Class A CDL: Everything You Need to Know
A Comprehensive Guide on How to Get Your Class A CDL
Have you ever thought about how important truck drivers are to the U.S. economy? In case you didn’t know, 78% of everything that our country consumes is delivered by commercial drivers. Over $150 billion in annual revenue comes from freight carriers and independent owner-operators who have had either Class A CDL training or Class B CDL training. In fact, the commercial driving industry alone is the fifth fastest growing employment industry in the United States. If that’s not job security, then I don’t know what is!
In this article, I am going to tell you everything you need to know to obtain your Class A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) so you can become a part of this fast-growing, dynamic industry. I’ll show you:
- How to choose the best CDL training school near you
- What you’ll learn at CDL training school
- How to obtain your Class A commercial driver’s license (CDL)
- How to acquire a high paying job as a professional truck driver
- What you can expect to make as a Class A driver
Let’s start at the beginning and go over the basics. I am going to tell you everything you need to know about Class A vehicles and the Class A CDL (also referred to as a CDL-A) you need to drive them. But first, let’s take a look at the jobs that require a Class A CDL.
Class A CDL
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Are you ready to take the next step and begin your career as a well-paid professional truck driver? We’ve partnered with some of the best truck driving schools in the nation and have helped thousands of people just like you find a high quality truck driving school. We’ll make it easy for you to find the right school and start training immediately.
The schools in our network hold one or more of the following quality standards:
- State Licensure
- PTDI Certification
- Nationally Recognized Accreditation
- Job Placement Assistance for Those Who Qualify
Just click the orange “Find Your School!” button below and Request Info from the school of your choice. It’s that easy!
Jobs that Require a CDL-A
Whether it is delivering milk from the local dairy to homes, packages from Amazon, or driving equipment cross-country, class A CDL drivers can work in a variety of industries and jobs. They are needed to haul gasoline, livestock, freight and goods, other vehicles, equipment, mail, packages, and even to work in the fracking industry. Long haul, regional, local, owner-operator, and dedicated jobs are all open to those with a current CDL-A.
Class A CDL Basics
A CDL Class A allows you to drive any combination of vehicles with a combined gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 26,001 pounds or more, whichever is greater. This includes towed vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or more.
A Class A CDL is different from a Class B CDL because a Class B CDL is for single vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 26,001 pounds or greater or a vehicle towing a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight that is 10,000 pounds or less.
Vehicles you can legally operate with a valid Class A license include:
- Heavy trucks
- Tractor-trailer buses
- Small trucks and vans
- Refrigerated trucks
- Tanker vehicles
- Feed beds
- Livestock carriers
- Car carriers
Keep in mind that some of the vehicles listed above may require you to have certain endorsements attached to your commercial driver’s license.
For instance, you may not have multiple passengers in your vehicle for the purpose of your job without a P (Passenger) endorsement, but you can drive in teams of two, or take your friend or spouse with you as your company allows. Some companies even allow you to bring your pet with you on the job.
Obtaining Your Class A CDL
While getting your Class A CDL is a shorter process than many other types of training you can get in other industries, it still requires time and hard work. The steps can vary slightly from state to state, however, here are the general steps to obtain your CDL-A:
- Get your Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) by passing the General Knowledge Exam
- Hold your CLP for a minimum of 14 days in order to practice driving
- Take the CDL Skills Test and pass all three sections of the test
- Take the CDL endorsement exams (optional)
- Pay the required fees and obtain your CDL
While certain details may vary slightly from state to state, you can generally expect to go through the same steps at any DMV office.
Getting a Class A CDL Permit
A CDL permit, also known as a commercial learner’s permit (CLP) allows you to practice driving a Class A vehicle on public roads with a licensed CDL driver sitting in the passenger seat next to you. It is important to get as much behind-the-wheel practice as you can prior to taking the CDL Skills Test.
In most states, you must be at least 18 years of age to get your CLP. Keep in mind that federal rules state that if you will be driving outside of the state or transporting hazardous materials, you must be at least 21 years of age.
To get your CLP, your driving record for the past 10 years will need to be reviewed. Check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office to find out if they can look this up for you or if you will need to provide the record yourself.
You will need to prove that you are medically cleared to drive a commercial vehicle which usually means providing a Department of Transportation (DOT) medical card. To get this card, you will need to have a DOT physical. Depending on your state, you may be required to provide additional documents in order to prove your residency or citizenship. Additionally, most states require a fee to get your CLP.
Once you have had your CLP for at least two weeks, you can then schedule your CDL Skills Test. This test has 3 parts; a Pre-trip Inspection, a Basic Vehicle Controls test, and an On-Road Driving Test. In order to get your CDL-A, you must pass all 3 parts.
You will be required to take the test in the same type of vehicle that you are testing for. For example, if you are testing for a Class A CDL, you must bring a Class A vehicle to test in. If you plan on obtaining any endorsements with your CDL, you can usually take the CDL endorsement tests on the same day.
While the FMCSA does not currently require students to accumulate a certain amount of classroom instruction hours or behind-the-wheel training hours in order to qualify for a commercial driver’s license (CDL), most states and Class A truck driving schools do.
For instance, in Nevada, you must have at least 120 hours of Class A CDL training in order to get your CDL. In Illinois, the requirement is 160 hours. Some states, such as Washington require that you attend a CDL training school that is recognized by the state and has curriculums approved by the Department of Licensing (DOL) in order to apply for a CDL. In addition, some CDL Class A schools require as many as 240 to 360 hours of CDL training to graduate.
Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) Requirements
While it is true that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) does not currently require students to accumulate a certain amount of classroom instruction hours or behind-the-wheel training hours in order to qualify for a commercial driver’s license (CDL), you should be aware that this rule may change in the near future.
Beginning in February of 2020, drivers who use commercial vehicles in interstate or intrastate commerce who apply for a Class A or Class B commercial driver’s license or are seeking to upgrade their CDL or add an endorsement to their CDL, will be required to meet ELDT standards. If you have held a CDP, P, S, or H endorsement prior to this date you will not be subject to ELDT standards.
The minimum mandated ELDT requirements state that you, as an entry-level driver, must successfully complete a theory and behind the wheel training program that is listed on the FMCSA’s Training Provider Registry (TPR) in order to get a CDL-A, CDL-B, or P, S, or H endorsement. To be listed on the TPR, a CDL school must have a curriculum that meets the FMSCA’s standards and requires students to demonstrate their proficiency in truck driving skill and theory.
Additionally, a training or computerized simulation device may not be used to demonstrate proficiency of behind-the-wheel training. However, computerized truck driving simulators and other training devices can be used in theory proficiency.
A minimum number of hours is not set by the FMCSA for classroom instruction or behind-the-wheel training, rather, demonstration of proficiency will be left up to each individual instructor at the school. Individual states can still set their own minimum number of training hours required for CDL drivers. In fact, many states in the U.S. already do.
Class A CDL Endorsements
While you may simply be focused on getting a Class A CDL, getting endorsements on your commercial license can open up many more job opportunities for you and can increase your earnings. Here are the Class A CDL endorsements you may want to consider obtaining:
Double/Triple Trailers (T)
A knowledge test is required to get your Double/Triple endorsement. This endorsement allows you to pull two or three trailers with a semi tractor (truck).
Testing content will include:
- Pulling double/triple trailers
- Coupling and uncoupling
- Inspecting doubles and triples
- Checking air brakes
Passenger Vehicles (P)
A Passenger endorsement allows you to drive commercial passenger vehicles with 16 or more people, including you as the driver. This endorsement requires both a knowledge and a skills test.
You will need to study topics like:
- Vehicle inspection
- Loading and unloading passengers
- Emergency exits
- Rail road crossing and draw bridges
- After-trip vehicle inspection
- Prohibited practices
- Use of brake-door interlocks
Tank Vehicles (N)
The Tank Vehicles endorsement allows you to operate tanker trucks and requires you to pass a knowledge test. The knowledge test will cover the following areas:
- Inspecting tank vehicles
- Driving tank vehicles
- Safe driving rules
Hazardous Materials (H)
An endorsement for hazardous materials allows you to transport hazardous materials, whether it be gasoline, propane, or even chemical waste. This endorsement not only requires the passing of a knowledge test, but also a Transportation security Administration (TSA) Threat Assessment.
For the knowledge test you should study:
- The intent of the regulations
- Bulk tank loading, unloading, and marking
- Your responsibilities as a driver
- Driving and parking rules
- Communications rules
- Loading and unloading
Tank Vehicle/Hazardous Materials Combination (X)
Many types of hazardous materials must be transported in a tank vehicle, therefore, a combined option for endorsement is the best option for some Class A truck drivers. This combined endorsement has the same requirements as each individual one. For this endorsement, study all the topics listed under both the N and the H endorsements.
