Commercial Driver Education in California

California's Requirements

Unless you're employed as a public transit bus driver, California does not require you to complete any specific classroom or behind-the-wheel training program before applying for a commercial driver's license (CDL).

If you're getting hired as a public bus driver, the company that you've applied with will provide the training. Check with your human resources department for answers to any training questions.

Why Get Professional CDL Training?

Even though you're not required to have professional training, it's unlikely that you'll pass the CDL tests without it. After all, where else but in a class will you get to practice driving a commercial vehicle, and get up-to-date training about all the laws and procedures? Studying the Commercial Driver Handbook helps with the written test, but doesn't do much for helping you pass the behind-the-wheel portion.

There are a few ways to receive training to drive commercially. Community colleges and trucking schools offer programs. If your job requires a CDL, your employer will (or should) provide its own training program, or pay for you to attend one. If the program is approved by the DMV, you can submit a Certificate of Driving Skill(Form DL 170) from your employer to skip the skills and on-road driving test.

DMV Testing

Whether you've had professional training or not, the DMV will put you through a set of rigorous tests. You must successfully complete:

  • A written knowledge and laws test.
  • A driving test consisting of an extensive pretrip inspection, and the actual driving skills requirements.

Written Knowledge and Laws Test

This exam covers driving laws and rules, basic commercial vehicle maintenance, inspection requirements, safe cargo transport, vehicle control, driving in extreme conditions, and other commercial vehicle knowledge.

You'll also be tested on driving skills, including backing, turning, other vehicle movement, road hazards, handling emergencies, rural and urban driving, clutch usage, up and down grades, and more.

Additional written tests are required if the vehicle you will drive has air brakes, or if you seek endorsements for special equipment. The additional tests are for:

  • Air brakes
  • Combination vehicles
  • Passenger transport
  • Hazardous materials
  • Tank vehicles
  • Double and triple trailers

The DMV provides an online practice test. For more practice, consider purchasing another test. These test questions are also culled from the Commercial Handbook.

Pretrip Inspection

The pretrip inspection portion of your driving test is a very involved, full inspection of the vehicle and its systems, inside and out, including:

  • Vehicle overview: any obvious problems or concerns.
  • Engine compartment: leaks, hoses, oil, coolant, fluids, and belts. On those areas that are not belt driven, you must point this out to the examiner and explain why belts aren't needed.
  • Cab: gauges, mirrors, seat belts, steering, and emergency equipment.
  • External equipment: brakes, reflectors, shocks, mounts, tie-downs, and more.
  • Other external equipment: fuel tanks, exhaust, drive shafts, doors, ties, couplings, catwalks, latches, kingpin, and other safety equipment.
  • Trailer and connections, sides and tires, wheels.

The Commercial Driver Handbook has a comprehensive outline of the areas and components you will be required to know and to inspect in this portion of your testing.

Skills Test and Driving Test

The CDL on-road test is broken into two sections: a skills test and a driving test. The skills test includes:

  • Backing
  • Alley docking
  • Parallel parking
  • Turning right

The driving test includes testing on:

  • Turning
  • Intersections
  • Rural and urban driving
  • Rural and urban lane changes
  • Stopping and starting
  • Freeway driving
  • Driving on curves
  • Driving on up and down grades
  • Railroad crossings
  • Bridges and overpasses
  • Clutch, gear, and brake usage

Keep an eye on the posted bridge clearance, as the examiner may ask you for the bridge clearance height after you have passed under a bridge.


DL 170

Form is filed with the DMV to certify your commercial vehicle driving skills as evaluated by an examiner. Only for those in ETP.

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