Congratulations)

After successful completion and passing of the skills test, it is your responsibility to take all the appropriate documentation in for processing. Pay all applicable fees, as appropriate. Sometimes the licensing centers will issue the CDL right there; others send it in the mail. Double check to make sure all the information is correct.

As I said earlier, it is highly recommended that you practice, based off the requirements of your state’s CDL manual, before showing up for testing.

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 Chose only the best driving school

As with anything, you must research, shop around, and get the best value for your money. Remember cheaper isn’t always better and expensive doesn’t always mean best. So, when you look into schools, do your homework!

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Most offer financial aid, tuition assistance, or a payment plan. Some will offer special deals or support for military Veterans (but make sure they are accredited and VA approved).

Keep in mind there are other cost as well, such as living expenses, and other fees not included in the school.

When researching a school, check their student feedback and related reviews. You can do a Better Business Bureau check as well. Another option is to go online and ask question on the various trucking related forums.

How long does it take to get CDL

That is a good but tricky question. The short answer is fairly quick because, in some states, it is not an actual requirement that a person, who is pursuing their CDL, must go through a formal training course. So basically, if you have access to a vehicle, can study the materials, and pass the exams, well that is all that you need.

From the other side, the reality is something else. Most, if not all, companies will not hire you unless you have attended a proper training program or if you don’t have several years of proven, safe driving under your belt, since receiving your CDL. Or, another option is if you were a CDL operator (transportation) while serving in the US military.

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With that in mind it highly, highly recommended that you attend a formal CDL training program. These are in every state; they can be private, at the community college, or for a trucking company.

Once you have successfully completed all the requirements your license will be good, in the state of issuance, regardless of where you work. And just like your regular driver’s license, a CDL is recognized from state to state (just make sure the additional endorsements are as well).

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Different training centers have different standards. But a safe estimate is 160 hours of drivers training, and about 72 hours of classroom training, or about 6 weeks.

But most drivers say, “They never actually stop learning”.

What is the price?

Like as with any long term commitment, this is an investment as well, so try not to think of it as a cost. Once you’ve earned your CDL, it will pay off in the long run. There are companies that will pay for you to get your CDL.

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However, they do require you to contract with them for a period of time, typically 2 years. Other companies will deduct the cost installments from your pay. However, many companies are looking for experienced drivers or those who already have their CDL in hand.

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As mentioned earlier, there are several ways to pay for the schooling. A company sponsored training program or a private driving school. There are of course pros and cons with any program. Time and the overall commitment can be something to consider.

But the most important factor is cost versus reward. If you are seeking a rewarding worthwhile career, than this is it. As mentioned there are programs and companies that will either pay for the training or reimburse you. If you choose to pay for the program yourself, programs start around $4000.00 and go as high as $10,000.00.

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So as with anything, research the school first. Compare cost; check out reviews, and other key factors, based on your goals and needs.


Trucking is great industry to be a part of. Though, like any industry there can be slow times, there will never be a time when freight isn’t needed to be delivered. The people at the store never stop to consider that without the trucking industry they would not be able to buy the things they want and need.

So with all that said, the good news is that deciding to start trucking carrier and investing in CDL is never a bad thing, it means you will never be jobless. This is a carrier with big future! People need you!

Remember when choosing a school, there are a few things to consider:

  • How long have they been around?
  • Do they offer job placement assistance?
  • Which carriers do they work with?

Keep in mind, just like anything there are scams, fly-by-night, and simply poor quality schools. So always know what you’re getting into by doing a little research. Stay away from those with bad ratings.

I know this article today isn’t all inclusive, but hopefully it has pointed you in the right direction.

Saddle up and happy trails!




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