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How do I get a Commercial Driver's License?

Getting Started

Getting a CDL involves several steps. There are medical requirements and residency requirements besides knowledge and skills requirements.

  • The first step is to get a copy of your state's Commercial Driver’s Licensing (CDL) Manual. The manual is available in their field locations, downloaded from their website and printed. Each state has its own processes to getting the CDL.
  • The second step is to decide which type of vehicle and what kind of driving you want to get the license for.
  • There are 3 classes of CDLs with endorsements for specialized qualifications for vehicles like school buses, tank trucks, tractor trailers, etc. Each types of CDL and endorsement requires you pass a skills test and in some cases a written test. It is important to make sure you pass all the required tests or risk having restrictions on your license.

Once you've finished getting informed and making decisions, there are two basic steps to getting a CDL:

Step 1: Get the Commercial Learners Permit (CLP)

A Commercial Learners Permit (CLP) is a permit that only authorizes you to practice on public roads with a qualified CDL holder sitting next to you. Getting the permit involves more than just passing all the knowledge tests for the type of driving you want to do. To make sure that you are eligible your driving record is checked for the last 10 years in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. You need to bring in the proof that your state accepts to show that you are medically qualified. Most types of commercial driving require a DOT medical card, requiring a DOT physical. Your state may require specific documents it wants to see to prove your name and proof of residency. There are fees for getting the CLP. Reading and following the instructions in your states CDL Manual streamlines the process.

Step 2: Get the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)

You are required to possess the CLP for 14 days before taking the Skills Test. Some states require the successful completion of CDL training prior to testing. Regardless it is highly recommended that you practice the inspection tests and maneuvers in the CDL Manual that you will be tested on with a qualified individual before showing up for the test. You must pass all 3 parts of the Skills Test: the Vehicle Inspection Test, the Basic Controls Test, and the Road Test. Your state may even allow you to use their “training aid” to help you remember items on the vehicle inspection checklist. Taking the Skills test is no guarantee that you will pass.

Once you have passed the Skills Test you need to take the documentation to the counter for processing. Some states will give you the CDL that same day, while others send it to you in the mail. Regardless make sure that everything is correct before you leave the counter. It can be costly and embarrassing if you find a mistake later.

Any summary, description, or paraphrase of a regulatory requirement on this site is intended to provide general guidance only.  Please consult the text of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations for a full account of the applicable requirements.

Updated: Tuesday, May 13, 2014