Class A CDL Restrictions
Endorsements allow you extra driving privileges, however, restrictions mean you are lacking some type of CDL driving privilege. This could be because you did not test with the right type of CDL vehicle. CDL restrictions include:
Air Brakes (L)
If you do not successfully pass the air brakes knowledge exam, are unable to properly identify the components of the air brake system or conduct a proper air brake systems check, you will receive this restriction on your commercial driver’s license. You will also receive this restriction on your CDL if you take your Road Skills test in a vehicle that does not have a full air brake system.
No Full Air Brake (Z)
If you test in a vehicle that is equipped with an air over hydraulic brake system, you will receive a Z restriction. This means that you cannot legally operate a commercial vehicle with full air brakes.
No Manual Transmission (E)
If you take your Skills Test in a commercial vehicle with an automatic transmission, you will have an E restriction. This means you will not be able to drive a commercial vehicle equipped with a manual transmission.
Non-Fifth Wheel Connection (O)
An O restriction is given if you take your Skills Test in a Class A vehicle that has a pintle hook or other non-fifth wheel connection. This means you cannot drive a Class A vehicle that has a fifth wheel connection.
Class B School Bus (M)
If you obtain a Class A CDL but take your P or S endorsement exam in a Class B commercial vehicle you will receive an M restriction on your CDL. This means you can only legally drive a Class B or Class C passenger vehicle or school bus.
Medical Variance (V)
If the FMCSA notifies the state that you have been issued a medical variance, you will get a V restriction on your CDL. This means that there is information about your medical variance on the Commercial Driver’s License Information System (CDLIS) record.
These lists are not exhaustive. States may also add their own endorsements or restrictions to these lists.
The Importance of CDL Training
If you want to become a tractor-trailer driver getting your career off to the right start is important. A quality CDL training school will help you pass both the written and skills exams required to get your Class A CDL license. The best way to get professional CDL training is to attend Class A CDL classes at a state-qualified CDL school
The benefits of attending a Class A trucking school include:
- Increased chances of passing the CDL knowledge and skills tests
- Decreased insurance rates
- Better job opportunities
- More confidence on the job
- Improved safety skills while driving
- Assistance with finding and applying for Class A CDL jobs
- Hands-on training
Some students opt to get their CDL Class A training online or to “self-study”. While these options may seem financially appealing, the benefits of attending CDL classes in a formal truck driving school far outweigh the financial obligations.
For one thing, online CDL schools can’t give you the hands-on CDL training you need to operate a Class A vehicle both competently and confidently. How do you plan on teaching yourself how to operate a 26,000 lb. tractor and trailer with no prior experience whatsoever? Where are you going to get the truck and trailer you need to train with?
Fortunately for you, we’ve partnered with some of the best truck driving schools all over the country offering Class A CDL training at highly affordable prices. They all provide various financial aid programs to help you pay the cost of tuition. Plus, they’ll do everything within their power to help you acquire good paying CDL Class A jobs.
Types of CDL Training
There are several different types of CDL training you can choose from, depending on your needs, your goals, and your experience level.
Most truck driver training schools offer the following types of CDL training:
- Class A
- Class B
- CDL Refresher
Some schools also offer combined CDL A- and CDL-B training, as well as Customized CDL Training or Pay-per-lesson CDL training. The last two options allow students to focus on certain areas they need more training in without having to spend the time or money on an entire course. These might be a good option for someone who did not pass the written or the Road Skills exam previously.
CDL Refresher training can also be a good training course to take if you have previous CDL experience but it has been a while since you have been behind the wheel of a semi tractor-trailer. A refresher class can give you the opportunity to brush up on your knowledge and skills in order to pass the CDL exam.
Financial Investment to Become a Class A Driver
Like any other type of career or job training, getting the proper CDL training at a truck driving school is an investment in your future. There are several costs to becoming a Class A truck driver, however, once you are hired as a truck driver, you will gain all that money back (and much more) in no time.
Class A CDL costs will vary widely, depending on what Class A license school you go to, and what type of Class A driver training you select.
Here is a list of all the average costs you should consider when it comes to becoming a Class A truck driver:
- Class A CDL school fees – $1,500 to $12,000 (including books and materials)
- Class A License fees – $75 to $250
- CDL Class A test fees – $100 to $250
- Truck rental fees for taking the CDL Skills Test – $200 to $500
While some Class A CDL training schools have more fees than other schools, the fees listed above are what you can expect to pay at most trucking schools.
Admission Requirements for Class A Driving Schools
Once you have selected the CDL Class A school that is right for you, you will need to fill out an application. Most CDL training schools have admissions requirements that may include the following:
- Must be at least 18 years of age
- Must have a high school diploma or GED (proof required)
- Must be able to read, write, speak, and understand English
- Must be in good physical condition
- Must have a valid (Class D) in-state driver’s license
- Must have at least one year of driving experience with a standard driver’s license
- Must have a valid Social Security card
- Must complete a W-2 form
- Must pass a DOT physical exam
- Must pass a DOT drug screening
Class A Truck Driving School: Driving Record
Since some trucking companies will not hire drivers with specific driving infractions or convictions, the school may require a pre-employment letter or a pre-admission meeting for any of the following on your driving or criminal record:
- DWI or DUI within the past 5 years
- Felony within the past 7 years
- Careless or wreckless driving within the past 3 years
- At fault accident in the past 1 year
This is especially true for schools that offer job placement services since they cannot guarantee that you will be offered any Class A driver jobs if your driving record is problematic.
Time Commitment for Obtaining Class A CDL Training
It is important to set aside time to attend CDL license Class A training. Not only are you investing money to make your future better but you are also investing time. The average length of a Class A CDL truck training program ranges from 3 weeks to 8 weeks. Every program will vary.
The good news is that you can attend your CDL training while still taking care of family commitments and working, thanks to evening and weekend classes. Some schools offer even more flexible scheduling and private classes if you are finding it difficult to find time to attend a scheduled program.
Class A License School Cost
Acquiring the proper CDL training will allow you to apply for and acquire local Class A jobs as well as many other CDL related jobs. Paying for your training is an investment in your own future and it should be treated as such. The average CDL school cost is $8,700, with most tuition ranging between $4,000 and $16,000.
With most schools, your Class A license school costs will include the following:
- Books and materials
- Drug screening
- Physical examination
- Licensing and testing fees
- Truck rental for the Road Skills Test
There may be other CDL training fees not listed above. It all depends on the truck driving school you attend.
Student Financing Options and Financial Aid
If the average cost for CDL license Class A training seems out of your reach, don’t hit the brakes on your dreams of becoming a professional truck driver just yet. Keep in mind that there are many different financing options and forms of financial aid available to help make your goal of becoming a truck driver an attainable and affordable one.
It is important that you explore all of your options when it comes to paying for your CDL A training. Fill out the orange information request form to learn more about your options for financial aid with the truck driving schools in your area. However, keep in mind that not all options are available at every single school.
In order to find out if you qualify for any federal financial aid, such as grants or loans, you will need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Once the information from this form is shared with your selected schools and colleges you will then be notified as to what types of financial aid you qualify for, if any.
Here are the many options available to help you pay for your education and training:
Federal Pell Grant
With a federal Pell Grant, you can be awarded up to $5,920 annually based on the 2017-2018 school year. The Pell Grant has a lifetime eligibility of 12 semesters (or the equivalent) and you must demonstrate exceptional financial need. In addition, you must not have earned a bachelor’s or graduate degree in the past in order to qualify.
Keep in mind that most truck driving schools do not allow their students to use the Pell Grant.
Depending on the school you go to, your state of residence, and your financial need, you may qualify for state grants. These grants are awarded by the State Grant Agency in each state. In most states, you must not already have a bachelor’s degree and you must be enrolled in school part-time or full-time in order to qualify for a grant. You must also be a resident of that particular state.
Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA)
The Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act is a multi-goal program that supersedes the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and is designed to give job seekers access to high-quality training for high demand jobs. Although this is a federal program, local areas have the freedom and resources to provide education and employment assistance. This program streamlines the educational and training pathways to make starting your career easier. Check with your schools’ financial aid office to learn more.
Workforce Credentials Grant (WCG)
The Workforce Credentials Grant is a program that is only available to residents of the state of Virginia. Lawmakers here created this grant program to help make workforce training more affordable for those that want to gain valuable job skills. This program cuts the cost of training programs by 2/3 with the maximum amount of each grant being $3,000.
Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA)
If you have lost your job or are in danger of losing a job due to foreign trade, you may be eligible for this federal entitlement program. Trade Adjustment Assistance program was put in place to help affected workers get the skills, training, and support they need to become employed again. To apply for TAA, you must submit a petition within a year of being laid off. If the Department of Labor (DOL) grants your petition, you can receive training allowances, relocation allowances, job search allowances, and even wage subsidies.
Funding for Native Americans
Due to the lower enrollment rates of Native Americans in higher educational institutions, there are financial programs designed specifically for this population. In order to apply, you must be able to prove your Native American ancestry and be at least ¼ American Indian. Be aware that this can take some time and research on your part, however, it could pay off in the end.
There are programs available for Native Americans through the federal government, through the American Indian College Fund, directly from various tribes, and many other sources. If you have Native American heritage, pursuing these options should be a priority.
Many public and private educational institutions offer scholarships. Some are based on financial need, some on your career choice, some on your previous grades, and some are based on several different factors. It is important to note that some CDL training schools, especially those located in areas with a higher shortage of truck drivers, offer scholarships and grants to students attending a truck driving school.
Be sure to fill out the orange information request form you see on this page to find out if the CDL Class A schools in your area give out any scholarships you may qualify for.
Federal Direct Loans
After completing the FAFSA form, you may be notified that you qualify for federal direct loans. Unlike a grant, you must pay back your federally backed educational loans with interest. However, they are different from traditional bank loans in that the interest rates are lower and payment terms are much more manageable.
Direct Subsidized loans are given to eligible students with a financial need. Interest does not begin to accrue until you graduate.
Direct Unsubsidized loans are given to eligible students, however, they do not have to prove a financial need. The drawback is that they will begin accruing interest as soon as they are taken out.
Many private Class A license schools offer in-house payment plans, also known as installment plans. For instance, you may be able to pay half of your tuition up front, make another payment halfway through your program, and then pay the rest before you graduate.
Because the schools want your business and want to help you remove financial barriers to getting your education, they offer these payment plans. In addition, some schools may offer private loans. However, keep in mind there will be additional fees and interest for such options.
Although not as common as other payment options, some CDL training students are able to receive private funding for their education. This can come from different organizations or benefactors and be donated directly to the Class A truck driving school or directly to you as the student.
If you do not qualify for financial aid, there are still other options to help you pay for your CDL training. You could pay with your credit cards or even take out a home equity line of credit with a low-interest rate to help fund your educational goals.
Due to the high demand of Class A CDL truck drivers, some trucking companies are offering tuition reimbursement when you agree to work for them for a minimum amount of time. This can be an excellent option if you can pay for your education up front. Not only do you get your education paid for at the end but you are also guaranteed a job once you have your Class A driver’s license.
Although it is technically not financial aid, you can get discounts on your tuition. In fact, some trucking schools offer a significant discount of approximately $1,000 if tuition is paid in full prior to the training start date. If you have the money to pay your tuition and fees up front, you can reap the benefits of a significant savings overall.
Financing Options for Military Veterans
Many truck driving schools and the federal government honor and support military veterans, their spouses, and their children by offering financial assistance designed specifically for this population. Financing options for military veterans include:
- Veterans Assistance loans (VA)
- Montgomery G.I. Bill
- Post 911 G.I. Bill
- Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E)
- Survivors and Dependents Educational Assistance Program (DEA)
- Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR)
- Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP)
- DoD Tuition Assistance (TA) Program
- Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA)
CDL Training School: Required Hours
Depending on your Class A CDL school, you will be required to complete between 120 and 240 total training hours with the average number of training hours being 160. CDL training schools that require more hours often provide externships that allow you to work and earn your training hours with local trucking companies.
Although there are no federal regulations pertaining to the number of training hours that CDL A students must have, most states have set their own minimum standards.
Keep in mind that the Professional Truck Driving Institute requires PTDI accredited schools to provide a minimum of 104 hours of classroom and lab training, in addition to 44 hours of behind-the-wheel training which equals to 148 total hours of truck driver training. Bear in mind that most commercial trucking companies require anyone applying for a truck driving position to have a minimum of 120 hours of CDL training due to insurance requirements.
CDL Training Dress Code
You will find that many CDL schools require their students to adhere to a dress code and some even require uniforms. Most do not permit open toed shoes of any kind. While casual and comfortable clothing is usually encouraged, you should ensure that your dress is appropriate for a professional environment. You are expected to wear clean clothing in good repair and be well-groomed.
Depending on your location and the time of year, you may want to bring a jacket or sweatshirt. If you are training in warmer weather, your school may still require you to wear long pants and dress professionally. Keep in mind that all articles of clothing should be respectful to you, your fellow students, your instructors, and your potential employers, and should not display any racial slurs or hateful language.
While not generally required, be sure to bring along a good pair of sunglasses to help with any sun or snow glare you may experience. You may also want to consider wearing sun block while you are out on the practice lot, especially during the summer months. Keep in mind that if the practice lot is paved with black asphalt, it will be a heat magnet during hot summer days.
CDL Training School Curriculum
When you attend a CDL training school, your training will most likely be split up into the following three sections:
- Classroom Instruction
- Skills Training
- Road Training
While the length of each section varies from school to school, most truck driving schools provide 40 hours of classroom instruction and a combined 120 hours of skills training for a total of 160 hours of CDL training. The skills training is hands-on and takes place inside the cab of a tractor-trailer, both on the practice lot and on the road. Of course, some truck driving schools provide less than 160 hours of training and some schools provide more.
We’ve outlined each section of a typical CDL training program below to give you an idea of what you’ll learn at truck driving school.
You will begin your CDL license Class A training in the classroom. You will have approximately 40 hours of classroom instruction prior to moving onto Skills Training. In a traditional CDL A program, the 40 hours is done over a 5 day period with 8 hours each day.
From day one of your training program, you will begin to learn the information needed to pass the CDL General Knowledge exam that allows you to get your commercial learner’s permit (CLP). Most truck driving schools recommend that you start studying the commercial driver’s manual (CDL manual) issued by your state before your first day of class. That way, you’ll get a head start on your CDL training and you’ll find it easier to process and memorize all the information you’ll be learning in class. Don’t be surprised if you are required to take at least one open-book test on your first day of school.
Classroom Instruction – Driving Safely
During the classroom instruction portion of your CDL training you will learn about many aspects of truck driving and the trucking industry as a whole. If it’s been years since you attended any type of school, you may be surprised to see that your Class A license school uses interactive training software to test your CDL knowledge. Many truck driving schools are beginning to combine traditional methods of learning (books and worksheets) with interactive computerized training methods, like eGears and other computer software.
Keep in mind that while each truck driving school is different, each school will teach you most, if not all, of the topics listed below.
During orientation, you will learn about what to expect during your program and what is expected of you. You will be introduced to the school’s schedule, grading system, dress code, rules, and anything else that will lay the groundwork for your success while attending their program.
Other topics you will learn include state and federal regulations and requirements as they pertain to commercial trucking, driver responsibilities, and safety. Having a solid understanding of what is covered during orientation will set you up for success in your CDL-A training program.
As a professional truck driver, you will be expected to show courtesy and care for others around you. This could mean stopping to help another driver who needs assistance, not using your horn unless it is an absolute necessity, pulling over to let faster vehicles pass you, and not blocking driveways or entryways with your rig.
Dressing neatly and properly is also a duty of a professional truck driver. In addition, you will need to show courtesy to customers and your co-workers. You can be the best truck driver in history, but if you don’t show common courtesy, you risk losing your job.
Various Commercial Vehicles
You will need to learn about the different types of commercial vehicles and which ones you can drive with your CDL-A and which ones you need to have endorsements for, such as Tank Vehicles and Hazmat Vehicles.
Hours of Service
You will learn about proper logging of hours according to FMCSR standards in Federal Law Section 395. This includes the daily log book and log book recap. Compliance and accuracy of your log book are also emphasized.
Map Reading and Trip Planning
Being able to properly read a map and plan a route is an essential part of being a CDL driver. You will learn their importance in safety and the reduction of fuel usage. You will also learn about the geography of the U.S. and its highways and interstates. The use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and technology are also taught.
This is a very important piece of your training as up to 25% of accidents involving commercial trucks can be linked to improper cargo handling and securement. In addition to safety concerns, you are responsible for making sure your cargo arrives in the same condition that it left. You will learn about the FMCSA cargo securement regulations as well as techniques like blocking, bracing, dunnage, cargo tie down methods like ropes and chains, edge protectors, and cargo covering. You will also learn about the different equipment used to load and unload cargo. Theft prevention will also be discussed.
Cargo documentation is an important part of any CDL-A job. You should always have a clear understanding of the bill of lading and any specific pickup or delivery protocols. You will learn how to check shipping papers to determine what you are carrying and what to do if you are transporting hazardous materials. Proper placards will also be covered.
