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CDL training is the first step towards a rewarding career in trucking and transportation. Obtaining a commercial driver’s license opens up several exciting avenues for employment. Those who enjoy life on the open road and making timely deliveries should consider earning a CDL.

While a diverse range of people from all backgrounds earn CDLs and get into professional trucking, only six percent are female. In modern times, more and more women are getting into the field, as trucking pay rates are not dependent on gender, age, or ethnicity. Truckers often earn salaries based on shipment weight, hours worked, or miles driven.

What Is a Commercial Driver’s License?

While a standard driver’s license is Class D, a CDL falls within the Classes of A, B, or C. Class A drivers can operate the road’s heaviest vehicles, while Classes B and C deal with trucks of lighter weights.

Class A CDL

These drivers can operate semi-trucks, buses, and tractor-trailers with two or more axles. It is legal for them to operate trucks with a total vehicle weight rating over 26,000 pounds. They can also tow vehicles and haul combinations such as double and triple trailers weighing 10,000 pounds or more. This is the highest-level license, and these drivers are allowed to operate most Class B, C, and D vehicles.

A few other types of vehicles a Class A CDL driver might operate include:

  • Tractor buses
  • Tankers
  • Flatbed trucks

Since a Class A CDL allows for longer travel routes and the widest array of commercial vehicles, it’s the most sought-after designation. Class A jobs usually have higher earning potential, and there are generally more opportunities for employment in this class. Those looking for a serious, long-term truck driving career often strive to obtain Class A certifications.

Class B CDL

While these operators can drive rigs with gross vehicle weight ratings over 26,000 pounds, they cannot tow any vehicles in excess of 10,000 pounds. Here’s a few examples of the types of vehicles a Class B driver can operate:

  • School buses
  • Tour buses
  • Large city buses
  • Delivery vehicles
  • Straight trucks and box trucks
  • Dump trucks with trailers under 10,000 pounds
  • Segmented buses

The CDL Class B job market can be difficult to break into, as there is less work for these drivers than those who hold Class A CDLs. Generally, those who seek Class B licenses prefer working within a single state or group of cities. Class B designations are also attained by those who will use trucking as a temporary or secondary career.

Class B drivers have permission to get behind the wheel of Class C and D automobiles, but not Class A.

Class C and D Licenses

Class C CDL operators may drive vehicles with 16 or more riders. They can also control vehicles not defined in Classes A and B, such as passenger vans and combination automobiles. With the proper endorsement, they are authorized to drive vehicles used in the movement of hazardous materials.

Every citizen who is authorized to drive a non-commercial vehicle has a Class D license. While these are required in order to receive CDLs, they are replaced when a person moves up to a higher license class.

What Is a Commercial Learner’s Permit?

In order to practice driving tractor-trailers, prospects must secure a Commercial Learner’s Permit, or CLP. As long as a CDL holder is next to them in the bay, those with CLPs can legally drive semis on the freeway. To earn a CLP, hopefuls must:

  • Be over 18 years of age
  • Hold a junior operator’s license or Class D license for two or more years
  • Pass a vision test and complete a written exam through a state department of transportation

Once the CLP is acquired, hopefuls can get hands-on practice driving big rigs. At this point, they should continue to study for their CDL test.

What Are the Guidelines for Getting a CDL?

While the federal Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act describes the essentials of obtaining a CDL, each state has its own standards. You must go through a state-approved trucking school to get a chance at obtaining a CDL license. Getting certified involves a series of mental and physical tests, along with health exams.

It’s a difficult process to complete, and rightfully so. Truck drivers are responsible for not only their cargo but also the lives of everyone who shares the road.

Truck driving school is also where students train to maneuver over-sized vehicles throughout highways and side streets. They also learn about vehicle maintenance, traffic laws, and safety guidelines. Courses last about six months. After graduating, hopefuls can take practical and written exams to obtain their CDL.

CDL requirements often vary by state. Generally, high school diplomas or GEDs are required for certification. Here’s some of the more common CDL guidelines:

  • Applicants must be at least 18 to drive commercial vehicles within state lines.
  • The minimum age to move across state lines or carry hazardous materials is 21.
  • Prospects must reveal all states in which they have had a license to drive any type of vehicle in the last 10 years.
  • Recruits need to state on record that they do not have driver’s licenses in more than one jurisdiction or state.
  • Proof of citizenship, like a Social Security card, green card, or birth certificate, is required.
  • Hopefuls need to pass background checks and drug screens.
  • Candidates cannot have driving suspensions or revocations in any state.
  • Drivers must be able to speak and read English. In the United States, all CDL exams are in English.
  • Knowledge of road signs, signals, and traffic laws is crucial.
  • Workers must be physically able to operate a heavy-duty commercial vehicle.
  • Truckers will need to adjust to abnormal or uneven sleep schedules.

What Is a DOT Card?

