Commercial Driver Education in Pennsylvania

What better way to embrace that iconic Pennsylvanian independence than by enjoying the freedom of the road? Becoming a commercial driver means that traveling and sightseeing are all in a day's work.

But first, you need to apply for a PA commercial driver's license (CDL), which will mean learning a whole new set of driving skills.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) requires all CDL applicants to pass a series of tests to prove that they are capable and responsible drivers.

PennDOT only requires certain CDL applicants to enroll in formal commercial Driver's Ed.

Pennsylvania CDL Education Requirements

If you're applying for a commercial driver license with a school bus (S) endorsement, then you are required by the state to complete at least 20 hours of CDL education.

You'll have to enroll in a minimum of:

  • 14 hours of in-class education.
  • 6 hours of behind-the-wheel training.

You must complete all of your required training with a certified school bus driver instructor. Contact your local PennDOT office for more information on how to get in touch with a certified instructor.

For all other CDL classifications and endorsements, formal commercial driver education is not required. Even so, consider taking a CDL class, as it will prepare you for PennDOT's required exams.

For more information about commercial driver education, contact PennDOT at (717) 412-5300 or through the mail at:

CDL Unit
P.O. Box 68679
Harrisburg, PA 17106

CDL Testing Requirements in PA

Minimally, all Pennsylvania CDL applicants are required to pass a:

  • Written general knowledge exam.
  • Behind-the-wheel CDL skills exam.

Taking an in-class course will prepare you for the format and material of the written general knowledge exam.

Enrolling in behind-the-wheel training will help you feel more comfortable in the vehicle that you'll need to drive for the CDL skills road test.

Classification & Endorsement Requirements

Depending on the classification and endorsement(s) attached to your desired commercial PA driver license, you could be expected to take additional CDL exams.

This means that the first step in your CDL application process should be finding out exactly which classification and endorsements apply to the vehicle you'll be driving.

Otherwise, you'll be unpleasantly surprised with extra written and road tests that you simply are not prepared for.

PA Commercial Driver Classroom Courses

As mentioned above, only people with school bus endorsements are state-required to enroll in classroom courses.

Otherwise, an in-class program is optional but will still provide a great means of preparing for the required Department of Transportation (PennDOT) CDL written test(s).

Should you decide that you want to take an in-class course, first ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the program's tuition reasonable for your budget?
  • Does the length of the course fit into your schedule?
  • Will the curriculum cover all of the topics that you'll need to know for your CDL's written test(s)?

In-Class CDL Course Curriculum

While determining which CDL classroom program will be best for you, look at the course materials. A legitimate course should at least cover material that you'll see on the CDL written exam, including:

  • Inspecting your vehicle before, during, and after a trip.
  • Performing basic tasks like:
    • Accelerating.
    • Reversing.
    • Braking.
    • Holding the steering wheel correctly.
  • Shifting gears in automatic and manual transmissions.
  • Steps to creating an adequate field of vision.
  • Calculating your required stopping distance.
  • Safely driving on curves.
  • Maintaining a safe amount of space:
    • Above your vehicle while passing under bridges.
    • Below your vehicle on bumpy roads.
    • On the sides of your vehicle.
    • In front and behind your vehicle in traffic.
    • While making turns.
  • Spotting and handling hazards like:
    • Construction zones.
    • Objects in the road.
    • Erratic drivers.
  • Procedure for railroad crossings.
  • Driving in the mountains.

Additional CDL Written Test Prep

As previously mentioned, you could be expected to take additional commercial driver written tests based on the classification and endorsement(s) on your CDL.

Other topics you might need to look for in an CDL classroom course curriculum include:

  • Managing a vehicle that transports passengers (all types of buses).
  • Using air brakes.
  • Driving a combination vehicle.
  • Safety and legal practices for transporting hazardous materials.
  • Hauling a liquid or gas-filled tanker.
  • Towing double and triple trailers.
  • Operating a school bus.

Once you pass the written test(s) you'll be given CDL learner's permit. Pennsylvania law requires that you wait at least 15 days from the time of receiving the permit before signing up for a CDL road exam.

During that time, you might consider enrolling in a behind-the-wheel commercial driver education class. Doing so will give you an advantage and confidence when it comes to acing the CDL road test.

PA Commercial Driver Road Test Prep

If you're studying to become a school bus driver, PennDOT requires that you take behind-the-wheel training.

For all other CDL endorsements, a behind-the-wheel class is optional.

Regardless of whether behind-the-wheel classes are mandatory for you or not, they are still a valuable resource to consider while preparing for your CDL road test(s).

Should you decide to enroll in a behind-the-wheel CDL program, first make sure of the following:

  • The instructors who teach the classes hold valid Pennsylvania commercial driver's licenses.
  • Your budget and schedule aren't jeopardized by the course length and tuition.
  • You'll be able to practice in the same type of commercial vehicle that you'll be driving for your CDL road exam.
  • The curriculum goes over all of the skills that you'll need to master for your road test.

CDL Behind-the-Wheel Curriculum

Taking a careful look at behind-the-wheel course curricula will help you determine the legitimacy of your options.

The programs that you're considering should at least teach the skills you'll need to know for the general CDL skills road test, including:

  • Conducting a full internal and external vehicle inspection.
  • Understanding the functionality of different vehicle parts.
  • Performing rudimental vehicle maneuvers like:
    • Backing up in a straight line and while turning.
    • Parallel parking.
    • Alley docking.
  • Performing turns and changing lanes.
  • Going through intersections and railroad crossings.
  • Entering and exiting moving traffic.
  • Navigating challenging road environments like:
    • City streets.
    • Expressways.
    • Rural areas.
    • Curves.

Additional CDL Road Test Material

Similar to the commercial driver written tests, PennDOT's road test could require you to learn additional road skills depending on the classification and endorsement(s) of your desired Pennsylvania CDL.

Other skills you could be expected to know include:

  • Inspecting safety and passenger loading equipment on a school bus.
  • Securing the stability and connections on a trailer.
  • Checking the boarding equipment on a transit or coach bus.

When you feel absolutely confident in your abilities to drive a commercial vehicle, schedule a road test appointment with the Department of Transportation's online scheduling system.

Benefits of PA Commercial Driver's Ed

Taking commercial Driver's Ed courses will mean having to set aside a chunk of money and time from your budget and schedule. In the long run though, taking a CDL class can prove to be worth it.

For those of you who have the option of enrolling in a formal commercial driver education (i.e. not future school bus drivers), consider these benefits:

  • Receive superior test preparation.
    • The classes are taught by instructors that hold commercial driver licenses and who've been through the CDL testing process themselves.
    • You'll go over all of the topics and skills that are needed to pass the CDL tests.
    • Classroom environments yield fewer distractions.
  • Improve your job opportunities.
    • Employers will value and sometimes require that you've completed a formal CDL education.
    • You have the chance to create a professional network amongst your instructors and peers.

PA CDL Self-Study Guide

If your CDL does not have a school bus (S) endorsement, then you always have the option of studying for the commercial driver exams on your own.

Everything that you need to know for the CDL tests can be found in Pennsylvania's Commercial Driver's Manual.

First, you should refer to the study aid chart in “Section 1," which outlines all of the manual sections you'll need to review based on the classification and endorsement(s) attached to your prospective CDL.

Then, consider taking some practice tests, as they'll help to familiarize you with the format and material of PennDOT's CDL exams as well as identify areas that might require more studying.

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