OSHA and EPA standards will be studied during this section. You will learn about different loading facilities, their rules and regulations, and how procedures can change based on their differences. Calling dispatch when you are unsure of something or need help will also be emphasized.
Weight Scales & Staying Legal
Rules and requirements across state lines for weighing will be discussed as well as weight as a regulation from the Department of Transportation (DOT). You will also learn about tire-load safety, road width, bridge height, and other conditions on the road. The proper procedures for entering and exiting weigh stations, approved routes, and bypass programs like PrePass and NORPASS will also be covered.
Being keenly aware of your surroundings and what other drivers are doing will give you more time to react in case of an emergency. During this section, you will learn how to maintain at least a 12-second eye lead time and how to use quick glances to view activity alongside the road as well as the other vehicles near your truck. You’ll also learn about blind spots and how to minimize them as much as possible. The difference between flat and convex mirrors will also be covered along with their proper use.
Speed and Stopping
Speed is another safety factor when driving a semi tractor-trailer. Studies have shown that 23% of all large-truck crashes are attributed to speeds that were too fast for road conditions. In this section of study, you will learn the legal speed limits and speed in relation to specific driving and road conditions. You will also discuss the relation of speed to stopping distance, hydroplaning, crash severity, maneuverability, cargo loads, and fuel economy.
You will learn to select the proper gear based on speed and conditions of the highway. Depending on your school, you will learn to operate fully automatic and semi-automatic transmissions as well as a manual transmission. At this point in your training, you will practice in the classroom or in a lab setting with a computerized simulator.
Double clutching and the timing of your shifting are also taught in regards to fuel-efficient driving and reducing wear and tear on your vehicle. You will practice shifting up and down through all the gears of all major types of transmissions until you have mastered the various shifting patterns taught to you by your instructor. This includes auxiliary transmissions and multi-speed axles. You’ll also study the common shifting errors that most truckers make as well as the problems they create.
You will study important safety procedures during your time in the classroom such as how to stop your vehicle if the brakes have failed, controlling your vehicle if you have a tire blow out, and how to bring your vehicle to a complete stop in the shortest distance possible. Other areas of study in this unit include emergency equipment such as a fire extinguisher, extra fuses, and road flares, as well as reporting emergency situations to your employer and the proper authorities.
Preventing accidents and promoting safety is a serious responsibility for truck drivers. Using defensive driving protocols such as stopping when someone uses your right-of-way or allowing others to merge in front of you may not be natural responses, but they are necessary in order to keep you and everyone else safe on the road. You will learn how to best use these skills while operating a big rig.
DOT Rules & Regulations
You will learn about the federal, state and local laws that affect you as a CDL-A driver, including the rules and regulations upheld by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). This includes licensing procedures, CDL types, endorsements, weight and height restrictions, training requirements, and more.
Hazardous Materials Regulations
You will learn about the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the regulations they have put in place for transporting, loading, and unloading hazardous materials. You will learn about their importance, their impact on your job, and what to do in the event of an accident or an emergency.
You will learn about dispatching terminology and current communications technologies. The importance of dispatching as it pertains to effective time management in a trucking company will also be discussed.
The importance of periodic inspection and repair to prevent breakdowns will be the focus of this topic. You will be taught about routine servicing, scheduled preventative maintenance, and unscheduled maintenance. FMCSA standards for maintenance and costs will also be taught.
You will study the various systems of a commercial motor vehicle and how to use your senses, sight, smell, sound, and touch, to determine if the vehicle is functioning properly or not. Troubleshooting problems and not making the proper repairs you are not qualified to perform will also be covered.
You will be given an introduction in the classroom setting to performing a pre-trip inspection and the paperwork involved. You will be introduced to the proper systematic procedure for making a quick, yet complete inspection. This will begin with checking the post-trip inspection log of the driver before you to make sure that any and all problems have been addressed by a mechanic.
In addition, you will learn the different ways that an undetected malfunction or problem with your vehicle can not only cost you time and money, but can also become unsafe and put you, the driver, in danger. The importance of quickly correcting malfunctions will be covered extensively. Federal, state, and other regulations regarding pre-trip inspections are also covered.
You will study the federal regulations set forth by the FMCSA for post-trip inspection requirements and documentation. This includes reporting any safety issues and the steps to a full inspection. Should there be any issues noted during the post-trip inspection, you will need to have it checked by a mechanic. The mechanic will then sign off that it has been fixed or does not present a safety issue and does not need to be fixed at this time. Completing a post-trip vehicle condition report will also be discussed.
Vehicle and Control Systems
You will be taught about the major parts and terminology of a semi tractor-trailer, what each part does, and how it works in conjunction with other parts to operate the vehicle. This includes engine controls, primary vehicle controls, secondary vehicle controls, as well as vehicle instruments. Reading and interpreting the various control systems is an important part of becoming a CDL driver. You may also learn about preventative maintenance and servicing of commercial vehicles.
Air Brake System
In the classroom setting, you will learn about the parts of an air brake system such as the air compressor, the air compressor governor, the air storage tanks, and the air tank drains. You should be able to identify all of the parts and their functions before moving onto to the skills or road portion of your training. You will also learn how all of these parts work together to make the air brake system work.
Fuel & Electrical Systems
You will learn the parts and acceptable operating ranges of the fuel and electrical systems and their functions. When you are done with your classroom training, you should be able to discuss how all of the parts work together within the system to function properly in a semi tractor-trailer. You should also be able to identify common problems with these systems and their symptoms.
CDL Test Preparation
This section will help prepare you for taking the General Knowledge written exam. Some schools will even have you take a pretest and practice tests. For this test, you will need to know about air brakes, combination vehicles, doubles and triples, tank vehicles, hazardous materials, passengers, and log preparation. Some CDL training schools may have you prepare for certain CDL endorsement exams as well, like the HazMat endorsement, Tank Vehicles endorsement, and the Doubl/Triple Trailers endorsement.
Combination Vehicles Exam Prep
This portion of your classroom education will cover and review the care of the combination vehicle. This includes coupling and uncoupling, driving around corners, rollover risk, and backing up. You will likely take a practice exam to identify any areas that necessitate further or remedial study.
Hazardous Materials Endorsement Exam Prep
You will be introduced to the structure of the exam in addition to the definition of hazardous materials, basic safety guidelines, proper paperwork, and enacting emergency procedures when needed. Mixing products, containing spills, and where to park the vehicle transporting hazardous materials will also be taught.
Tank Vehicles Endorsement Exam Prep
You will be introduced to the structure of this endorsement exam as well as how to safely and competently operate a tank vehicle. You will review how to handle emergency situations, OSHA and EPA requirements, what to do if there is an accident, and weight distributions.
Double/Triple Trailers Endorsement Exam Prep
You will be introduced to the structure of the exam as well as how to secure additional trailers, the use of the converter dolly, and the landing gear. Application of spring brakes or wheel chocks, and how to release the pintle hook will be covered. You may also be tested on safety issues, like how to prevent the “crack-the-whip” effect during turns.
One of the most important parts of your classroom training is safety. You will need to know about defensive driving, accident procedures, environmental compliance, the FMCSA Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA) requirements, and hazardous materials and load securement. Problems with drugs and alcohol will also be emphasized. Although much of this knowledge is gained in the classroom setting, some of it is also learned in the skills portion of your training.
Nutrition and Well-Being
To be a good CDL driver, you must first take care of yourself. This includes a proper diet and exercise as well as adequate rest. You should get routine health check-ups, including vision, hearing, and blood pressure monitoring. You will learn about why caring for yourself is the building block to a successful career as a truck driver, and how a healthy lifestyle on the road can help prevent driver fatigue.
Sleep and fatigue are major causes of traffic accidents for truckers and the general public alike. It is very important that you ensure you are getting the sleep and rest you need to function at your best behind the wheel. Not doing so can endanger yourself and others on the road.
Drug and Alcohol Use
Alcohol and some drugs (both prescription and illegal drugs) can impair muscle coordination, your night vision, your reaction time, depth perception and your judgment. You will learn about the rules and regulations surrounding drug and alcohol use while driving, as well as the consequences for using these substances if you are a CDL driver. The importance of avoiding drug and alcohol use will also be discussed.
During your training, a quality school will prepare you for your job search. This will include building an attention-grabbing resume and completing an application properly. You may also get to practice mock job interviews and discuss what to wear during a real job interview.
Many of the best schools will provide instruction to help you get a job. They will cover interview skills, the proper way to complete an application, the hiring process used by trucking companies, and resume writing. You will also learn about whistleblower protection and customer relationships. Driver health and well-being are also emphasized in the classroom setting.
