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Commercial Driver Education in California

Applying for a California commercial driver's license (CDL) is no simple task. Driving such a large vehicle means taking on a lot of responsibility, which the CDL exams test you for.

To make the process of getting your California CDL as stress-free as possible, you will need to adequately prepare for the written and behind-the-wheel exams. A great way to do so is by signing up for commercial driver's education courses, which for certain types of CDLs is required.

CA Commercial Driver's Ed Requirements

Depending on the type of CDL you're applying for, you may or may not be required by the CA Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to enroll in commercial driver's education.

If you plan on driving public transit vehicles (e.g. city buses) then you MUST enroll in CDL training courses. If not, then you aren't required by the state to take commercial driver's education.

Public Transit Drivers

In California, the DMV only requires commercial driver education for people applying to drive public transit vehicles.

Don't worry—public transit employers hire people specifically for the purpose of training new and current employees.

As a first-time applicant, before receiving your CDL you'll be expected to complete at least:

  • 15 hours of in-class training.
  • 20 hours of behind-the-wheel training.

All Vehicle Types

If you do not plan on driving a public transit vehicle, then the CA DMV does not require you to enroll in education programs, though you should still consider them a valuable resource.

All commercial driver applicants will need to successfully pass:

  • A written general knowledge test.
  • Behind-the-wheel CDL skills test.

Depending on the classification and endorsement(s) of your prospective CDL, the California DMV may require you to take additional written and road exams.

In-Class CDL Education in California

Although not required for all CDL applicants, taking classroom courses can increase your chances of passing the written exam(s) quickly and easily.

When selecting a program to enroll in, look for a curriculum that covers:

  • Inspection of vehicle parts and knowledge of their function(s).
  • Safe acceleration and braking.
  • Transmission control.
  • Reversing.
  • Maintaining a safe field of vision.
  • Making turns and lane changes.
  • Sharing the road with other vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
  • Driving at night and/or in difficult weather.
  • Driving on different types of roads like:
    • Mountain roads.
    • Highways.
    • Cities.
    • Suburbs.
    • Rural areas.
  • Antilock braking systems.
  • Properly loading and securing cargo.
  • Emergency situations and appropriate procedure.

Additional In-Class Education Topics

Depending on the class and/or endorsement of your CA commercial driver license, you could be expected to be familiar with additional topics for the written exam like:

  • Loading and transporting passengers.
  • Air brakes.
  • Driving combination vehicles.
  • Driving with double or triple trailers.
  • Hauling a liquid-filled tank.
  • Transporting hazardous materials.
  • Safe operation of a school bus.

Each commercial driver's education course will differ in time and cost, so do your research and make sure that the program you select:

  • Fits your budget.
  • Fits into your schedule.
  • Covers all of the topics pertaining to the CDL you're applying for.

Behind-the-Wheel CDL Training

Even though you may not be required to take behind-the-wheel classes, enrolling in a CDL driving course will prepare you very well for the DMV road test.

When selecting a behind-the-wheel commercial driver education class, first make sure that:

  • It's taught by instructors who hold valid California CDLs.
  • The course covers all of the skills that you'll have to master for the road test(s) specific to the classification and endorsement(s) of the vehicle you'll be driving.
  • The program allows you to practice in the same type of vehicle you'll be driving.

Curriculum for CA Road Test Prep

When you've confirmed the legitimacy of a behind-the-wheel program, look for the following in the curriculum:

  • Thorough internal and external inspection of the vehicle.
  • Starting the engine.
  • Using the transmission.
  • Backing up in a straight line and on turns.
  • Parallel parking.
  • Docking in an alley.
  • Keeping your vehicle within road boundaries.
  • Safely pulling up from a stop to improve your field of vision.
  • Exiting your vehicle mid-trip to inspect the outside.
  • Turning and merging into another lane.
  • Correct safety procedures at intersections.
  • Driving on different types of roads like:
    • City streets.
    • Rural roads.
    • Expressways/freeways.
    • Limited access highways.
    • Roads with bridges overhead.
  • Curve handling.
  • Correct procedure at railroad crossings and traffic signs.

Familiarity with the preceding commercial driving practices will make passing the CDL general skills road test seem like a piece of cake.

Additional Road Tests

Don't forget that you might be required to take additional tests, depending on the type of CDL you're applying for.

Some other skills you might need to know include:

  • Correct usage of air brakes.
  • Driving and inspecting:
    • Combination vehicles.
    • Double and triple trailers.
    • Vehicles hauling liquid-filled tanks.
  • Safe transportation of hazardous materials.
  • Safe operation of school buses.
  • Loading/unloading of passengers.

Keep these additional topics in mind when selecting a behind-the-wheel class, because you will be tested on them if your prospective CDL applies.

Like the written courses, behind-the-wheel class lengths and costs will differ; make sure that the program you choose doesn't put too much stress on your schedule or bank account.

When you feel confident in your abilities to safely operate a commercial vehicle, you will need to call the Department of Motor Vehicle's CDL office to make a road test appointment. You will be required to take the test in the type of vehicle that your CDL is for.

Benefits of California CDL Education

Preparing for commercial driver's license is no easy task. Passing the DMV's CDL exams will mean having to master a lot of new information and driving skills.

Although you will ultimately have to give up some time and money to do so, enrolling in commercial driver's education will make getting your CDL a little less stressful.

Some benefits of in-class and behind-the-wheel courses include:

  • Improved test preparation, due to:
    • Curricula tailored specifically to the information and skills you'll be required to know for your CDL written and road tests.
    • Courses taught by instructors who can answer your questions with confidence because they:
      • Hold commercial driver licenses.
      • Have gone through the same California CDL application process.
    • Classroom environment with less distractions.
  • Better employment opportunities.
    • It's reassuring for employers to see that a potential hire has taken professional CDL courses.
    • You have the potential to establish connections and take advantage of networking opportunities among your fellow classmates and instructors.

Study on Your Own for a California CDL

Maybe you study better on your own, or just don't have room in your schedule and budget for commercial driver education. That's okay!

Everything you need to know to prepare for the DMV's written and road tests can be found in the California Commercial Driver Handbook (DL 650). Make sure that while studying you read up on every section that applies to the classification and endorsement(s) of your prospective CDL.

A great way to test your knowledge of the material is by taking practice tests. These can help familiarize you with the format of the written exam(s) and give you an idea of areas that you might need to study a little bit more.

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