To receive a CDL, applicants need to have legal documentation that they meet certain medical and physical criteria. This comes in the form of a Medical Examiner’s Certificate, also known as a DOT card. All CDL workers must carry a copy of this form while on the job. DOT cards are available from approved medical examiners.

What Are CDL Endorsements?

In order to haul hazmat substances, drivers must have a Hazardous Materials Endorsement on their CDL. To qualify, candidates go through background checks and fingerprinting as part of the TSA’s Security Threat Assessment. A written hazardous materials exam is also required. Potentials need to pay a fee as part of the application form.

Other CDL Endorsements

Further training and testing is required for the operation of the following:

  • Tank vehicles
  • Passenger vehicles
  • Double and triple trailers
  • School buses
  • Tank and hazardous materials combinations

What Can Prevent You from Getting A CDL?

Past offenses can come back to haunt those looking for trucking careers. Several motor-related crimes will prevent candidates from getting CDLs. Fleeing an accident scene and committing vehicular manslaughter are two of these. Others include:

  • Receiving a DUI
  • Committing a felony involving a commercial vehicle
  • Being involved with a drug crime

Trucking jobs require workers to have clean motor records for safety and insurance purposes. A few small infractions here or there are usually okay, but reckless driving histories are red flags. Racking up several tickets for smaller offenses like speeding can prohibit recruits from receiving CDLs.

What Are the Responsibilities of CDL Drivers?

Aside from long stints driving between destinations, CDL drivers have several responsibilities. These include:

  • Cleaning and refueling trucks
  • Finding docks and properly maneuvering big rigs
  • Handling cargo
  • Inspecting trucks and freight
  • Securing payloads before transport
  • Signing for shipments

What Are CDL Driver Work Hours?

Truckers usually work long shifts. In order to prevent the dangers associated with extreme fatigue, a truck driver’s shift cannot last more than 14 hours. 11 of these can be spent driving, while 3 need to be spent unloading items and performing other tasks. According to law, CDL operators can’t drive more than 60 hours during a week or 70 hours throughout an 8-day span.

What Can You Do with CDL Training?

Drivers in the United States need a CDL to do the following:

  • Operate a motor vehicle with a weight over 26,000 pounds (excluding trailers)
  • Carry hazardous materials for transport
  • Drive a vehicle capable of carrying 16 or more people (including the driver)
  • Pull a trailer weighing over 10,000 pounds

CDL truck drivers will often find themselves squatting, bending, twisting, and heavy lifting while loading and unloading cargo. They step in and out of their truck bed dozens of times per day and are required to talk to shipping and receiving personnel when docked.

What Are Useful Traits for CDL Drivers?

  • An intuitive sense of naviagtion
  • Alert, detail-oriented, and punctual demeanors
  • The ability to maneuver big rigs into parking lots and loading docks
  • Spatial awareness and an innate sense of direction
  • A level head when situations get stressful
  • Knowledge of installing and removing tire chains
  • Patience, as truckers encounter road rage and vehicular mishaps
  • Vehicular maintenance skills

What Are the Requirements for CDL Jobs?

In addition to passing a CDL exam from a state Department of Motor Vehicles, CDL applicants must meet the following standards:

  • Hopefuls should be reasonable physical condition. Many aspects of the job involve manual labor.
  • Potentials must have a minimum of 20/40 vision. Glasses or contacts are allowed.
  • Applicants need at least 70-degree field of vision in both eyes.
  • CDL drivers can’t be colorblind.
  • Recruits must have good hearing.

What Is the Outlook for

CDL Jobs?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, driving jobs that require CDLs are experiencing a period of growth. The improved economy calls for more transportation of goods than ever before, creating a demand for skilled truckers with clean records. Also, many of the more experienced drivers are retiring and leaving the profession, creating employment gaps that need to be filled.

Entry-level CDL drivers collect hourly wages around $19 or $20, adding up to about $40k per year. Experienced truckers who carry heavy or expensive cargo can earn annual salary packages upwards of $70k or $80k. Job benefits with trucking companies often include:

  • 401(k) retirement plans with employee contribution matches
  • Generous pay rates
  • Dental care
  • Vision protection
  • Extensive healthcare coverage
  • Supplemental medical insurance
  • Paid time off

Some people seek CDL trucker jobs for nothing more than the excellent employment benefits offered by most freight companies.

What Should Workers Expect?

At times it can be tough to get enough rest and eat properly while on the road. Some also find it difficult maintaining a cool head when other drivers fail to respect their space on the highway.

Potential truckers should prepare for extended hours and spotty sleep schedules. While their shifts cannot last over 14 hours, with 11 of those driving, that’s still a lengthy day.

These stresses are somewhat offset by the constant change of scenery that truckers get to enjoy. CDL drivers often travel to places that they never thought they would see and meet people that they will never forget.

Who Do CDL Drivers Work For?

Those who hold CDL licenses can get truck driver jobs with virtually any business that transports large amounts of goods. This includes:

  • Retailers
  • Restaurants
  • Trucking companies
  • Touring entertainment outfits

Why Is Truck Driving Important?