At the end of your classroom training hours, you will be ready to take the final written exam to receive your commercial learner’s permit (CLP). Many schools offer this test within the classroom setting, which makes it very convenient for the student.
Your commercial learner’s permit (CLP) allows you to practice on the open road with a licensed CDL driver in the passenger seat with you. Once you have your CLP, you can move onto the skills portion of your CDL training. Depending on your school’s total number of required hours, this portion of your CDL training can be anywhere from 25 to 40 hours or more.
Skills training will provide you with an opportunity to learn and practice the basic driving skills that you will need to pass the Road Skills test to get your CDL-A. Skills training may take place with the use of a simulator or in a real truck. A simulator is usually used to help with shifting practice. Some schools will use a combination of both, however, most use a real truck.
Skills Training – Proper Alley Dock
We’ve listed the skills you can expect to receive training for below. While you’ll learn most of these skills on the driving range, you’ll practice some of them during the road training portion of the program as well.
During your skills training, you will take what you learned in the classroom about the pre-trip inspection and put it into practice. You will perform complete pre-trip inspections in the presence of your instructor that will include all points, such as leaks, lights, fluids, components, belts, hoses, tires, brakes, and axles.
You will also practice and demonstrate an in-cab inspection of all your gauges and controls. This will include your air pressure and temperature gauges, and voltmeter. You should be able to determine what a normal reading is for all gauges and what readings are cause for concern.
You will get hands-on practice of in-transit inspection including checking cargo, cargo covers, tires, gauges, and mirrors. You should also be able to verbalize various warning signs to your instructor using your five senses such as hearing an abnormal noise or smelling smoke or something burning.
You will practice walking all the way around your vehicle while checking all the components of your big rig after a trip. This inspection will including checking the temperature of the tires and hubs, looking for leaks, ensuring all lights are in working order and that the doors are closed. You will also practice completing a post trip inspection form per FMCSA standards and what to do if you found any defects or problems during your inspection.
It is also important to learn how to properly load your trailer. You will be taught how to do so using the correct weight and balance procedures during the skills portion of your training.
Sliding Tandem Axles & Fifth Wheel
You will practice how to slide the trailer tandems forward in order to decrease the amount of weight that is placed on the drive and steering axles of your tractor. This involves disengaging the locking lugs and ensuring all 4 are no longer engaged. Then you will slowly put the vehicle in drive or reverse to move the tandems into the position you desire. Finally, you will learn how to ensure that the locking lugs are back into their correct position.
Since you are driving such a large vehicle, the use and positioning of all of your mirrors is very important for a safe driving experience. You will learn how to best position them and how to best use them to your advantage when performing certain maneuvers with your truck and trailer.
Not only is seat adjustment important to your comfort and health, it is also important in order to properly operate whatever commercial vehicle you are driving. Learning how to adjust your seat and how close you need to sit to the steering wheel is an important step in your skills training, no matter how minor it may seem. Proper seat adjustment can affect everything from visibility to shifting to ergonomics. How your seat is positioned can even help to decrease deadly driver fatigue.
Proper shifting is important for safety and for the longevity of a commercial vehicle. You will need to practice shifting procedures at various speeds in order to become proficient in this skill on a commercial vehicle. A CDL training program with experienced instructors will show you what gears go with what speed.
While most truck driving schools only provide semi tractors (trucks) with one type of transmission, some schools allow you to gain experience shifting a 9-speed, 10-speed, super 10-speed, and even a 13-speed transmission. Rarely, if ever, do truck driving schools carry trucks equipped with 18-speed transmissions.
It is important to note that many truck driving schools are starting to incorporate tractors with automatic transmissions into their CDL training program.
You will practice maintaining the timing and rhythm of shifting with double clutching. You will also get to practice not pressing the clutch any further down than the brake pedal after you have the truck in neutral.
For double clutching, you will depress the clutch, move the gear shift into neutral, then depress the clutch again, and then shift gears. Double clutching is something you must practice repeatedly in order to get a feel for. This is why practice is usually started on a simulation device instead of an actual truck.
You will learn what type of brakes to use in which situations. For instance, using your engine brake when you are carrying a large load and need to cut the engine power in order to stop. You will learn about the Jake brake switch and its 3 different settings and how you can downshift with the engine brake on. The importance of using the parking brake will be used. Without its proper use, you could cause severe damage, injury or death.
You will learn about the 4 different types of tractor-trailer skids and how adjusting your speed, watching the road, and how your pre-trip inspection can help avoid them. You will practice not braking during curves and turns in the road in order to prevent skidding in the first place.
Because rollovers happen so quickly, prevention is key to your safety and the safety of others on the road. Proper prevention training can reduce rollovers by 50%. You will identify speeds and turn angles that can put you into a rollover situation and their corrective actions. You will also focus on your truck’s center of gravity.
Safe Backing Procedures
Learning how to safely back up your commercial truck is a very important skill. You will learn the proper ways to back up in a straight line, to back up offset to either side, as well as conventional parallel parking. Alley docking and serpentine maneuvers are also taught and practiced with your instructor present.
Straight Line Backing
You will learn and practice using your mirrors to back straight into a parking spot. You will need to learn and get used to the fact that whichever direction you turn the steering wheel in, the trailer will go in the opposite direction.
You will practice slowly backing up while checking your rear-view mirrors and turning the steering wheel to the right in order to back to the left. Your instructor will likely set up traffic cones during backing practice so you know exactly where your truck needs to go.
This is nearly identical to backing to the left, except, instead of turning the steering wheel to the right, you will turn the steering wheel to the left. The difference is, you won’t be able to stick your head out of the passenger side window in order to get a better view of the blind spot which can make backing to the right more difficult than backing to the left.
Site Side Parallel Parking
You will be taught to drive up past the parking spot until the back of the trailer is at the front of the spot where you want to park. You will also practice turning the steering wheel in different directions in order to successfully maneuver into a parallel parking spot.
Blind Side Parallel Parking
You will practice turning the steering wheel hard to the right in order to turn the trailer left while slowly backing into the blind side spot. Once the back of the vehicle is far enough back that you can see two to three cones, you can straighten the steering wheel. Lastly, you will make another hard right turn to force the rear of the trailer left. You will learn the different markers to look for to know when you need to straighten out the steering wheel or turn.
Also known as serpentine backing, you will learn and practice backing your truck while weaving around cones. This is done slowly with a series of hard turns to each side and straightening the steering wheel out. Some portions are similar to what you will learn for backing into a parallel parking spot.
You will observe and practice alley docking from a variety of distances. During this backing maneuver, you will need to crank the steering wheel to one direction or the other, thereby turning the tractor’s front wheels hard and fast in the opposite direction that you want the trailer to go. You will want to do this until the tractor is nearly at a 90-degree angle, but no more than that.
Once you have picked where you will pivot, you will steer hard and fast in the opposite direction in order to straighten out your tractor and regain steering control. You will practice maneuvering slowly while continually checking your rear-view mirrors.
Coupling & Uncoupling
Being able to couple and uncouple a trailer is an important skill for CDL-A drivers to master since you will be doing this frequently on the job. You will first check the fifth wheel and confirm that it is in the proper position, ensuring that the brakes are on and the cargo is secured. It is also important to make sure that your tractor is not positioned at an angle.
To couple, back your tractor to the trailer without striking it. Make sure the tractor is in neutral and set the parking brake. Check the height and raise or lower the landing gear as you see fit. The 5th wheel and king pin should be aligned. The air lines should be free from obstruction and well-supported.
To uncouple, you will need will also ensure that the truck is not positioned at an angle, that the lines are disconnected and properly stowed, that the release handle is locked and in place, and that the landing gear is down, yet floating a bit.
Preparing for the CDL Skills Test
During your skills training on the practice lot, you will also learn the requirements for passing the CDL Skills Test. You will learn the specific maneuvers and skills you will most likely be tested on, what is allowed, and what is prohibited. For instance, you are allowed to pull forward twice and get out of your vehicle twice during parallel parking procedures before any points are deducted from your final score.
Your instructor will demonstrate, observe, and help you make any needed corrections to all skills and maneuvers in order to help you pass the CDL Skills Test.
Once your instructor feels you have mastered the objectives within the skills training portion of the CDL training program, you can start training on the road. This may be on a closed course at your CDL A school or on the open road.
While a few schools have a closed roadway set up specifically for road training, most truck driving schools use public roadways for the road training portion of their CDL training program. You can expect to receive an average of 40 hours of road training at most CDL A license schools.
