Commercial Driver Education in Iowa

Safety Act

The Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 established many of today's training and education requirements for Iowa drivers wishing to obtain a commercial driver's license (CDL). Before the Act was passed, drivers were more likely to be found operating vehicles without the skills and knowledge necessary to prevent accidents.

Testing Requirements

Obtaining a CDL requires successful completion of a written knowledge test and a driving exam.

The written knowledge test covers topics such as identifying potential safety hazards, inspecting an air brake system, and driving in adverse weather conditions. To prepare for the test, you can download the Commercial Driver License Manual from the Iowa Department of Transportation.

The on-road driving skills test is made up of separate evaluation areas:

  • Pre-trip vehicle inspection. An Iowa Department of Transportation representative will ask you to conduct a pretrip vehicle inspection to determine whether your vehicle is safe to drive.
  • Basic vehicle control. During this portion of the test, you'll be asked to maneuver your vehicle through an area marked by cones or other barriers.
  • On-road test. During the on-road test, you'll be asked to drive your vehicle through a number of different traffic situations. For example, you may be asked to make left and right turns, stop at a railway crossing, or signal lane changes on highways.

If you wish to obtain endorsements for school buses, hazardous materials, tank vehicles, passenger vehicles, or double/triple trailers, additional testing will be required.

Training Requirements

Operating a commercial motor vehicle is substantially different from driving your personal car or truck. The Commercial Driver License Manual is a great place to start learning what you need to know, but it's not enough. To gain the experience they need to successfully operate a commercial vehicle, most drivers choose to enroll in a private instructional program.

These programs are available in different durations, intensities, and schedules to accommodate the needs of different students. Some certification programs offer many hours of classroom and behind-the-wheel training over a period of many weeks to make sure CDL applicants get the solid foundation they need to operate these unwieldy vehicles safely.

In addition to shifting, backing, and basic vehicle control skills, most commercial driver education programs teach the following:

  • How to perform emergency maneuvers, including skid control and recovery.
  • How to transport hazardous materials safely.
  • How to perform a vehicle inspection before transporting a load.
  • How to safely operate your vehicle at night or under extreme weather conditions.

Many commercial driver education programs also cover accident prevention, first aid, CPR, and emergency management.

If you're interested in a commercial driver training program, the Iowa DOT recommends that you select a program based on the Federal Highway Administration's proposed minimum standards for tractor-trailer drivers.

However, since the Iowa DOT does not administer training programs, you'll need to contact the educational institution for curriculum details and information regarding tuition, fees, or enrollment requirements.

An Investment in Your Future

While you're not required to complete a truck driving and transportation program to earn your Iowa CDL, the education you receive is an excellent investment in your future.

CDL Written Practice Tests

At minimum, you should try taking a CDL practice exam. Schools should have these tests available. Additionally, driver's ed websites now create practice tests based on info from the manual.

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