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CDL 101: Everything You Need to Know Before Getting Your Commercial Driver's License

If you’re considering a career in the trucking industry and plan to obtain your CDL, it is important to understand the various CDL classifications and the employment opportunities they offer. Selecting a reputable trucking school or CDL training program and partnering with a dependable carrier are crucial steps that will launch your career and guide you toward success. Remember, getting your CDL is just the first step because how well your first trucking company trains you to do the work can make or break your trucking career. Choose a safe trucking company that’s known for doing things the right way. 

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CDL 101: Everything You Need to Know Before Getting Your Commercial Driver's License

Trucking careers offer stable, well-paying jobs with flexibility and lots of options. With a commercial driver's license (CDL), you'll find excellent Roehl Transport truck driving jobs that’ll meet your needs . If you’re considering a career in the trucking industry and plan to obtain your CDL, it is important to understand the various CDL classifications and the employment opportunities they offer. Selecting a reputable trucking school or CDL training program and partnering with a dependable carrier are crucial steps that will launch your career and guide you toward success. Remember, getting your CDL is just the first step because how well your first trucking company trains you to do the work can make or break your trucking career. Choose a safe trucking company that’s known for doing things the right way.

Types of CDLs

CDLs are divided into different classes to authorize individuals to drive different types of vehicles. Once you know what type of vehicle you'd like to drive, you'll be able to find out what type of CDL is required. To obtain a CDL, you'll need to pass a written test and driving test.

Class A CDLis for driving multiple types of heavy trucks and trailers. This is the primary license for driving large vehicles.

Class B CDL is for operating single vehicles that weigh more than 26,001 pounds or towing a vehicle that weighs 10,000 pounds or less.

Class C CDL allows operators to transport 16 or more occupants or hazardous materials.

Type

Description

Vehicles Allowed

Class A

Allows you to operate any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, provided the towed vehicle is heavier than 10,000 pounds.

  • Tractor-trailers (also known as Semi, Big Rig or 18-wheeler)
  • Truck and trailer combinations
  • Tanker vehicles
  • Flatbeds
  • Livestock carriers

Class B

Allows you to operate any single vehicle that isn’t hitched to a trailer (commercial trucks that have an attached cab and cargo area with a combined weight greater than 26,000 pounds, as well as trucks with a detached towed cargo vehicle that weighs less than 10,000 pounds)

  • Large buses (such as city buses)
  • Box trucks (such as delivery trucks)
  • Segmented buses
  • Straight trucks
  • Dump trucks with small trailers

Class C

Allows you to operate a single vehicle with GVWR of less than 26,001 pounds or a vehicle towing another vehicle that weighs less than 10,000 pounds, or transports 16 or more passengers, including the driver.

  • Double/Tripe trailers
  • HazMat vehicles
  • Buses
  • Tank trucks

Eligibility Requirements

Age

Historically, age requirements to hold a CDL varied by state, and while many states allowed 18-year-olds to drive trucks, they were not allowed to drive trucks across state lines or move freight that did. A new program unveiled in 2022 allowed participating 18-year-olds to have careers in interstate driving.

  • If you are 21 years old or older, you're old enough to drive a truck in every state.
  • If you're under 21 years old, you may be able to have a career in interstate truck driving if you participate in the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program .

Medical

To get a CDL, you'll be required to pass a physical exam that looks at your vision, hearing, blood pressure, cardiovascular health, medications and more. Once you have your CDL, you are required to maintain your DOT medical certification.

Clean Background

You'll be required to pass a background check and have a clean driving record to get and keep your CDL. Employment history, previous drug and alcohol tests and driving records may be considered when you apply for a CDL, especially when you are getting your CDL through a trucking company.

Education

You are not required to have a high school diploma or a GED to get a CDL. However, you will be required to take a driving test and a written test, so comfort and familiarity with testing can help you get through the process. Reading and writing are essential skills to get your CDL.

 

 

Steps to Getting Your CDL

Getting your CDL is easier if you take it one step at a time. Below, we've outlined the step-by-step process for you to follow:

  • Prepare. Start by learning your state's specific requirements for getting a CDL exam. Each state provides a manual with processes for getting a CDL. Know your state-specific requirements. At this time, you'll also need to decide what kind of truck you'd like to drive. Once you've picked a truck, then you'll know what class of CDL to obtain.
  • Attend a training school. Research options for CDL training schools and courses. Schools vary in cost, length of time, and how much experience students get behind the wheel. It's important to have practical driving experience and to learn from a seasoned, knowledgeable trainer. Do your research before choosing a training program. Explore Roehl's Trucking School FAQ's to learn more.
  • Get your CDL permit.The CDL permit is a temporary license that allows you to practice driving a truck before you can get the actual CDL. Every state has a different process for obtaining a permit. Look this up in your state's manual.
  • Take the CDL exam. You'll be required to take a written test and pass a behind-the-wheel test before your CDL is issued. Roehl provides free practice tests online where you can see for yourself what written questions might be like, but the best way to prepare is by enrolling in a good training program.

