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Mike Byrnes and Associates, Inc. Publishers
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The Complete Guide to Tractor-Trailer Operations

Your CDLGet a CDL in 10 Easy Steps

A Commercial Driverís License opens the door to a great career. You must have one to drive:

  • a combination of vehicles weighing 26,001 lbs. or more,
  • a single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight of
    26, 001 lbs. or more,
  • a single vehicle designed to transport more than
    15 persons (including the driver) or
  • any size vehicle which requires hazardous material placards.
Federal regulations require that you meet minimum knowledge and skill requirements. You must be at least 18 years old to drive intrastate and at least 21 years old to drive interstate. You must obtain a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration medical certification.
The state that will grant you your CDL will test that you have the required knowledge and skill. Increase your chances of passing your Commercial Driverís License tests the first time with preparation and practice. Youíll have more confidence be more relaxed when taking the tests.
     1.     License Application
Visit the offices of your state licensing agency and learn what is required of you by the application procedure. Many states save you a trip to the office by posting this information online. Gather all the documents that the agency requires, such as proof of residence, insurance and vehicle registration. Be prepared to pay any fees so that you can complete the application without repeated visits.
     2.     Prepare for the Knowledge Test
Your state offers a CDL manual, either at the offices of the licensing agency or on the agency's Web site. Before taking the written test, read the manual and answer the sample test questions. You can find reference material and more practice questions at your public library, in a bookstore or online if you want further information and added confidence. The classroom portion of truck driver training programs includes the resources and practice you need. Check our Links page for a training program in your area.
     3.     Take the Knowledge Test
You donít usually need an appointment to take the Knowledge Test. Confirm this with your state licensing agency. Read the instructions. Ask the examiner to explain anything you donít understand about taking the test. Look over the entire test and answer first all the questions for which you have ready answers. Tackle the harder ones next. Avoid making changes once you have answered the questions. Your first answer choice is most likely the best. Do not leave any questions blank. A guess is better than leaving a blank. You might guess correctly but a question left unanswered can only be marked ďwrong.Ē Relax and do not rush through the test. CDL tests are rarely timed. Check with your licensing agency in advance to make sure that this is the case in your state.
     4.     Get a Learnerís Permit
You must have a learnerís permit to practice driving on public roads. Get a CLP from your state licensing agency. A CDL holder must accompany you during your practice sessions.
     5.     Practice Your Skills
You will take your skills tests in a vehicle that is representative of the vehicle for which you want to be licensed to drive, so practice with a representative vehicle. For example, if you want to be licensed to drive a tractor-trailer combination, you should practice in and must take the skills tests in a tractor-trailer combination. In most cases, a tractor with a van or flatbed trailer is all you need to take your CDL skills test. You cannot take your test in a loaded vehicle, so tankers and double- and triple-trailers are not needed to take your driving skills tests. Rental agencies will rarely rent a commercial vehicle to a driver without a CDL. However, truck driver training programs will make it possible for you to practice in a representative vehicle.
     6.     Prepare for the Skills Test
Inspect your vehicle it to ensure that the equipment is safe, well maintained and meets federal and state safety standards. Know where all the controls are and how to operate them. Equip yourself with a flashlight, a tire pressure gauge and a tire tread depth gauge. (Your state may not require you to inspect your tires with this much accuracy but it is not wrong to do so and it is more professional.) If you need glasses or contacts to see properly, remember to have them with you when you report to the testing site.
     7.     Take the Skills Test
Arrive at the test site a few minutes before your appointment. Being late will only add to your nervousness. Be calm and follow the examinerís directions. If you donít understand what youíre being told to do, politely ask for an explanation. Donít guess. During the road test, constantly check the view using your mirrors. Be aware of the traffic around you. Follow speed limits and all traffic control signals. Wear your seat belt.
     8.     Rally After a Mistake
Some mistakes result in automatic failure. Examples are:
  • failure to use double clutching
  • stalling your vehicle when shifting
  • coasting in neutral more than 10 to 20 feet when coming to a complete stop or shifting
  • putting your truck in reverse accidentally when starting from a stop
  • hitting a curb when performing a turn or backing maneuver
  • impeding traffic by moving too slowly and
  • damaging another vehicle or object during the tests.
If you do make a mistake, donít panic! Show the examiner that you can stay calm and in control after a mistake. The examiner will document it on your test. The examiner will use a point system to grade your performance. Donít make too many mistakes and you will likely pass the test and get your license.
     9.      Go Beyond the Basics
In addition to your CDL, you also need an Endorsement to drive a school bus, double/triple trailer, tank vehicle, passenger vehicle in three different classes, a vehicle that carries hazardous materials or a tank vehicle and hazardous materials combination. You must take your tests in a representative vehicle and show you have the special knowledge and skill this equipment requires. You must pass tests regarding air brakes to be allowed to drive CMVs with air brakes.
    10.     Think Safety
Throughout the tests, stay calm, be confident and donít rush. Always keep safety in mind.