Road Training – CDL Road Test
Many of the skills you practiced on a closed course or on a computerized driving simulator will now be practiced on the open road to prepare you for the CDL Road Skills Test. Depending on the type of commercial vehicles your school has, you may practice on manual, semi-automatic and automatic transmissions.
In addition to one-on-one driving instruction, you can also observe your classmates and learn by observing their driving skills during road training.
One of the most important skills you will learn as a student truck driver is observation. Your road training will involve not only observing the road, your mirrors, and your gauges, you’ll also be observing your instructor and your fellow classmates as well, as they perform and practice important driving skills on the road. Observing your instructor and your classmates who are succeeding can help you master the driving skills you will need to graduate and pass your CDL-A exam.
You will need to learn and practice safe driving during the day and at night and in extreme weather conditions. You will also learn and practice emergency maneuvers, skid control and recovery, as well as hazard perception and safety at railroad crossings. You will learn and practice safe turning and shifting.
CDL Road Test Tip: Always check both mirrors for traffic after you make a lane change.
Motion and Safe Stopping
You will learn the proper way to put the commercial vehicle in motion. Perhaps even more important is learning how to stop safely when driving your big rig at various speeds.
Demonstrating double clutch shifting is also included as well as shutting down the engine and warming up. You’ll also learn about coupling and uncoupling tractor-trailer units, the basics of automatic and semi-automatic transmissions, and manual transmissions. You should also be proficient at adjusting and managing vehicle speed and vehicle space relations during your road training.
CDL Road Test Tip: Make sure the truck is in gear with the clutch pushed in when you come to a complete stop.
Most semi tractors (trucks) have 10-speed transmissions, which is what you will practice on in most Class A CDL training schools. However, there are also 9, 13, 15, and 18-speed trucks. Mastering the art of shifting a semi tractor will take a lot of practice, however, it is imperative that you do master it. Proper gear shifting prevents premature wear on the transmission and the engine and helps improve your fuel economy.
It is important not to overthink shifting. Study and follow the gear pattern on the gear shift knob (or wherever it is posted elsewhere, which is usually near the driver’s line of sight inside the cabin). Locate the high-low range shift and place it in the low position. If you have a trailer attached to your truck, you will want to start in second gear, otherwise, start in first. The double-clutching technique you learned during your skills training will come into play here.
You will work your way up through the gears. Once you get into 5th gear, you will move your high-low switch into high before pushing the clutch in again. Looking at the diagram, you will see that after you have moved the switch into high, the position for 1st gear now becomes 6th, 2nd gear now becomes 7th, 3rd gear is now 8th, 4th gear is 9th, and 5th gear is 10th. Think of it as a 5-speed on top of a 5-speed.
To slow down, you will learn that the transmission is not synchronized like it is in a car. You will need to have higher RPMs in order to shift into a lower gear.
RPM & Speed Control
You may also be taught how to “float the gears”, also known as floating, which involves shifting without using the clutch based on the RPMs of the engine. When shifting up, you want your RPMs to go down slightly. When shifting down, you want your RPMs to go up slightly.
Please be aware that floating is not allowed during the CDL Road Test. Double clutching will be required and the examiner will most likely subtract points from your test score if you do not comply.
CDL Road Test Tip: Never float the gears during your CDL Road Test. Always use the clutch.
Although there are similarities between shifting a manual transmission 5-speed car and a semi tractor (truck), it is a different skill in itself thanks to double clutching. For double clutching, you should be pushing the clutch in, moving the gear to neutral, pushing the clutch in and moving the gear to the next number up. However, now that you will be practicing on the road, you will need to do it faster as you increase your speed.
You will practice adjusting your speed based on roadway conditions and configurations. You will also take into account weather and visibility, traffic conditions, and vehicle and cargo conditions. Legal speed limits and what to do when no speed limit is posted will also be covered. The instructor will make sure you practice proper shifting and downshifting techniques as part of your speed management training.
You will observe and practice choosing the lane of traffic that provides you with the most ideal mobility and the least amount of traffic interruption. You will also practice gap selection for lane changes, passing other vehicles on the road, and crossing or entering the road or freeway.
Focus will also be placed on maintaining a safe following distance based on the amount of traffic, road conditions, visibility, and the combined weight of your vehicle and cargo. You will learn to rely heavily on all of your mirrors for assistance with proper space management.
CDL Road Test Tip: Make your lane changes when the roadway is straight, not when it’s curved.
You will learn and practice proper braking techniques while on the open road. You should recall that your brakes on particularly long or steep downgrades should only be used in addition to the engine’s own braking effect. Make sure your truck is in low gear and then gently push the brakes until you note a slowdown. Once you have noted a speed reduction of about 5 mph under your determined safe speed, you will release the brakes. Total brake application will be about 3 seconds. You will repeat these steps each time your truck reaches its safe speed again.
Bear in mind that your instructor may have you practice driving a tractor-trailer with an empty trailer one day, and then practice driving with a fully loaded trailer the next day. It is important to note that you will need to start braking much sooner with a fully loaded trailer since the extra weight greatly increases your stopping distance. Think of it as trying to slow down a freight train. The more weight you are carrying, the longer it will take to stop.
CDL Road Test Tip: At stop signs and red lights, always bring the truck to a complete stop right before the white stop line, do not let the front bumper hang over it.
Driving with an Empty Trailer
You may be surprised to learn that stopping with an empty trailer, also known as a “deadhead”, can actually be harder than stopping with a fully loaded trailer. You will get a feel for stopping with a deadhead while driving with your instructor.
Driving with a Fully Loaded Trailer
During your road training, you will need to be aware that loaded trailers have a higher center of gravity. Stopping a loaded trailer suddenly can not only cause your load to shift but can also lead to skidding or a rollover crash. In fact, loaded trucks need 20 to 40 percent more braking distance to stop than unloaded trucks. Your instructor will make sure that you practice stopping a loaded truck on an open road with minimal traffic.
You will learn how to watch your gauges and how to maximize fuel efficiency when going up an incline. You will be taught at what speeds to put your flashers on and the signs and symptoms of any problems to watch for. You will need to use your downshifting skills while climbing the hill. Practicing inclines will help you get a feel for when you need to downshift and how to not overheat your engine.
Properly navigating and shifting on downgrades is important. You will learn how to use the engine and transmission to slow your truck prior to using your brakes. Downshifting can be tricky on downgrades because when you shift into neutral, the truck rolls and you must increase your RPMs to match the speed of the truck in order to downshift.
Accuracy when downshifting on a downgrade is a very important safety skill. Missing a shift requires you to maintain your composure while remembering what gear you just came out of in order to match the speed of the drivetrain. This can be tricky, but like any acquired skill, the more downgrades you drive on, the better you’ll become.
Driving Under Overpasses
No vehicle, regardless of its load, is allowed to be more than 14 feet high. With that in mind, you should always know the height of the commercial vehicle you are driving. You should always check that there is enough clearance for your vehicle when approaching an overpass, especially if you are not familiar with the area, or there are bad weather conditions, such as heavy snow or fog which may cover clearance warning signs.
If there are no posted clearance signs (or they are covered by snow, mud, or graffiti), you will need to safely pull off the road and check the clearance height. Also, it is imperative that you are aware of any construction that may be in progress at the overpass. Don’t be surprised if the examiner tests you on clearance height during the CDL Road Test.
CDL Road Test Tip: Yell out the overpass clearance height and the height of your truck before going under an overpass.
Driving Through Tunnels
Just as you would for an overpass, be sure to check the clearance height signs. Keep in mind that the designated clearance height always refers to the highest point in the arch of the tunnel (which is always the center). Also, fluctuations in the road pavement (usually 1 to 6 inches) can reduce the amount of clearance you actually have.
If you are in doubt that you can clear any tunnel or overpass, take a different route. Additionally, as you are approaching the end of a tunnel, be aware that the wind (when exiting the tunnel) can make it difficult to stay in your lane.
Driving on Bridges
When driving your tractor-trailer over bridges, you need to be aware that you must stay within the legal limits for your vehicle’s weight. Each state has their own weight limits for commercial vehicles. To prevent overloading of bridges and roadways, many states have a maximum axle weight that is set by a bridge formula which allows less axle weight for axles that are closer together.
If your vehicle is overloaded, it will have a negative effect on your steering, braking, and speed control. In addition, when driving on bridges, you should be aware of ice, fog, or any other poor driving conditions.
On Ramps & Off Ramps
You will practice merging on the open road while using your mirrors to determine if there is a large enough gap in traffic for you to safely enter. You also will practice giving yourself enough room. Be sure that you are also signaling to indicate your maneuvering intentions.