Preparing for the CDL Exam

There are many resources that can help you prepare for the CDL exam, including the driving manual from your state and online CDL practice tests . Good training schools will also provide students with study materials and a lot of behind the wheel time.

Use flash cards to test yourself, and join a study group if possible. Your truck driving school or CDL training program will be able to connect you with other students who are studying for the same thing, so you can network and study together.

In the written exam, you'll be asked questions on topics like driving during inclement weather, securing cargo, using vehicle controls and more.

During the skills test, you'll have to perform a pre-trip vehicle inspection, show that you're able to engage in basic vehicle control, and take an on the road test to show that you have the basic skills required to drive a truck.

Costs Associated with Getting a CDL

Getting your CDL can cost as much as $10,000 +, including:

  • Commercial Learner's Permit application fee:up to $90
  • CDL application fee: up to $43
  • CDL endorsement fee:varies by state
  • CDL written test fee: up to $125
  • CDL road test fee: up to $250
  • CDL fee: up to $120
  • CDL training: up to $10,000

Some truck driving schools offer scholarships, while some trucking companies will reimburse for the cost of training program expenses. If you get your CDL training through Roehl, you'll get paid while you're getting your CDL so you’ll earn while you learn!

Career Opportunities with a CDL

Below are a few of the opportunities that you can unlock with a CDL.

Long-haul trucking. Long-haul truck drivers (also called Over the Road or OTR drivers) haul goods hundreds of miles. They are away from home for 7 to 11 days, with 3 days at home, or they can stay out longer and stay home for a week at a time. Long-haul truck drivers can earn as much as $100,000 annually at Roehl, and often drive distances as far as 2,800 in a week.

Local deliveries. Local delivery drivers are home most nights - if not every night - and may drive the same routes daily or varying routes in the same general location. Inexperienced drivers can earn over $70,000 and top earners at Roehl can earn over $100,000 .

Bus driving.Bus drivers transport passengers to school or around cities. Bus drivers can earn as much as $50,000 annually.

Of course, every commercial vehicle you see on the road requires someone with training and know-how to drive it. The list above is not comprehensive. To make your decision, think about which vehicles you'd like to drive and learn more about some of the opportunities at Roehl .

Regulations and Responsibilities

There are many federal and state regulations around CDL holders. CDL holders are subject to drug and alcohol testing by their employer , for example, and must follow strict hours of service rules . They must also follow safety protocols and vehicle maintenance responsibilities . Guidelines around these issues may get stricter at the state level.

You'll learn more about this while you're in your driver training. These regulations change regularly as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) updates their rules, so it's important to engage in continuing education to stay up to date with these requirements.

Challenges and Realities of Life on the Road

The physical and mental demands of long-haul trucking can be challenging at times. Being away from home for days at a time can be exciting but also trying. It's important to work with a company that values a truck driver’s quality of life. Here's why some choose Roehl:

  • Roehl’s CEO is also a truck driver.
  • Roehl offers the best mix of pay and home time options – from home daily to home weekly regional and dedicated driving jobs to flexible home time in Roehl’s national fleets, find an option that meets your needs.
  • Roehl is built on values and operationalizes safety to protect those on the road.

There are many strategies that long-haul drivers can use to stay in touch with loved ones, including video chat and apps that allow spouses to track responsibilities around the house. Staying healthy, eating well and staying connected with loved ones are important for maintaining a good quality of life.

Get Started Today

If you're ready to take the next step in your career and become a licensed truck driver, the first step is to research what you'd like to drive and pursue CDL training. Roehl pays eligible candidates to get their CDL, so contact us to apply today .

Additional Resources

To learn more about getting your CDL, see your state's DMV link (below):

  1. Alabama
  2. Alaska
  3. Arizona
  4. Arkansas
  5. California
  6. Colorado
  7. Connecticut
  8. Delaware
  9. Florida
  10. Georgia
  11. Hawaii
  12. Idaho
  13. Illinois
  14. Indiana
  15. Iowa
  16. Kansas
  17. Kentucky
  18. Louisiana
  19. Maine
  20. Maryland
  21. Massachusetts
  22. Michigan
  23. Minnesota
  24. Mississippi
  25. Missouri
  26. Montana
  27. Nebraska
  28. Nevada
  29. New Hampshire
  30. New Jersey
  31. New Mexico
  32. New York
  33. North Carolina
  34. North Dakota
  35. Ohio
  36. Oklahoma
  37. Oregon
  38. Pennsylvania
  39. Rhode Island
  40. South Carolina
  41. South Dakota
  42. Tennessee
  43. Texas
  44. Utah
  45. Vermont
  46. Virginia
  47. Washington DC
  48. Washington (WA)
  49. West Virginia
  50. Wisconsin
  51. Wyoming

Practice Tests:

Professional Organizations:

Most states have their own associations, as well.

Online forums for networking and support:

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