While it may seem daunting, getting a CDL is a relatively straightforward process.
This guide starts with some basic terms and explains how CDLs work before providing a step-by-step list of how to get a CDL.
Next, we cover who can get a CDL and what the different CDL classes, endorsements, and restrictions mean.
Lastly, we cover how CDL schools work, how to get free schooling, average CDL salaries, and more.
If you're just looking for a CDL school in your area, you can use our search portal below.
A Commercial Driver’s License, also known as a CDL, is a special driver’s license that is required to drive large/heavy vehicles, transport large groups of passengers, or haul hazardous materials.
CLP stands for “commercial learner’s permit” and allows CLP holders to drive commercial vehicles for training purposes before they get their CDL as long as they are accompanied by a CDL holder.
CDL holders may also need to get a CLP when learning to drive vehicles that their current CDL does not cover, such as a hazmat truck.
CLPs are also occasionally referred to as a CDL permit.
CDLs are issued at the state level so the specifics may differ slightly from state to state. However, there are federal CDL requirements that each state must follow.
Before obtaining a CDL, individuals in all 50 states will need to first obtain a CLP, receive proper training, and then pass the appropriate tests.
Even though licensing is done at the state level, once an individual obtains their CDL, they are permitted to drive a commercial motor vehicle across state lines as long as they are 21 years of age or older.
Depending on the state, CDLs will expire after 5-8 years and will need to be renewed.
Depending on the state and CDL school, getting a CDL can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000.
The biggest expense for most individuals will be CDL school. However, many trucking companies offer free CDL schooling for individuals that agree to work for the company for a set period of time afterwards (usually a year). Keep reading to learn more about CDL school and paid programs.
Other expenses can include CDL application fees, testing fees, the actual license fee, and any additional endorsement fees.
Individuals are required to pass a knowledge test for the specific type of driving they will be doing once they have their CDL.
A commercial learner’s permit allows individuals to practice driving a commercial vehicle on public roads as long as they are accompanied by a qualified CDL holder.
New CDL holders are required to complete entry-level driver training with a registered training provider before they take their CDL test.
Students can find a registered training provider on the FMCSA’s website and check their training certification information here.
Once individuals have had their CLP for at least 14 days and completed their entry-level driver training, they are able to take the CDL skills test.
There are three parts to the skills test:
Most US citizens and permanent residents in good health with a clean driving record can get their CDL.
To be eligible for a CDL, an individual must meet the following minimum federal requirements:
An SR-22 by itself does not prohibit individuals from getting their CDL. An SR-22 can be required for a variety of reasons so CDL eligibility comes down to why an SR-22 is required.
For example, a failure to carry insurance will not prevent an individual from getting their CDL in most cases but a recent DUI usually will. These regulations are set at the state level though so potential CDL candidates will need to check with their state’s DMV website.
However, not all trucking companies will hire a driver with an SR-22 even if they have their CDL. So while drivers with an SR-22 may still be eligible for a CDL, their job prospects will likely still be limited compared to a CDL holder with a clean driving record.
While each state handles DUI convictions differently, many states allow individuals with a DUI record to still get their CDL as long as enough time has passed. They will also need to have an active driver’s license. However, these regulations vary from state to state so it’s important to check with the state DMV before enrolling in a CDL school.
It’s important to note that finding a CDL job with a DUI record can be extremely difficult.
Yes, drivers with hearing aids that are able to hear a forced whisper in their better ear from 5 feet away meet the physical qualifications for getting a CDL.
Yes, deaf individuals can still get their CDLs but will need to apply for the FMCSA's exemption program. Individuals are approved on a case-by-case basis.
There are three classes of CDLs, each corresponding to a specific type of vehicle or cargo.
A Class A license allows holders to operate any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more. Drivers can also tow any vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or more.
Semi-trucks, tankers, and tractor-trailer buses will all require a Class A CDL.
Individuals with a Class A license can also drive vehicles that fall under the Class B and Class C licenses, provided they have the appropriate endorsements.
A Class B license allows holders to drive any single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more. Drivers can also tow any vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of less than 10,000 pounds.
Large box trucks, buses, and dump trucks with small trailers will all require a Class B CDL.
Individuals with a Class B license can also drive vehicles that fall under the Class C license, provided they have the appropriate endorsements.
A Class C license allows holders to drive vehicles that do not fall under the Class A or Class B licensing requirements but that are designed to transport 16+ passengers (including the driver) or are placarded for hazardous materials.
Depending on the cargo or passengers being transported, individuals may need to obtain specific endorsements on their CDL license.
The table below covers all CDL endorsements regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Drivers wishing to add a Passenger, Hazmat, or School Bus endorsement to their CDL will also need to add the endorsements added to their Commercial Learner's Permit.
CDLs can also come with restrictions that limit the types of vehicles they can operate or indicate that a medical variance has been issued to the license holder.
The table below covers all restrictions regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration but each state may have additional restrictions.
As of February 7th, 2022, all CLP holders must attend a registered CDL school to complete their entry-level driver training. This includes individuals that are:
CDL School consists of two types of training:
Every CDL program differs but in general, most schools will take 1-2 weeks to cover classroom training and 3-5 weeks of behind-the-wheel training.
While CDL school can vary widely depending on the school and program, potential students should budget at least $2,000 but tuition can cost upwards of $8,000 in some cases.
To avoid paying for CDL school out of pocket, many opt for paid CDL training.
Paid CDL training is when a company pays for an individual’s CDL training in return for the CDL candidate agreeing to work for the company for a set period of time, usually a year.
This can work in one of two ways:
Paid CDL training has several benefits including no out-of-pocket expenses and a guaranteed job at the end of the program.
Companies use paid CDL training as a way to recruit new drivers so if an individual completes the CDL training program but does not drive for the agreed-upon period, they will usually be required to reimburse the company.
According to the US Census, more than 3.5 million individuals work as truck drivers.
While this does not account for all CDL holders and some drivers may drive trucks that do not require a CDL, it provides a rough approximation of how many CDL holders are in the US.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2021 median pay for heavy tractor-trailer drivers was $48,310. For passenger vehicle drivers, the median pay in 2021 was $37,540.
No, it is not possible to get a CDL without attending CDL school. As of February 7th, 2022, the FMCSA requires that all CLP holders must complete entry-driver training before taking their CDL test.
No, it is not possible to get a CDL online. While some states allow for a portion of the test to be done online, all CDL applicants are required to take at least a portion of the test in person. This may be limited to the skills tests depending on the state.
It typically takes 3-4 weeks between getting a commercial learner’s permit and taking the CDL test. The biggest factors that impact the time required are the CDL class program length, the class of license, endorsements required, and student ability.
Yes, individuals need a CDL to drive a vehicle with air brakes. Drivers must have also passed the Air Brakes Knowledge Test and not have a "L" restriction on their license.