Making Lane Changes
Lane changes require a lot of room, therefore, it is important to know what traffic is doing on all sides of your vehicle. Check your mirrors and look around you to make sure you have enough room to change lanes. Signal and check your blind spot. As you begin changing lanes, you will want to double-check that the lane you are moving into is still clear.
Turning with a trailer attached to your tractor will undoubtedly be one of the most difficult maneuvers you’ll face during your road training. Your instructor will tell you to turn wide and watch your trailer carefully. The basic rule of thumb is to get about half the rig past the corner before you begin the turn.
Hitting a smaller object, like a stop sign, can happen without you even knowing due to the size and weight of your rig. Longer vehicles, such as double trailers and double tanker trucks, require more room to safely navigate a turn.
You will apply your turn signal and pull forward to ensure you miss the curb and then practice squaring off the turn. You will learn why choosing the outside turn lane is the best option and how to watch your mirrors for any drivers trying to get around you. You will also learn about the tendency for trailers to follow their own path, called “off-tracking” as well as how to prevent the “crack-the-whip” effect.
Railroad crossings can cause safety hazards, especially if you are pulling a low-clearance trailer. You will learn about the three different types of crossings: passive, active, and highway crossings. You’ll also learn how to identify their different warning signs. You should approach each crossing as if you are always expecting a train by reducing your speed in case you need to stop.
Do not rely solely on railroad signals or by hearing a train since the signal may be malfunctioning and the conductor may be asleep or impaired, and therefore, may not blow the train whistle. If you are transporting hazardous materials or passengers, you are required by law to stop, look, and listen at all railroad crossings regardless of whether the signal is operating or not.
During the CDL Road Test you will be graded on railroad crossings. If the test route does not contain any railroad crossings, the examiner will point out a landmark ahead of time which will substitute for a railroad crossing. He or she will have you pull up to the landmark and ask you to describe the techniques you would use to safely cross the railroad tracks.
Driving on Rural Roads
You will practice driving on rural roads near your truck driving school. You will be trained to watch for wildlife, livestock, farm vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians. If a deer runs out onto the road during training, be sure to steer in the direction that it came from. You will also practice driving at speeds that are safe for rural roads.
Driving on City Streets
Driving on city streets can be one of the most challenging aspects of training and working as a CDL-A driver. When driving your rig in the city, you are likely to encounter construction, congestion, double turn lanes, one way streets, low clearance tunnels, tight turns, passing cars, pedestrians, and changing lanes.
There are many challenges with little time to think or prepare. As your instructor guides you through the city, you will practice many of your truck driving skills, including rapidly changing gears, changing lanes, cornering, braking, and defensive driving.
Remember, when you are operating a 26,000 lb. vehicle, you need to think three steps ahead and contemplate your next move like a chess player would. Obstacles, constantly changing traffic, and unplanned driving situations will invariably present themselves whenever you’re driving your rig on public roadways, especially in the city. You’ll want to make sure you are mentally prepared for this before you start your CDL Road Test. Try to think of different driving situations that may come up and what you would do to solve each problem.
Of course, like anything else, the more you operate a tractor-trailer, the more knowledge and experience you’ll gain and the more prepared you’ll be to overcome any unplanned driving situation.
Driving on Freeways
While freeway driving generally has a different set of challenges than city driving, there are still obstacles you will undoubtedly face. Higher speeds mean more stopping distance is required in the event of an emergency. You should focus on not changing lanes too frequently and checking blind spots in order to minimize the risk of accidents.
You’ll also learn to look for designated truck routes near merging freeways which are separate from the main freeway and provide truckers with their own on-ramps and off-ramps. Defensive driving and road sharing will also be emphasized while on the freeway.
Driving at slower speeds in heavy rain or during snowy, icy, or foggy weather will also be discussed. Keep in mind that tractor-trailers are much more susceptible to roll overs on freeways stretching across flat windy landscapes, especially during stormy weather conditions.
Driving at Night
You will learn and practice how speed adjustments, following distance, and gap selection are different during nighttime driving conditions. You will practice using your high beam headlights and adjusting them to minimize glare for other drivers on the road in accordance with local and state laws. Auxiliary lighting and averting your eyes to respond to the glare of oncoming vehicles are also topics covered while on the road. The symptoms and dangers of driver fatigue will also be discussed.
Road Skills Test Preparation
Your instructor may have you take some practice Road Skills tests so that you know what to expect. This will help strengthen any weaknesses you have and help prepare you for the real event. You will practice driving on busy interstates, rural roadways, and on crowded city streets, as well as on inclines and downgrades.
While each state has their own protocol and driving route for the CDL Road Test, you can be sure that doing any of the following will result in an automatic failure of the test:
- Failure to use the seat belt
- Committing a moving violation
- Disobeying traffic signs or signals
- Committing an avoidable crash or incident
- Committing a dangerous act
- Driving over a sidewalk or a curb
It is important to note that the examiner will be marking the test sheet during your road test. This does not necessarily mean that you have done anything wrong, it’s just part of the testing process.
Taking the Road Skills Test
Upon completion of your coursework and training hours, you will be ready to take your final CDL exam, the CDL Skills Test. Some schools arrange for you to take the Skills Test at their facility. This is convenient since you won’t have to work with a 3rd party CDL tester in order to schedule your Skills Test and obtain your CDL.
There’s another benefit to on-site CDL testing. If you are able to take your Skills Test at your CDL training school, you won’t have to worry about renting a tractor-trailer to test in since the school already has the equipment you need. Plus, by taking your Skills Test at the school, you’ll be testing in a tractor-trailer that you’re already used to operating, giving you a “home field advanatage”.
If you are unable to take the Skills Test on-site at your CDL training school, you will need to follow the instructions set forth by your state’s Department of Transportation (DOT) to schedule your Skills Test. Once you successfully pass this test, you will receive your CDL-A. Most CDL schools require you to obtain your CDL-A before you can graduate.
Once you have completed your training hours, you will receive a certificate to prove that you have graduated from a CDL Class A training school. If you attend a community college you will most likely be awarded an Undergraduate Certificate or a Technical Certificate. If you graduate from a private trucking school, you will be given a Certificate of Completion.
Employment as a Class A Truck Driver
Once you have graduated from a Class A truck driving school and obtained your Class A CDL, you can begin applying for Class A jobs. You could end up with a job offer within days of getting your license.
In fact, if you are like some students, you may already have a job lined up prior to graduation. This could be through a recruiter that came to your Class A trucking school or through company sponsored CDL training.
How to Choose a Quality CDL Training School
Since you will be investing a fair amount of time and money into your truck driver training, it is important that you carefully select which school you will attend. There are multiple factors to consider.
Some may be more important to you than others, such as Class A CDL training cost or the options for financial aid. Other future Class A drivers may be more concerned with how many hours of on-road training they will receive or the experience and certification of their instructors. Below are some of the factors you should consider when deciding which CDL training school will be right for you.
If only money was no object when it came to education. Then, everyone could get the best CDL training that money can buy. Unfortunately, if you are like most other students, you already have a set budget that you need to stick to. Request information from your local CDL schools to determine whether they are overpriced or offer a Class A CDL training program you can afford.
Not only do the schools in our network offer high quality CDL Class A training, they are very affordable as well.
If going to the Class A license school of your dreams is proving to be a challenge financially, find out of if they participate in federal or state grant programs, award scholarships, or if they provide other types of financing, such as an in-house payment plan, by requesting information from the school.
Experience of the Instructors
Let’s face it, you certainly do not want a Class A CDL training instructor that is fresh out of truck driving school themselves, or who has only had a few years on the road working as a professional truck driver.
You want to learn from an instructor who has many years of experience, including experience in different driving conditions, weather conditions, and even in different industries. You can glean a lot of valuable information from their experiences which can potentially keep you from making the same mistakes they did.
Some CDL Class A classes provide both computer simulated training and behind-the-wheel training in order to prepare you for the CDL Class A Road Skills Test. While a combination of both is good, the more on-the-road training you have, the better. Find out how many hours of actual behind-the-wheel (BTW) training your CDL school provides its students. The average amount of BTW training for most truck driving schools is 40 hours.
Find out if the CDL truck driving school you are considering has multiple trucks to train on. If they only have one truck and several students, this could potentially mean you are paying for hours of waiting over the course of several weeks of training. More trucks means more driving and practice time for you, and more bang for your buck.
In addition, you will want to find out what condition their trucks are in. If they are older and worn down, your behind-the-wheel experience may be lacking. Whenever possible, you want to train on newer equipment that is well maintained and in good working condition. This will make your learning experience more enjoyable, more effective, and will increase your chances of passing the CDL Skills Test.
