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Commercial Driver Education in Washington

As one of the most picturesque and verdant states in the country, Washington truly beckons you to explore all of the natural wonders that it has to offer. By becoming a WA commercial driver, you can get paid to travel the state—and possibly others.

Convinced? If so, your first step is to apply for a Washington commercial driver's license (CDL) through the Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL). The DOL requires that you complete CDL trainings in addition to passing their commercial driver exams in order to get your Washington commercial driver license.

Keep reading for more information about state-required CDL education that all commercial drivers in Washington must complete to get their license.

WA CDL Driver's Ed Requirements

In Washington, the Department of Licensing requires ALL CDL applicants to complete commercial driver training before receiving your commercial driver's license. Additionally, school bus drivers will need to complete separate trainings specific to your line of work, after receiving a Washington CDL.

All Washington CDL Applicants

In order to get your official Washington CDL, you'll need to obtain a training certificate certifying that you've completed the commercial driver education specific to your CDL's classification.

The types of trainings that you need to complete will differ depending on your commercial driver's license's classification in the following ways:

  • Class A license160 hours:
    • Classroom education – 40 hours.
    • Behind-the-wheel training – 18 hours.
    • Backing exercises – 16 hours.
    • Improving proficiency – 16 hours.
    • Observation, lab, and range work – 70 hours.
  • Class B license – 48 hours:
    • Classroom education – 20 hours.
    • Behind-the-wheel training – 14 hours.
    • Backing exercises – 4 hours.
    • Improving proficiency – 4 hours.
    • Observation, lab, and range work – 6 hours.
  • Class C license – 36 hours:
    • Classroom education – 20 hours.
    • Behind-the-wheel training – 8 hours.
    • Backing exercises – 2 hours.
    • Improving proficiency – 2 hours.
    • Observation, lab, and range work – 4 hours.

The Washington Department of Licensing provides a list of state-approved CDL training schools that you can attend and receive your required training certificate from.

WA School Bus Drivers

In addition to the DOL's required commercial driver license training, Washington school bus drivers must also complete specialized school bus authorization trainings. Without authorization, you cannot legally transport students.

For initial authorization, a certified school bus instructor in your school district will administer the appropriate training course, as approved by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

To maintain your authorization, you will need to complete annual in-service trainings, which are also provided by the school district you're driving in.

For more information about school bus driver training in Washington state, contact the OSPI at (360) 725-6000.

Choosing a CDL Training Course

As stated above, all Washington commercial driver's license applicants are required to complete training as a part of the Department of Licensing's CDL application process. While going through the DOL's list of approved commercial driver training programs, ask the following crucial questions about each of your options:

  • Can your daily schedule and finances accommodate the course length and duration of the commercial Driver's Ed class?
  • Are all of the courses taught by certified instructors who hold valid Washington commercial driver's licenses?
  • What's listed in the program's curriculum? Will it cover all of the material that you need to know for your specific CDL exams?

Though your WA CDL training requirements may seem inconvenient, they're actually to your advantage. Taking commercial Driver's Ed classes will give you optimal preparation for the DOL's CDL exams.

All WA commercial driver's license applicants are required to pass the following tests:

  • Written general knowledge test.
  • CDL skills behind-the-wheel test.

You will also have to pass additional written and road exams, applicable to your CDL's endorsement(s), so it's important that you find a training course that'll cover the material relevant to your particular type of commercial driver's license.

Washington CDL Written Test Prep

For the WA Department of Licensing's written general knowledge exam, you will have to master topics including (but not limited to):

  • State laws around commercial driving.
  • Proper cargo transport.
  • Vehicle inspection.
  • Basic vehicle controls (e.g. reversing and steering).
  • Communicating to other drivers.
  • Distracted and impaired driving.
  • Dealing with hazards like:
    • Inclement weather conditions.
    • Unpredictable drivers.
    • Pedestrians/bicyclists/objects in the road.
  • Controlling vehicle speed during:
    • Steep downgrades.
    • Heavy traffic.
    • Sharp turns.
  • Emergency and accident procedure.

Remember, depending on your CDL's endorsement(s) you could have to pass additional written tests, which include topics like:

  • Air brakes.
  • Combination vehicles.
  • Double/triple trailers.
  • Tankers filled with liquid or gas.
  • Hazardous material transportation.
  • Passenger vehicles.
  • School bus operation.

When you feel prepared for the Department of Licensing's written test(s), simply make an appointment at your local Washington DOL office to take your written CDL exams.

WA CDL Road Test Prep

After you've passed all of the WA Department of Licensing's required written exams, you'll receive a commercial license permit (CLP). Your CLP is valid for 180 days and can be renewed once within 1 year of earning it. Additionally, you must hold your Washington CLP for at least 14 days before going in to take the DOL's road skills test.

Basically, you'll have the time to get familiar with the vehicle and skills that you'll need to be comfortable with for the DOL's behind-the-wheel testing. For the general CDL skills road exam you will need to be able to execute certain skills including (but not limited to):

  • An extensive pre-trip vehicle inspection.
  • Backing up in a straight line and on a curve.
  • Left and right turns.
  • Freeway and city driving.
  • Going through railroad crossings.
  • General safety skills like:
    • Proper brake usage.
    • Staying in your lane.
    • Obeying the speed limit.

Just like the Department of Licensing's written examinations, you will be tested on additional behind-the-wheel skills if your commercial driver license's endorsement(s) warrant it. The other skills you could have to perform include:

  • Clutch and gear usage for manual transmission vehicles.
  • Loading and unloading students from a school bus.
  • Specific type of pre-trip inspection for all buses and trailers.
  • Checking the air brakes.

When you're ready to take your behind-the-wheel CDL skills test, you can do so at either a:

Additional WA CDL Study Tools

If you want to do some extra studying on your own time, everything that you need to know is in the Washington Commercial Driver Guide. Make sure to go over every section with information about your Washington CDL's classification and endorsement(s).

When you think you've studied the manual enough, take a few practice tests. Doing so will help you gauge how well you know the material as well as familiarize you with the format and difficulty of the Department of Licensing's written CDL exams. Additionally, an online practice test gives you the advantage of being able to study on the fly—even when you're waiting to take your exam with the DOL!

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