A commercial driver’s license (CDL) is crucial for hotshot truckers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates the rules and requirements for commercial drivers across the country. Each state has its own application process, but all states must adhere to federal requirements set forth by the FMCSA. 

Why Do I Need a CDL? 

While a CDL is not required of a hotshot trucker, it is encouraged to get one. You must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) for the following of situations: 

All single vehicles with a manufacturer’s weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more. 
All trailers with a manufacturer’s weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more, and a combined vehicles’ gross weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more, and combined vehicles’ gross weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more. 
All vehicles designed to transport 16 or more persons (including the driver). This includes private and church buses. 
All school buses, regardless of size. 
All vehicles used to transport hazardous or toxic materials. 

The Prep Work

 Check your state’s eligibility requirements. Each state has its own age, residency, and medical requirements for licensed commercial drivers. Generally, you must be at least 18 years old, or 21 years old if you plan to drive across state lines.

Even if you never drive across state lines, you may need to be in 21 if you work for a transportation or trucking company that is involved in interstate commerce. Some states require you to have been a resident of the state for several months before you are eligible to apply for a CDL. 

 Get a copy of your state’s CDL manual. You can get a copy of your state’s CDL manual at your local DMV office, online, or in your local library. When you apply for a CDL, you will have to take a written knowledge test. Study the manual carefully, as it contains all the information that you will be tested on. 

In the CDL manual, you may get sample questions or copies from old knowledge tests. These can help guide your study but do not just memorize the answers. The questions asked on your test will likely be different. 

 Complete your CDL application. Your state has a specific form you must fill out if you want to apply for a CDL. You may be able to download this form online and complete it ahead of time. Many steps require you to fill out the form in person at the DMV. 

You may have to bring documentation to prove parts of the application. Read the instructions carefully and look through the entire document once before you start filling it out.

Part of your CDL application will be a 10-year history record check. You must provide information regarding all other states in which you were licensed to drive, including the dates you lived there and your legal address.  

  Pass the written test. Before you can get your CDL permit and start driving a commercial vehicle, you need to demonstrate knowledge of the rules of the road. All CDL applicants take a general written test. 

Some endorsements, such as those for driving a school bus or transporting hazardous materials, may require you to take an additional written test.

Once you have completed your test it will be scored immediately. If you earn a passing score, you will be issued your permit. If you do not pass, find out when and what you can do to retake the test. Keep in mind you may have to pay an additional fee to retake the test.

Commercial Learner’s Permit Phase

Practice with a supervising driver. Restrictions on commercial driving permits vary, but generally, you cannot drive solo. You need a supervising driver who has a CDL of the same class and type as the one you want. 

Some states require your supervising driver to fill out a form clearing you to take the skills test. If this is a requirement for you, you will be given a copy of the form when you get your permit. 

 Start the TSA background check process. If you plan to drive across state lines or will be transporting hazardous materials, you may be required to complete a background check with the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA). There is a fee for the TSA background check, and you will have to be fingerprinted. 

To schedule an appointment with a TSA agent, call 1-855-347-8371 or look on their website

Complete any required training. In some states, you must complete a state-approved training or certification class before you will be eligible to take the skills test for your CDL. DMV staff will advise you on the classes you are required to take. 

Also, depending on the type of CDL you are getting will determine if you need specialized training. 

Schedule your CDL skills test. Once you have got enough practice in and feel comfortable behind the wheel, look into taking the skills test necessary to get your full license. Keep in mind that you may not be able to schedule an appointment for several months. 

Many states require you to drive on your permit for a certain period of time, typically at least two weeks. Some states also may require you to log a certain number of hours driving on your permit before you can schedule your skills test.

In some states, you may be able to use a third-party examiner service. Staff at the DMV will tell you if this option is available, or you can check the state DMV’s website

Commercial Drivers License Phase

 Pass your CDL skills test. Before you can get a full CDL, you must pass a driving skills test with a licensed examiner. The skills you will be tested on depending on the type of vehicle you are driving and the operations you will commonly perform.

You must take the CDL skills test in the exact vehicle that you will be driving. This includes transmission and air brakes. For example, if you are going to be driving a vehicle with a manual transmission, you must take your skills test in a vehicle with a manual transmission. 

If you do not get a passing score the first time around, you may be able to retake it. Ask your examiner about options. 

Once you pass your skills test, you will receive your CDLEach state varies regarding when and how you will receive your official CDL. In some states, you can come into the DMV office and pick it up the next day. Others mail it to you. 

When you get your CDL, check it carefully to make sure all the information on it is correct and your name is spelled correctly. Get any errors changed immediately or they could cause you problems later on. 

Keep in mind that federal regulations no longer permit states to issue temporary CDLs, so you may have to wait a day or two before you can begin work. 

Share your CDL experience in the comments below. 

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