CDL Training

CDL training for a commercial driver’s license is not a very long process, but it is intense. In between studying for and passing the written test to passing the road test, there are a lot of hours spent training. CDL training is generally required to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License. A Commercial Driver’s License, commonly called a CDL, is a special license that is required to operate any vehicle that is over 26,001 pounds. CDL training is also required for transportation vehicles that hold over 16 passengers or any vehicle that transports hazard materials, as defined by the Department of Transportation (DOT).

Until October of 1986, anybody who wanted one, could obtain a CDL without a lot of trouble (e.g. CDL training). That changed on October 27, 1986, when the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 was signed into effect. The Act was designed to keep unsafe drivers off the road, while allowing qualified drivers a chance at the many CDL jobs that were becoming available with the transportation boom of that time-period.

While the Act was there to allow the States to continue to issue CDL’s, the requirements on who could obtain a license came from the government. The Federal Government, who has set forth minimum requirements that must be met before a CDL can be issued, closely monitors the commercial trucking industry. They determine the hours of service that drivers can physically work, the Class and Endorsement requirements, as well as how to enforce the many rules and regulations that make up the transportation industry.

CDL Training Overview

When you begin your classroom CDL training, I would suggest that you pick up a binder or a pocket folder to put the paperwork into that you’ll be receiving during this time. You will find it invaluable as you go through the CDL training process. This will help keep your information in some kind of order so that you can easily refer to it later, while training on the road (literally!). Classroom CDL training has no required amount of hours, but your instructor is required to cover certain materials (and lots of videos!) during this time.

Once you complete your time in the classroom, you will move outside for hands-on CDL training in a vehicle appropriate for whatever class CDL you will soon have. Your instructor will teach you how to do a pre-trip inspection, and he/she will go over it with you many times until you are confident that you know the steps well. The pre-trip inspection should be repeated as often as need be.

Your instructor will teach you the vehicle, inside and out. When you are ready, he/she will allow you to drive the vehicle out on the road and your training will continue from there. You must always have a licensed commercial driver with you in the vehicle until you have passed your road test. The school or the company you are training with will take care of scheduling your road test, and your instructor will most likely be the one to accompany you to the test site and back again. Again, until you have your CDL you cannot drive without a licensed commercial driver in the vehicle with you.

What Is a Commercial Driver’s License

While training for your CDL (commercial driver’s license), it will help to learn a few things about the career you are moving into. In gaining some wisdom about what the CDL is, why it is, and the intricacies that are woven together to form a CDL (and there are many), it will be easier to understand the business you are venturing into.

The Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986

The Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 became a law in October of 1986. Its goal is safety on the road, by ensuring that all drivers meet certain requirements before driving a commercial vehicle. This law would also remove unqualified drivers from behind the wheel of truck, bus, or any other vehicle requiring a CDL.

According to this Act, each state still has the right to issue licenses, but the Federal government would decide the minimum standards that every state had to meet when issuing commercial driver’s licenses. Before this law drivers were allowed to have more than one license. The law placed restrictions on drivers who were driving, or wanted to drive, buses, trucks, etc., by requiring certain skills tests that ensured they were capable of driving these vehicles safely. It set the bar for the skills and know how that drivers needed to demonstrate before they could drive a commercial vehicle legally. The Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 set legal standards for not only the driver, but the employer, and the state as well.

Since this law was passed, a driver is required to go through several steps before being allowed on the road in a commercial vehicle. There is mandatory classroom time, which includes paperwork as well as countless teaching videos, written tests, and, finally, the road test. There are volumes of information that a driver needs to know in order to understand what it means to be out on the road driving a commercial vehicle. What a driver has to accomplish “on the road” to being issued his/her CDL is decided by the state in which they obtain their license. An important point is that drivers do not need to obtain a Federal license, only a state license, and they only need to meet the minimum requirements of the Federal government. If necessary, the state will sometimes need to upgrade their testing to the minimum Federal standards in order that all drivers meet the same basic criteria.

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CDL Commercial Drivers License Exam Test GuideThe test prep guide contains everything that you will need to know to successfully pass the CDL Exam. The guide provides complete prep for both the truck and bus driver's license exams.

