If you want to operate a heavy rig like a tractor-trailer or a bus, you need a commercial driver’s license (CDL). To get the license, you must first take a training course, receive on-the-road supervised driving instruction, take a written and a driving test, and pay the necessary fees. You also need to be over age 18 or 21, depending on the state issuing the license.
Each state issues its own CDLs and has its own rules and regulations governing the operation of commercial vehicles in that state. When practicing for a class A license, use course materials and a training program specific to the state where you will apply for the license.
Types of Class A Driver’s Licenses
Each state has its own categories and labels for driver’s license classes, but in most states, a Class A license is needed for operating a vehicle with two or more axles, such as a semi-truck or tractor-trailer.
- Class A licenses generally allow the driver to operate vehicles with a gross weight of more than 26,000 pounds with a towed vehicle rated over 10,000 pounds.
- Class B CDLs allow drivers to operate vehicles over 26,000 pounds that do not have a trailer over 10,000 pounds.
- Class C CDLs are for drivers of vehicles transporting 16 or more passengers, Class C drivers included, as well as the transportation of hazardous materials.
Class A License Training
Training for a CDL involves both written study materials and on-the-road training. To do the road skills training, the applicant must first have a Commercial Driver’s Instruction Permit. You cannot use a passenger car driver’s license while you learn to drive an 18-wheeler on the road. Check the requirements in your state for commercial instruction permits.
CDL training courses vary in content from state to state, depending on the specific rules and regulations regarding commercial driving in that state. In some states, such as California, a CDL is only issued if driving a vehicle is required by the applicant’s employment, and a driver must have a CDL for any job requiring driving, even if they do not operate a commercial vehicle.
Find an approved CDL training program with learner’s permit class in the state where you plan to apply for the license, so you receive the correct training.
Applying for a Class A License at DMV
To apply for a CDL at the DMV, you will need to:
- Understand the CDL requirements for your state. This may include restrictions on age and physical condition.
- Apply for and receive a CDL instruction permit from DMV in your state by passing a written exam and having a valid class C license.
- Apply for any CDL endorsements, such as special permits needed for transporting hazardous materials. Backgrounds checks may be required for endorsements.
- Take a CDL driving test at an approved CDL DMV location or a 3rd party testing facility.
What You Can Do with a Class A License
A commercial driver’s license opens many job opportunities. You can work for yourself in your own private transportation company, or, find a job working for another company. Besides driving a big-rig, a CDL is also needed by highway maintenance technicians, engineering equipment operators, bus drivers, and delivery drivers.