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Getting Your Commercial Driver’s License

truck driver standing by his semitruck holding cdl
Truck driver standing and smiling by his semitruck holding a commercial driver's license

Quick Guide:

(1) Obtain the Commercial Learner’s Permit

(2) Complete Entry-Level Driver Training

(3) Pass the 3 Part CDL Skills Test

clock showing illustration to get commercial drivers license
Clock with written text “time to get your CDL”

The FMCSA does not issue Commercial Driver’s Licenses, this authority has been delegated to state governments. Each state has its own set of processes for getting a CDL however, all states must comply with federal standards. These variations between states make it important for you to review your state’s Commercial Driver’s License Manual which can be found on their DMV website. Eligibility information, medical qualifications, driving record restrictions, fees, and testing time limits are some of the important factors that vary by state. One commonality between all states is that eighteen-year-olds in every state can obtain their CDL however, they can only drive within their state (intrastate) until the age of 21. Only CDL holders that are 21 and older can drive interstate.

Step 1: Get the Commercial Learner’s Permit

Once you’ve decided on the class of vehicle you plan to drive, the next step is passing the general knowledge tests to obtain your CLP from your local DMV. Note that if the type of vehicle you select requires endorsements (school buses, tank trucks, tractor-trailers, etc.) there will be additional tests required by your state. Minimum requirements to apply include being at least 18 years of age, possessing a non-commercial driver’s license, passing a drug test, and providing proof of citizenship or lawful residency.

Much like non-commercial driving permits, the CLP allows you to begin truck driver training with a qualified CDL holder present. A CLP must be held for a minimum of 14 days before testing for the Commercial Driver’s License.

South Carolina as an example:

sc cdl table of contents

If you are a resident of South Carolina, you should visit the SC DMV website to download their CDL Manual.

Here is a table outlining what South Carolina’s manual consists of. Refer to your state’s table of contents to quickly find the information that you’re looking for.

As you can see, the knowledge test information is on page 3 and the Commercial Learner’s Permit information is on page 10.

Reviewing your state’s manual ahead of time will quicken the process and save you the headache.

Part 2: Complete Entry-Level Driver Training

The ELDT regulations set the minimum Federal requirements for training that entry-level drivers must complete before being permitted to take certain commercial driver’s license (CDL) skills or knowledge tests. It is recommended to find a training provider through the Training Provider Registry on the FMCSA website. Upon completion of entry-level driver training, the provider will submit the certification of your training completion. Remember that only registered training providers will be able to submit certification of your completion of entry-level driver training to the Training Provider Registry.

Part 3: 3 Part Skills Test for the Commercial Driver’s License

You are eligible to take the CDL test after the CLP has been held for 14 days and entry-level driver training has been completed. The CDL test is broken into 3 parts:

  1. The Vehicle Inspection
  2. Basic Controls Test
  3. The Road Test

According to the South Carolina CDL manual we referenced earlier, the purpose of the vehicle inspection is to see if you have the knowledge to determine whether the vehicle is safe to drive. The procedure for this part of the test requires you to do a vehicle inspection on your vehicle and explain to the examiner what you would inspect and why. Steps to the inspection are found in the CDL manual Section 11-1.

The basic controls test in South Carolina is done to evaluate your skills in controlling the vehicle and judging its position in relation to other objects. The procedure for this test is to perform three off-road maneuver exercises on a skills pad located on or near the Department of Motor Vehicles. Section 12 of South Carolina’s CDL manual contains the testing specifics.

truck driver standing by his semitruck holding cdl
Truck driver standing and smiling by his semitruck holding a commercial driver’s license

Lastly, the road test is to determine if you can drive safely in most traffic situations. In South Carolina, you will drive a predetermined test route following the instructions given by the examiner. The test route will include left and right turns, intersections, railroad crossings, curves, up and downhill grades, interstate, city, and rural roads. Section 13 in their manual is a guide to the part of the CDL test.

You must pass all three parts, and depending on your state, you may be allowed to use a training aid to assist your memory on the vehicle inspection checklist.

To review, you must pick a class of vehicle, meet your state’s eligibility requirements, pass the knowledge tests to obtain the CLP and hold it for a minimum of two weeks, complete entry-level driver’s training through a registered provider, and pass the three-part CDL skills test. The issuing of CDLs is a responsibility of the states and each state has its own requirements.

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Written By Royalty Speed
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