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Commercial Driver Education in Illinois

As a prominent cultural hub of the Midwest, the state of Illinois has many stories to tell. One day you're in Springfield, immersed in the deep history of Abraham Lincoln's residency, and the next you're in Chicago, immersed in a historically delicious deep-dish pizza.

What better way to experience all that Illinois has to offer than in a commercial vehicle? You'll get paid to travel the state and enjoy all of its rich cultural offerings.

To make this a reality, you first have to apply for an Illinois commercial driver's license (CDL). The Illinois Secretary of State (SOS) requires that you pass a series of tests to prove your knowledge of all the new driving and safety skills you need to know for operating a commercial vehicle.

In preparation for the required commercial driver exams, only certain CDL applicants are state-required to enroll in CDL training. Read on for details on these requirements.

IL Commercial Driver Ed Requirements

Only commercial driver license applicants who are trying to get a school bus (S) endorsement are required by the SOS to enroll in CDL education classes.

For all other CDL applicants, enrolling in a formal commercial driver education is optional. You should still consider taking an Illinois CDL course as it will prepare you for the required commercial driver testing.

The exams that all CDL applicants are required to take include:

  • Written general knowledge test.
  • General CDL skills road test.

Depending on the classification and endorsement(s) attached to your CDL, you could be expected to complete additional road and written examinations.

Refer to the following guides to determine exactly which classification and endorsement you need:

IL School Bus Permit Requirements

If you plan on transporting children who are in 12th grade or lower, you'll first need to apply for a school bus permit. This permit can only be obtained if you:

  • Already have an commercial driver license with the proper endorsement from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Wisconsin, or Missouri.
  • Held a valid driver's license for 3 years.
    AND
  • Successfully tested for and acquired a school bus endorsement (“S" endorsement) for your CDL.

To receive this permit, you need to complete an initial classroom training course regulated by the State Board of Education and administered by the Regional Office of Education. The initial course is 8 hours and should help prepare you for the written and behind-the-wheel tests that you must pass to get your school bus permit.

The course training is valid for 1 year until you must take a refresher course lasting 2 hours.

Once you've completed this initial school bus training course, you are then open to apply for your Illinois school bus permit and take the permit exam, also valid for 1 year after you pass.

You can also visit the Regional Office of Education's events calendar for scheduled trainings at an office near you, or contact the ROE for details on scheduling a training course.

Illinois CDL Classroom Courses

Only commercial driver applicants who need a school bus permit are required by the IL Secretary of State to enroll in classroom CDL education.

All other applicants have the option of enrolling, but should still consider taking an in-class CDL course. Doing so will improve your chances of passing the SOS's CDL written test(s) on your first attempt.

While looking at possible commercial driver classroom courses, ask yourself the following:

  • Does the course's tuition sound reasonable for your budget?
  • Is the length of the class suitable for your schedule?
  • Will the curriculum teach all of the material that you'll be responsible for on your Illinois CDL written test(s)?

In-Class CDL Course Curriculum

To determine the legitimacy of a CDL course, first see that the curriculum covers all of the topics that you'll be responsible for on the written general knowledge exam, including:

  • Proper vehicle inspection.
  • Performance of basic driving skills.
  • Shifting gears with manual and automatic transmissions.
  • Creating a safe field of vision.
  • Steps to calculating your stopping distance.
  • Controlling your speed in difficult road conditions.
  • Maintaining an adequate amount of space:
    • Ahead, to the sides, and behind your vehicle while surrounded by other cars.
    • Above your vehicle while passing under bridges.
    • Below your vehicle on uneven road surfaces.
    • While turning.
  • Dealing with road hazards.
  • The perils of distracted and impaired driving.
  • Night driving.
  • Adapting to inclement weather conditions like:
    • Fog.
    • Snow
    • Rain.
    • Very high temperatures.
  • Legal procedure at railroad crossings.
  • What to do in emergencies.

Additional IL Written CDL Tests

Don't forget that you could have to take multiple written CDL examinations depending on the classification and endorsement(s) attached to your prospective commercial driver's license.

Additional CDL written test topics you might have to study include:

  • Using air brakes.
  • Transporting passengers.
  • Pulling a tank filled with liquid or gas.
  • Safe operation of a school bus.
  • Working with hazardous materials.
  • Pulling a double or triple trailer.
  • Driving a charter bus.

When you've passed all of the commercial driver written tests, the Illinois SOS will give you a commercial learner's permit (CLP). The permit is valid for 180 days, a great opportunity to use that time for enrollment in a behind-the-wheel CDL program.

CDL Road Test Prep in Illinois

The IL Secretary of State does not require commercial driver applicants to enroll in behind-the-wheel CDL training.

Keep in mind that CDL behind-the-wheel programs are specifically structured to help you pass the SOS's CDL road exam.

The primary questions to ask when deciding on a behind-the-wheel program include:

  • Does the course's tuition and length fit into your budget and schedule?
  • Are the lessons taught by instructors who hold valid commercial driver's licenses?
  • Will you be able to practice in the same type of vehicle that you'll be driving for your CDL road test?
  • Does the curriculum cover all of the skills you'll need to master for your particular commercial driver road exam?

CDL Behind-the-Wheel Curriculum

To determine the validity of the behind-the-wheel programs you're looking at, examine their available offered materials to make sure that the classes teach all of the skills you'll be responsible for on the general CDL skills exam, including:

  • Conducting a thorough pre-trip vehicle inspection.
  • Executing basic maneuvers like:
    • Reversing.
    • Parallel parking.
    • Docking in an alley.
    • Steering.
  • Turning and changing lanes properly.
  • Driving through intersections and railroad crossings.
  • Entering and exiting:
    • Expressways.
    • Moving traffic.
  • Passing beneath a bridge.
  • Proper gear shifting.
  • Driving on a steep downgrade.

Additional CDL Road Test Material

Similar to the written CDL testing process, you could be expected to learn additional material for your behind-the-wheel testing to get your Illinois commercial driver's license.

Other CDL skills that you could be expected to know include:

  • Checking the secureness of trailer connections.
  • Inspection of safety and student boarding equipment on a school bus.
  • Testing boarding equipment and checking the emergency gear on coach and transit buses.
  • Air brakes test.

When you feel ready, schedule an appointment for a commercial driver road test with the SOS.

Benefits of IL Commercial Driver's Ed

If you don't plan on driving a school bus, then you are not state-required to enroll in Illinois commercial driver education.

Before you're tempted to opt out of CDL education completely, consider the following major benefits of taking a CDL course:

  • Extensive preparation for CDL exams.
    • Your instructors will hold valid commercial driver licenses and will have been through the same CDL testing processes that you're going to face.
    • The class curriculum should prepare you well for all of the topics that are to be expected on your CDL tests.
    • A classroom environment yields fewer distractions.
  • Improved employment opportunities.
    • Employers will appreciate and oftentimes require that you've completed a formal commercial driver education.
    • You can establish a professional network amongst your peers and instructors, which will be helpful for future job hunting.

Solo Study for an IL CDL

If you're stressing about the time and money commitment required for a CDL education, don't worry. You always have the option of studying for your commercial driver exams on your own, as long as you aren't state-required to get a school bus permit.

All of the material that you'll be tested on for your CDL written and road exams can be found in the Illinois Commercial Driver's License Manual. Look over the table of contents carefully and take note of all of the sections that apply to your desired CDL.

As an additional study tool, consider taking CDL practice tests. These are excellent resources to familiarize you with the format and material of the commercial driver exams, as well as let you know which areas might need more studying. Additionally, you can retake the practice exam as many times as you need to feel confident before heading to the SOS office.

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