A healthy economy depends on the transport of goods and materials. Without truckers to haul all of our stuff around, trade and business as we know it would change drastically. Grocery store shelves would be bare and gas stations would run out of fuel within days.

CDL truckers allow us to enjoy foods and other goods that would otherwise be out of reach. Not only that, but they allow our economy to function. The world would be an unstable place without trucks and truck drivers.

What Can You Do to Achieve Success?

CDL drivers should really take time to get to know all they can about vehicle maintenance. There is nothing worse than being out on the road and missing a delivery because of truck troubles. The ability to troubleshoot these types of problems can mean all of the difference when high amounts of money are riding on deliveries within precise time frames.

When going in for a trucking job interview, dress business casual. While some companies will hire recruits wearing normal street clothes, it is a good idea to look a bit more presentable. The way one dresses when meeting potential employers says a lot about how seriously they will take the job.

Should You Consider Becoming a Terminal Tractor Driver?

Terminal tractors, also known as yard jockeys, are special semi-tractors used to move trailers around large warehouses or cargo yards. Since they aren’t driven on the road, they often run on electric engines and reach top speeds of around 25 miles per hour.

Most workers, known as yard drivers, operate terminal tractors strictly within a company’s private property. Because of this, not all trucking businesses require these drivers to have CDLs. A clean driving record and high school diploma or GED, along with hands-on truck driving training, are often the only requirements.

Yard jockey operators must be experts at maneuvering trucks with attached trailers. They are responsible for backing trailers into confined spaces and placing them into specific formations. A terminal tractor driver earns a yearly salary package between $35k and $50k.

Other yard driver duties include:

  • Maintaining and cleaning entire fleets of trailers
  • Inspecting trailers for problems before and after trips
  • Loading and unloading cargo
  • Moving containers and trailers to specific loading dock doors
  • Troubleshooting issues with refrigerated trailers
  • Properly attaching yard tractors to trailers
  • Maneuvering trailers through tight spaces and around other parked trucks or trailers
  • Ensuring trailers are ready for transport and unloading prior to departure

Do Truck Drivers Have Any Other Options?

A CDL allows for many more career options than just truck driving. Licensed candidates can consider becoming a construction equipment operator. These people operate heavy machinery such as dump trucks, steamrollers, cranes, and flatbeds. This is ideal for those who possess CDLs but don’t want to deal with constant interstate travel.

Non-CDL Driving Jobs

Those who don’t want to go through the process of earning a CDL can still find driving jobs. Chauffeurs, taxi, and limousine drivers have no educational requirements for employment. They often undergo a one or two week hands-on training course, and in some states need to get a “hack” license. The requirements for these licenses will vary by state and occupation. While these associates often work long hours, they can bring home around $200 or more per shift.

Mail carriers are another group of workers with no college or CDL requirements. They earn salary packages of around $50k and receive generous employment benefits. However, the outlook of the mail carrying industry is not great. The U.S. Postal Service is downsizing due to the rise of email and other forms of digital communication.

Delivery drivers operating trucks with a gross vehicle weight under 26,000 pounds do not need to obtain a CDL. These full-time and part-time jobs require only a high school diploma and a few weeks of on-the-job preparation. Many people who drive light trucks for a living enjoy local routes that allow them to spend lots of time with their families.

Interview with a CDL Truck Driver

An interview with Bob C in Miami, Florida who chose to keep his employer anonymous.

What is your job title? Where are you employed?

I’m a truck driver at a small carrier.

How long have you been a truck driver?

For a year now.

What type of training did you have to become a truck driver?

I had to first take three months training at a driving school.

What do you like best about your job?

I like to travel-you’re never in one state for too long. Plus the pay is good.

Describe your typical day on the job.

My typical day would be to sleep, drive, eat, drive, eat, drive, sleep.

What career were you in before becoming a truck driver? Do you feel that it helped prepare you for becoming a truck driver?

I was a warehouse manager. No. I wouldn’t say it helped.

What traits do you feel are necessary to be successful as a truck driver?

First, you need to have good health. Then, you have to also be responsible, punctual, hard working, and since you’re always on the road, basically by yourself all day, you need to be able to keep yourself entertained.

Would you recommend this career to someone else?

Depends if they have a family or not. If they do, I would not recommend it.

What is your next career move, if any?

I’m going to buy my own truck so I can work less but make more money.

How can owning your own truck help you work less but make more money?

Simple. If I own my own truck, I get to keep all of the profits. Right now, I only get a part of what my employer makes. Since I will be able to put more of the money in my pocket, I can work less hours and still make the same amount of money – or even more.

How hard is it to buy your own truck and to drive for yourself?

It really isn’t as hard as you might think. Really, it’s all about the money. Trucks aren’t cheap, so there is a big upfront cost. But, if you are a good driver, it won’t take much time to earn that money back.