For those considering a career in truck driving, the actual process of taking the first steps may feel overwhelming. Whether you’re thinking about a full-fledged trucking career or you just want to try it short-term, you’ll need a commercial driver’s license (CDL).
That requires finding a truck driving school and passing the required tests. A CDL will certify you to drive commercial trucks on the highways.
Although it may seem like a lot, getting your CDL is absolutely doable. To stay ahead of the game, here’s what you need to know about getting your CDL in California.
3 types of CDLs
There are three different types of commercial driver’s licenses:
1. Class A CDL
A Class A CDL is required for any combination of vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 or more pounds, provided the gross vehicle weight rating of the vehicle being towed is over 10,000 pounds.
A Class A CDL will allow you to operate the following:
- Livestock carriers
- Tanker vehicles
- Double/triple trailers
- Truck/trailer combinations, and
- Tractor-trailer buses
Those with a Class A CDL are also able to operate certain Class B and Class C vehicles if they have the proper endorsements.
2. Class B CDL
A Class B CDL is required for any single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle not in excess of 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight rating.
Again, with the proper endorsements, a Class B CDL driver may also drive some Class C CDL vehicles.
3. Class C CDL
A Class C CDL is required for vehicles that don’t meet the criteria of Class A or Class B licenses. It is also required for vehicles that carry hazardous materials, or vehicles that carry sixteen or more passengers.
What are the requirements to get a CDL?
You will need to provide a few documents to get a CDL in California. These documents include:
- Proof of identification. Drivers must be at least 21 years old to drive between states or 18 years old to drive within the same state.
- Your medical examination report. A medical examination report may be required, depending on the last time you had one.
- Your Social Security card. Proof of your Social Security number is required to get your CDL. As with other proofs of identification, the Social Security documents you bring must be originals, not copies.
- CDL test results. Proof of successful completion and passing of the CDL test.
Step 1: Get your commercial learner’s permit
Now that you know what’s required, what should your first step be? Well, just like with a regular driver’s license, you’ll have to get a learner’s permit before you get the actual license to start driving.
To apply for your commercial learner’s permit, you’ll need to be at least 18, and you must already have a regular driver’s license. You will be asked to provide a Social Security card, and your thumbprint and photo will be taken.
You’ll need to submit:
- A commercial driver’s license application.
- A 10-year history record check form if you’ve been issued a driver’s license in the same or different name to operate a motor vehicle in another state or other jurisdiction within the previous 10 years.
- A medical examination report form that has been completed by a medical professional.
- A self-certification form, which will state the type of commercial driving you want to do.
In addition to this, you’ll be required to pass both a vision test and a written exam. (You get three tries.) There is also a fee for your license class.
Once all this is taken care of, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will issue your commercial learner’s permit.
This means you’ll be able to operate Class A vehicles as long as you’re with another driver who has a valid Class A CDL. After practicing for a few months, you can take the road test to get a Class A CDL of your own.
Step 2: Train at a truck driving school
A truck driving school will get you familiar with the vehicles, teach you how to drive them, and will instruct you on how to inspect and maintain them.
Truck driving classes can be completed at your own pace. You’ll learn how to operate the vehicles on the roads and highways to help better prepare you for your road test.
Step 3: Take the road test and get your CDL
The next step would be to apply for your full CDL by acing the skills and the driving test.
The first thing to do is to call your local CDL office and make an appointment.
You’ll need to bring the appropriate class of vehicle that you intend to drive. That vehicle has to pass a pre-trip inspection given by the DMV. You get three chances to pass.
When you’ve passed the skills test, you will receive an interim CDL. This will expire after 90 days, or until your valid CDL arrives in the mail.
After earning your CDL, you will be able to take jobs and progress in this exciting industry.
Here are a few more articles to help you unlock your full potential, build a successful business, minimize operational costs, and maximize profitability.
- 5 steps to becoming a successful owner-operator
- 4 best ways for saving on fuel cost
- How much does it cost to start your trucking business
For more information, download our free guide on starting a successful trucking business.