You should also find out if your preferred CDL training schools have multiple semi tractors (trucks) equipped with different speed transmissions. The perfect school would provide trucks equipped with automatic transmissions, 9-speed, 10-speed, 13-speed, and 18-speed transmissions (or any combination thereof) to train on, since trucking companies use different types of tractors. Training and practicing on various types of transmissions will make your driving skills much more versatile.
Of course, there’s no such thing as the “perfect” truck driving school, and most Class A CDL training schools are equipped with standard 10-speed tractors (10 forward and 2 reverse) since 18-speed transmissions have more gears than most truck drivers will ever need (unless you’re pulling very heavy weight).
As of 2012, 60% of all commercial trucks equipped with manual transmissions were 10-speeds. “Performance” 13-speed and 18-speed transmissions, along with low-low gearing transmissions made up 20%. The remaining 20% of commercial trucks were equipped with automatic transmissions. What is interesting to note is, automatic transmissions have been steadily increasing in number, especially in linehaul tractors. As of 2014, they made up 30% of all Class 8 commercial vehicles.
Classroom Facilities and Practice Lot
Find out if the CDL school uses modern classroom equipment as this will affect your entire learning experience. You will also want to inquire about their practice lots. Can the lot fit more than one truck at a time? If not, you may be waiting longer during skills training. Find out of the practice lot is paved or dirt and gravel, and how big it is. As a rule of thumb, the larger the practice lot is, the better since multiple students will have ample room to practice their skills training at the same time (assuming the school is equipped with multiple tractor-trailers).
Student to Teacher Ratio
The student to teacher ratio is the number of students assigned to one instructor. Although you may pay more at a school that offers a 1:1 student to teacher ratio, this type of training really is the best kind of CDL training you can get.
Of course, if your school of choice does not offer a 1:1 student to teacher ratio, the lower the number of students are assigned to one instructor, the better. You want your instructor to be able to focus on you and help you improve any areas of weakness you may have.
When talking to the school recruiter about their Class A CDL training program, be sure to ask them exactly how many students will be in the truck cab with the instructor during the skills training and road training portions of the program.
On-Site CDL Testing and Test Trucks
Some of the best Class A CDL drivers schools will allow you to use their trucks when you go to take your CDL Skills Test. Even better, some CDL training schools provide on-site CDL testing right there at the facility.
If you are like most CDL Class A license students, you will be anxious to get a job as soon as you graduate. You should request information from the school to find out what the job placement rate and the on-time graduation rates are. These figures can give you valuable information as to how effective the Class A driving school is at training their students.
Truck Driving Schools Info has partnered with some of the best truck driving schools in the nation that do everything they can to help you get a job, even before you graduate. Many of our partner schools have student coordinators who meet with you to help you find the best trucking company and best position to fit your personal needs. In addition, they invite recruiters from trucking companies all over the country as well as locally to come and do presentations about their company and the positions they have available.
If you will be attending a Class A school several hours away from your home, you will want to find out if they offer any kind of temporary housing near the school, or better yet, on the campus. Keep in mind that this could be an added expense if you are required to pay for it.
Class A Truck Driving Jobs
Having a Class A CDL opens the door to many different job opportunities. You might be the kind of person that likes to get home to the wife and kids each night, or maybe you prefer to take long trips across the United States, taking in all the amazing scenery that this country has to offer. Whatever the case may be, there is a trucking job that’s right for you.
How to Find CDL Training Near Me
If you’ve read this far, you may be wondering “How do I find the best Class A license school near me?” Wonder no more! A rewarding and great paying job as a Class-A CDL driver awaits you. You can begin by clicking the orange “Find Your School!” button below to learn more about the Class A CDL training schools in your area who are ready to help you succeed in this exciting, in-demand career!
Get Your CDL in 4 Weeks and Make $45,000 or More Your First Year!
Are you ready to take the next step and begin your career as a well-paid professional truck driver? We’ve partnered with some of the best truck driving schools in the nation and have helped thousands of people just like you find a high quality truck driving school. We’ll make it easy for you to find the right school and start training immediately.
The schools in our network hold one or more of the following quality standards:
- State Licensure
- PTDI Certification
- Nationally Recognized Accreditation
- Job Placement Assistance for Those Who Qualify
Just click the orange “Find Your School!” button below and Request Info from the school of your choice. It’s that easy!
Over-the-Road (Long Haul)
Over-the-Road (OTR) positions for Class A drivers usually require you to spend about two to three weeks out on the road. You will likely haul goods and freight for multiple companies and cover thousands of miles during this time period. Oftentimes, OTR drivers will earn a higher salary than drivers in other positions. This is because the pay is usually by the mile and OTR drivers drive thousands of miles per year.
If you are a regional driver, you will stay within a set region while on the job. You may have the option to work for multiple companies or a single company.
A regional driver will drive more miles than a local driver, but not nearly as much as an OTR driver. You’ll also be able to return home more frequently than an OTR driver, though your schedule may not be as consistent as a local driver.
As a local driver, you stay within your home region and are home each night. You may drive a different route each day or the exact same one, however, you never drive outside of your home area.
One drawback to being a local driver is that you may not get paid as much as an OTR or regional driver, although you do have the convenience of a more traditional schedule and getting home each night.
If you are interested in becoming a Class A CDL driver, yet you thrive on routine and stability, you may want to become a dedicated driver. As a dedicated driver, you will have a regular assigned route that is the same each week.
Your route can be local, overnight, or even require you to be gone for multiple days. However, it remains the same each week. This gives you the benefit of being home at some point each week and having a consistent paycheck.
Owner-operators are self-employed drivers who own their own Class A truck. They contract with different trucking companies and set their own hours. One drawback to becoming an owner-operator is that you must invest a lot of money up front to get a truck. Another drawback is that you must pay for your own expenses, such as fuel, repairs, and maintenance costs, which can add up very quickly.
However, you have the potential to make a lot more money than a company paid truck driver, and will have a lot of freedom as well. If purchasing your own tractor-trailer is a hurdle for you, you may be able to participate in a lease-purchase program.
CDL Class A Jobs: Qualifications
In order to get hired by a Class A trucking company, you must meet their minimum qualifications. These qualifications prove that you have the training, ability, work ethic, and character to work for their company. While these qualifications can vary from trucking company to trucking company, they are usually quite similar.
Common hiring requirements include:
- Have a valid Class A CDL
- Have a good work history
- Pass a background screening
- Be at least 18 years of age for intrastate driving
- Be at least 21 years of age for interstate driving
- Have or be willing to obtain various endorsements
- Have at least six months of OTR driving experience
- Pass a Department of Transportation (DOT) physical
- Pass a Department of Transportation (DOT) drug test
- A minimum of 120 hours of hands-on CDL Class A training
- Have a good driving record for at least 5 years prior to applying
While this list isn’t comprehensive, it gives you a good idea of what to expect as you begin applying for a trucking job with various trucking companies.
CDL Class A Jobs: Disqualifications
In addition to the general hiring requirements listed above, most, if not all commercial trucking companies will not hire drivers with certain backgrounds. Keep in mind that this list will vary slightly among individual trucking companies.
Common job disqualifications include:
- Poor work history
- Felony convictions
- Previous DUI charges
- Certain driving convictions
- Certain medical conditions
- Testing positive for illegal substances
- Driving with a suspended or revoked driver’s license
It’s important to note that many trucking companies will review past criminal convictions on a case-by-case basis.
Truck Driver Salary
No matter what type of career you may be considering, wages are an important part of your decision. After graduating from a CDL Class A School, you can expect to be paid between $40,000 and $65,000 per year. However, this number can change based on the type of driver you are, the state you work in, and how many miles you drive.
Your salary can also increase if you hold endorsements on your CDL like HazMat or Doubles/Triples, or if you have more than one year of Class A truck driving experience. More experienced drivers can expect to make $85,000 per year or more!
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2016 the national median salary for Class A truck drivers was $41,340 per year or $19.87 per hour. For light truck drivers, the annual salary reported in 2016 was $28,390 or $13.65 per hour.
Class A CDL Jobs: Employment Statistics
As of 2014, the BLS reported that there were 1,797,700 heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers and 1,330,000 light truck drivers. Nationally, an additional 98,800 heavy truck driving positions will be added from 2014 to 2024, while 48,100 light truck driving jobs will be added.
This means a 5% increase for heavy and tractor-trailer truck driving jobs and a 4% increase for light truck driving jobs. In fact, the commercial driving industry is the 5th fastest growing employment industry in the nation.
I hope this comprehensive article gave you all the information you were searching for regarding the Class A CDL and how to obtain one.
If you are interested in attending a Class A CDL training school near you, simply fill out the quick 1-minute form below. We’ve partnered with some of the best truck driving schools in the country and can connect you with a high quality CDL training school in your area.
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