What to Expect from Your CDL Class

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Becoming a truck driver is an exciting and rewarding career option. With as few as 160 hours of training, you can get started as a professional driver. But, what is a CDL, and what do you need to get into a CDL training program?

We've gathered everything you need to know about CDL programs, why you need a CDL, and what to expect from your training.

What is a CDL License, and Why is it Necessary?

Semi trucks are massive machines and they take a certain amount of learned skills to be able to operate them. In order to drive a truck, you must have a commercial driver's licnese (CDL). A CDL is a specialized driver’s license proving you're capable of operating your vehicle. There are three types of CDLs available: CDL Class A, B, and C.

  • CDL Class A: This license allows you to operate most trucks, single or combined, with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more, with a towing weight of 10,000 pounds or more. It encompasses all license classes.

  • CDL Class B: You can operate single or combined vehicles with a GVWR of 26,001, but what you’re towing must be under 10,000 pounds. You can also operate class C vehicles.

  • CDL Class C: You can drive a vehicle carrying a total of 16 passengers, including you, only if it is under 26,001 GVWR. You may also carry hazardous material if it’s under the 26,001 threshold. Driving class A and B vehicles will be restricted. 

To get your license, you must enroll in a truck driver training program either through a private institution, a trucking company, a community college, or trade school. Your training can last from a few weeks to a few months. If you are able to attend full time, you can get your CDL in as few as 3-6 weeks. 

Upon completing your program, you'll be required to take the CDL exam. The exam will evaluate what you've learned from a practical and hands-on standpoint. If you pass, you'll get your CDL license and be able to begin training. From there, you get to hit the road on your own (unless you choose to team drive). 

What You Need to Know About Your CDL Training

As mentioned, there are different ways to go about truck driver training. One isn't better than the other as long as it is accredited; you just need to choose the type of CDL school that is best for you.

A few things to consider when making your decision are:

  • Is the school and program accredited? If it is, that means the Department of Education has given its stamp of approval and the school meets national educational requirements.

  • Is the school and program certified? If it is, that means the Department of Transportation has approved the school based on set criteria standards.

  • Is the school and program licensed? If it is, that means the instructors, the curriculum, and the facility have all met the minimum requirements set forth by the state they are located in. 

  • Is the school listed with the Better Business Bureau? Check its ratings through BBB and other sites that vet companies to help you make an educated decision.

  • Does the school offer any reassurances or guarentees? Does it have the capacity to train students well enough to pass the CDL licensing exam? Does it offer job placement or additional training if need be?

  • What is included in the price of the tuition? Typically, all the necessary supplies, extra help, classroom and over-the-road training are included.

  • Avoid “FREE” training. Usually these programs are not accredited.

  • Make sure the instructors and trainers are fully licensed and professionals in the industry.

Here’s What to Expect to Review in Training

  • Road signs and their rules and regulations

  • Operating and maneuvering trucks

  • How to read maps and plan out your runs

  • Use of electronic logs

  • Pre- and post-trip vehicle inspection

  • Over-the-road driving

  • Safety procedures

  • Coupling and uncoupling a trailer from your truck

  • Computer training, depending on the school

Your first 40 hours will be focused on classroom training, but you’ll still be in the training yard doing some hands-on learning with trucks. The program builds on itself and moves rapidly until you’re actually training on the road. You may start out with a short highway drive at first, but you’ll work your way up until, for the remainder of your training, you’re on the road.

Once you’re training behind the wheel, you’ll get a deeper look into:

  • Turning the vehicle

  • Railroad crossing and intersections

  • City and highway driving

  • Pre- and post-trip inspections

  • Testing the brakes

How to Pass the CDL Exam with Ease

Visit our CDL Study Guide for in-depth study resources.

Hopefully after studying hard you will equipped with all the information you need in order to pass the Class A test your first time around.

Here are some pointers to prepare you for passing your road test:

  • If you can, get plenty of practice days leading up to the big exam.

  • Get a good night’s sleep before your exam. Being well rested keeps your mind alert.

  • Get to the testing facility early so you can familiarize yourself with the area. It may help calm your nerves as well. 

There are some mistakes that are considered acceptable which are:

  • Turning too wide

  • Missing a shift

Mistakes to avoid:

  • Hitting curbs

  • Rolling backward during a stop

  • Not checking your mirrors

To pass your test, you cannot have more than 30 points deducted. Your instructor will evaluate your skills and also your behavior during testing. Do your best to breathe, stay at ease, and remember all of the tools and knowledge you have attained during your training.

About the CDL Knowledge Test

This is the written segment of your exam; it will test all the classroom learning you did. Specifics such as state rules and regulations will be on the exam, as well as weight limitations. To get a head-start, you can take our free CDL license practice exam to help you prepare.

Details to know about the knowledge portion of the exam:

  • Take lots of notes during class and while studying.

  • The test will be done on a computer.

  • It will be multiple choice questions.

  • You need an 80 percent or higher to pass.

  • Go to your state CDL manual and study it.

Once you’ve passed and you have your license, you’re ready to move onto the next stage in your career! Find your first trucking job here.

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