On the Road Again: What You Need to Do to Become a Licensed Truck Driver

You’re looking for a job that pays well, lets you travel, and doesn’t imprison you in an office for eight hours a day.

Becoming a licensed truck driver might be the job for you.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers was $45,260 in 2019. Even in uncertain times, the field continues to grow, and the work is steady. Furthermore, the continental U.S. — and beyond — is the truck driver’s “office,” and travel is all part of the job.

If this job description appeals to you, you may be interested in becoming a licensed truck driver. Read on to learn how to navigate the road to this rewarding career.

What Are the Requirements to Become a Licensed Truck Driver?

Besides meeting specific age and physical requirements, professional truck drivers must earn a commercial driving license (CDL) and complete a truck driving school. These steps themselves have their own requirements.

1. Earn a Commercial Driving License

An essential step to becoming a licensed trucker is getting a license. Although you’ll apply for your CDL in your state of residence, you’ll need to meet state and federal requirements.

Basic CDL Requirements

To become a licensed truck driver, you must:

  • Be 21 years old and a U.S. citizen with a valid social security number
  • Have a driving and criminal record free from disqualifying offenses, such as drunk driving, any felony driving convictions, and certain drug offenses
  • Have a valid driver’s license that has not been revoked or suspended
  • Pass knowledge, skills, and endorsement tests
  • Pass a vision test and medical exam
  • Pass drug and alcohol tests
  • Demonstrate fluency with the English language
  • Maintain a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) for at least two weeks

Types of CDLs and Endorsements

When you are ready to take your test and apply for your CDL, you’ll need to choose the right CDL and apply for any endorsements required for your work. CDL licenses include three categories — Class A, B, and C. Being licensed in each of these categories entails different driving privileges:

  • Drivers with a Class A CDL can operate vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) between 10,001-26,000 lbs.
  • Drivers with a Class B CDL can operate vehicles with a GVWR of 26,001 lbs. or higher
  • Drivers with a Class C CDL can operate vehicles that transport HAZMAT materials or vehicles that transport 15 or more passengers

With endorsements, drivers holding a Class A CDL can operate additional vehicles, including those in Class B and C. By completing certain testing requirements and, in some cases, background checks, drivers can obtain the following endorsements:

  • Double and Triple Trailers (T)
  • Passenger (P)
  • Tank (N)
  • Hazardous Materials (H)
  • Tank and Hazardous Materials (X)
  • School Bus (S)

Applying for Your CDL

The Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) is the first step toward earning a CDL and any endorsements. You’ll apply and submit documentation for both your CLP and CDL at your local BMV. However, obtaining that documentation requires you to gain experience on the road under the supervision of a licensed truck driver.

It also requires you to pass assessments of your knowledge and skills at a licensed testing site. A knowledge test is a prerequisite for the CLP. The Commercial Driver’s License Skills Tests are the final step before securing your CDL. They include three parts:

  • The Vehicle Inspection Test
  • The Basic Controls Test
  • The Road Test

The best way to gain experience and prepare for these tests is to complete a truck driving school.

2. Complete a Truck Driving School

Theoretically, you could apply for a CDL and attempt the tests without attending a truck driving school. However, professional trucking companies only hire drivers who are licensed and have completed a program that is licensed and registered by the state. Therefore, completing a truck driving school is another essential step to becoming a licensed driver.

Completing a truck driving school also prepares you adequately for the knowledge and skills tests you need to pass to obtain your CDL. During the program, you’ll learn about different types of semi trailers and how to operate them. You’ll learn how to maneuver large vehicles safely. Plus, you’ll learn the state and federal requirements for interstate trucking.

Both community colleges and private companies offer licensed truck driving programs. These programs generally take three to six months to complete and cost between $4,000 and $10,000. When you finish, you’ll earn a certificate of completion to share with your prospective employer during the hiring process.

Truck driving schools have their own requirements for admission. Most require student drivers to be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED, a clean driving record, and a stable work history.

Because the programs include practical training behind the wheel, you will also need a valid driver’s license and CLP. You’ll also need to pass health and drug screenings. Finally, some schools, especially community colleges, require students to meet basic proficiency levels on math and reading tests.

3. Additional Requirements

At minimum, professional truck driving companies require their employees to have a CDL and proof that they have successfully completed a training program. Many also require their employees to have a high school diploma. Being able to demonstrate a stable work history can further increase your chances of getting hired.

Once hired, you’ll likely complete an orientation period and on-the-job training with a more experienced driver from your specific company. You’ll also need to maintain your CDL by keeping your driving record clean, passing a physical exam every two years, and passing random drug and alcohol tests.

You’re on the Road to a Career as a Licensed Truck Driver

Professional truck driving is rewarding and promises many benefits. The opportunity to explore the “wide open road” is one of them. Reaching that road, however, requires passing through several gates. With the right skills, knowledge, and preparation, you can navigate the requirements. This guide is your first step toward doing just that.

For more information on successfully navigating this and other roads in life — from health and lifestyle to technology and travel, check out our blog.