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Bumper to Bumper: The Complete Guide to Tractor-Trailer OperationsFifth edition of popular textbook on tractor-trailer operations includes current information on hours of service, hazardous materials, cargo securement, and onboard technology, plus descriptions of systems and components, regulated activities, driving skills, safe driving and economy driving. With end-of-chapter quizzes, Observation Skills tests, hundreds of illustrations and a detailed index.

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Barron's CDL Truck Driver's TestThis updated manual prepares professional and prospective tractor-trailer drivers for the test that applicants must pass in order to receive a Commercial Driver's License.

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What are the CDL Classes?

A CDL license is available in three different classes, and then there are endorsements that can be added to it. Before venturing into the transportation industry, you should understand the different CDL Classes and what they mean.

Classes of Commercial Driver’s Licenses

CDL licenses are divided into three major categories. They are:

Class A

A driver must have a Class A CDL when driving a vehicle that is in excess of 26,000 pounds and is towing a vehicle that weighs more than 10,000 pounds. Any combination of a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 lbs or more, if the vehicle towed has a GVWR in excess of 10k pounds. This would include tractor-trailers that many call ‘semi-trucks’, as well as any combination of the tractor, trailer, and bus trailer. If you hold a Class A license and have the correct endorsements necessary, you can operate any vehicle in the other Classes as well.

Class B

A driver must have a Class B CDL when driving a vehicle weighing more than 26,000 pounds, or a vehicle also in excess of 26,000 pounds that is towing a vehicle weighing no more than 10,000 pounds. Class B is classified as any single vehicle with a weight rating of 26,001 lbs or more, if the vehicle towed has a GVWR in excess of 10k pounds. This includes large buses, straight trucks, and large towing trucks. With the correct endorsements, Class B license holders may operate vehicles in the Class C classification.

Class C

A driver must have a Class C CDL when driving a vehicle that does not meet the requirements of a Class A or B but is designed to transport 16 passengers in addition to the driver. In some states a Class C CDL also falls into the category of transporting hazardous materials. Class C is categorized as any vehicle that doesn’t fall under Class A or Class B, a vehicle which carries a hazardous material or is vehicle designated to carry sixteen or more passengers.

Of the Classes, Class A makes the most sense for many drivers. With Class A CDL’s, you can drive Class B and C vehicles (with the correct endorsements) As you can see, the transportation industry can be confusing and wrought with many regulations. Understanding the industry is the key to succeed in it. Any good CDL training program should help you understand the industry in addition to passing the CDL exam.

More on Gross Vehicle Weight Rating

Directly above we introduced a concept called gross vehicle weight rating, abbreviated as GVWR. You might also hear this concept referred to as gross vehicle mass or GVM. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they essentially refer to the maximum operating weight of a vehicle, which is determined by the vehicle’s manufacturer. This weight includes the chassis, engine, body, fuel, driver, passengers, accessories and cargo. However, it excludes any trailers.

CDL Training


Drivers who operate certain types of commercial vehicles are also required to pass specific tests in order to have the endorsement added to their CDL:

  • P and S: These endorsements are needed on the CDL when driving school buses (S) or driving commercial vehicles that carry passengers (P).
  • N: Needed for a driver operating a tank vehicle.
  • T: Needed for operating double/triple trailers.
  • X: This signifies a combination of tank vehicles and hazardous materials.
  • H: Needed for transporting hazardous materials.

There may be additional codes required by different states for specific groupings of endorsements, which is acceptable by the Federal government, providing each one is explained on the CDL.

The Drug Test

The driver must first pass the written test in order to have his/her permit before beginning to training for the CDL. Another all-important step to a CDL is the drug test. The driver must take and pass a drug test before beginning his/her training. As a side note, but a very important one, drug tests will be performed randomly throughout your career as a CDL driver. If your name is chosen, and you refuse to adhere to the test, you will be taken off the road until you satisfactorily consent to the test and pass.


In addition to the necessary endorsement(s), there are certain restrictions that must be noted on a driver’s CDL, which further explains what the driver cannot drive. These restrictions further enable the DOT to ensure road safety. No driver can operate a vehicle that his/her license restricts him/her from driving. Some of these restrictions and what they mean are:

  • L: Is an airbrake restriction. If the driver has not passed the testing required to be able to drive a vehicle that has airbrakes, or has not taken the airbrakes test at all, this restriction will be placed on the license.
  • Z: If the driver takes his/her road test in a vehicle that has “air over hydraulic” brakes, there will be a “Z” placed on the CDL, which is a restriction from driving a vehicle with airbrakes.
  • E: This restriction is placed on a driver’s license who has taken the road test in an automatic transmission vehicle. This is a restriction from driving any commercial vehicle with a manual transmission.
  • O: Is a restriction from driving any Class A vehicle that has a fifth-wheel connection.
  • M: For a driver who has a Class A CDL, but takes the test for his/her school bus or passenger endorsement in a Class B vehicle, this restriction on their license will prevent them from driving anything except Class B and Class C school buses or vehicles.
  • N: For a driver with a Class B CDL who obtains their school bus or passenger endorsement by testing in a Class C vehicle, an “N” restriction on the license says the driver can only transport passengers in a Class C vehicle or school bus.

Because of all the state and Federal rules and regulations, there is more information regarding the Commercial Driver’s License. If you are thinking about obtaining a CDL, your first step should be to contact the DMV (Dept. of Motor Vehicles) where you live and ask them to give you all of the information that you’ll need. They will guide you through the process of your written test and explain to you what steps you’ll need to take next. It is probably a good idea to research beforehand to find somewhere, maybe a truck driving school that will train you for your CDL (financial aid is available), or a company that will hire you and offer you on-the-job training. In that case, once you have your permit, you’re ready to begin.

CDL Training is Generally Required to Obtain a CDL

In order to operate a commercial vehicle within the United States, a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is a necessity. Many trucking schools (or CDL training programs) will teach you everything that you need to know to pass the various tests that the federal and state laws require. However, a CDL training school is not always necessary. Anybody can obtain a Commercial Driver’s Study Guide from their local Department of Transportation (DOT) and if you have good study habits, you can learn everything that you need to know, on your own. However, structured CDL training programs often times have higher success rates than those who simply try to study on their own.

Nevertheless, assuming that you have studied the different laws, rules and regulations regarding the transportation industry, you are now ready to obtain your commercial drivers permit. The permit will allow you to drive a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) with a valid CDL holder, in order to practice for your skills test.

In order to obtain the permit, you will be required to produce the following items in order to show proof of identity:

  • Birth Certificate
  • Current Drivers License
  • Social Security Card

Have a Federal Medical Card

  • A copy of the federal medical standards can be obtained through your licensing agency

Take Knowledge Tests

Applicants may take one or more tests, depending on the type of vehicle you will be driving, as well as the endorsements that you wish to acquire.

  • General Knowledge Test, which is required by all applicants
  • Passenger Transport Test, which is required for those who wish to transport passengers, such as in a bus
  • School Bus Test, which is required for those who wish to drive a school bus
  • Air Brakes Test, which is required is your vehicle has air brakes.
  • Combination Test, which is required if you will be driving a combination of vehicles.
  • Hazardous Materials Test, which is required if you will be driving any vehicle that requires a place card.
  • Tanker Test, which is required if you will be transporting liquids.
  • Doubles/Triples Test, which is required if you will be pulling double or triple trailers.

If you pass the knowledge tests, you will be issued a permit. The permit will allow you to practice driving a CMV, in the presence of a licensed CDL holder. The permit is valid for six months.
When you feel that you are ready, you may head back to the licensing agency to take your skills test. The skills test will test your ability to operate the vehicles for which you wish to be licensed to drive.
You will be tested on the safety of a vehicle, the basic vehicle control and finally, on the road driving.


The examiner will ask you to perform a pre-trip inspection on the vehicle, while explaining what you are checking and why.

Basic Control

The examiner will ask you to back up, move forward and take tight turns with your vehicle, to gauge how well you can control the large truck.

Road Test

The examiner will direct you through traffic, turns, intersections, steep grades and more, as they test your ability to adequately handle the large truck in a variety of everyday road conditions.

If you successfully pass the skills test, you will be issued the Commercial Driver’s License that you have worked so hard to obtain. Finally, when selecting a CDL training program, be sure to select a program that focuses on CDL Class A training, CDL Class B training and CDL Class C training.

Whatever means you decide to use to obtain a CDL, remember that this is a very important step you’re taking. Being a commercial driver is a lot of responsibility and needs to be taken seriously. You never know when a decision you make on the road could change someone’s life.

CDL Training Resources

Other recommended CDL Training resources: