Commercial Driver Education in Alabama
What better way to explore your “sweet home" of Alabama than in a commercial vehicle? You'll make your living by driving and sightseeing, surrounded by all of the natural and historical wonders that this state has to offer.
To do this, you'll first need to apply for an Alabama commercial driver's license (CDL). Getting your CDL will mean having to learn new driving and safety practices, which are necessary for driving a commercial vehicle.
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) will test your knowledge of such practices with a series of tests when you apply for a new CDL.
In preparation for the ALEA's testing, only certain CDL applicants are required to enroll in commercial driver education, though this will become mandatory for all CDL applications on February 7, 2022.
IMPORTANT FEDERAL TRAINING REQUIREMENTS UPDATE
Per new federal entry-level driver training requirements effective February 7, 2022, the AL ALEA now mandates new CDL applicants complete an entry-level driver training course through an authorized provider. You’ll need to complete this training prior to applying for your first commercial driver’s license, upgrading your existing CDL class, or applying for a HAZMAT, school bus, or passenger endorsement.
Alabama CDL Education Requirements
As previously mentioned, the ALEA currently only requires certain CDL applicants to enroll in commercial driver education. If you're applying for a commercial driver's license with a school bus (S) endorsement, then you must enroll in CDL training.
All other CDL applicants are not state-required to take commercial driver education classes, but will need to do so per federal mandate beginning in 2022.
School Bus Endorsement Education Requirements
If you want to become a school bus driver in Alabama, you'll have to learn a special set of skills needed for the safe transportation of students.
To receive a school bus (S) endorsement, you're required to enroll in at least 12 hours of school bus driver education, approved by the Alabama State Department of Education (SDE).
By the end of your training, you will have taken the CDL tests required by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to receive your commercial driver's license.
All Other CDLs & Endorsements
If your desired CDL does not require a school bus endorsement, then commercial driver education is optional for you. You should, however, still consider taking CDL classes, as they will prepare you for the ALEA's required CDL testing.
The tests that all CDL applicants are required to take include:
- Written general knowledge test.
- General CDL skills road test.
Depending on the classification your Alabama CDL is, and any potential endorsement(s) attached to it, you could be required to take additional CDL tests.
So, your first step in preparing for your commercial driver exams is determining the classification and endorsement(s) of your desired CDL.
Refer to the following guides for more information:
Alabama In-Class CDL Courses
Only prospective school bus drivers are required to take classroom CDL courses. All other CDL applicants have the option of enrolling in in-class commercial driver education.
Optional or not, taking a classroom CDL course will help familiarize you with the format and material of the CDL written test(s).
When selecting an in-class program, consider the following:
- Does the course length fit into your schedule?
- Is the tuition reasonable for your budget?
- Will the curriculum cover all of the material that you'll be tested on?
AL Written Test Prep Curriculum
The curriculum of the classroom CDL program you choose should at least cover the topics you'll be tested on for the written general knowledge exam, including:
- Proper vehicle inspection before, during, and after a trip.
- Steps to performing basic maneuvers like:
- Shifting gears with automatic and manual transmissions.
- Creating a safe field of vision.
- Calculating your stopping distance and keeping a safe amount of space around your truck.
- Adjusting speed in dangerous driving conditions like:
- Slippery road surfaces.
- Heavy traffic.
- Steep downgrades.
- Sharp curves.
- Driving at night.
- Managing difficult weather conditions like:
- Very high temperatures.
- Passing through railroad crossings.
- Procedure in emergency situations.
Additional CDL Written Tests
As mentioned above, you could have to take multiple written exams if the classification and/or endorsement on your desired commercial driver's license require it.
Additional CDL topics you might need to study include:
- Transporting passengers by bus.
- Using air brakes.
- Driving a combination vehicle.
- Working with hazardous materials.
- Hauling gas or liquid-filled tankers.
- Driving with double and triple trailers.
- Safe operation of a school bus.
AL Behind-the-Wheel CDL Training
Unless you're applying for a commercial driver's license with a school bus endorsement, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency does not require you to take behind-the-wheel CDL training.
Whether or not it's mandatory for you, behind-the-wheel CDL classes will prepare you well for every aspect of the ALEA's commercial driver road test.
While considering your options, first ask yourself the following:
- Does the course tuition and length fit in with your budget and schedule?
- Do the instructors hold valid commercial driver licenses?
- Will the course curriculum teach you all of the skills you need to master for your CDL road test(s)?
CDL Road Test Prep Curriculum
When determining the comprehensiveness of behind-the-wheel CDL training, look at the program material. The courses should at least cover the skills you'll need to know for the general CDL skills road exam, including:
- A thorough pre-trip vehicle inspection.
- Performing basic skills.
- Proceeding through intersections and railroad crossings.
- Turning and curve handling.
- Changing lanes.
- Entering and exiting on:
- Roads with moving traffic.
- Passing under bridges.
- Maintaining a safe field of vision.
Additional CDL Road Test Prep
Just like the ALEA's commercial driver written testing, you could be expected to learn additional material for your road test, depending on the classification and endorsement(s) of your desired CDL.
Other skills you might need to learn include:
- Checking the air brakes on your vehicle.
- Safety and loading equipment inspection for school buses.
- Securing all trailer connections.
- Inspection of public and private bus exit, entry, and emergency equipment.
When you feel confident in your abilities to handle a commercial vehicle, schedule your CDL road test at an ALEA-approved testing site.
Benefits of Alabama CDL Education
For those of you who are not state-required to take commercial driver education classes (i.e. those of you who aren't applying for a school bus endorsement), you might still be on the fence about enrolling.
Before you make a final decision not to, consider the following benefits of taking CDL education courses:
- Comprehensive CDL exam preparation.
- Your instructors will hold valid Alabama CDLs and have been through the same ALEA commercial driver testing processes.
- The curriculum covers all of the material you'll be expected to know for your CDL written and behind-the-wheel tests.
- Being in a classroom environment means you'll be less distracted.
- Improved employment opportunities.
- Future employers will appreciate, and sometimes require, that you've completed a formal commercial driver education.
- You'll create a professional network amongst your peers and instructors.
Self-Study for an Alabama CDL
Perhaps commercial driver education puts too much strain on your budget and schedule, or maybe you find studying on your own to be a more effective strategy.
Whatever your reason, studying for an Alabama commercial driver's license on your own time is a completely viable option (unless you'd like to become a school bus driver).
Everything that you need to know in preparation for the ALEA's CDL exams can be found in the Alabama Commercial Driver License Manual. The manual even includes a chart that indicates which sections pertain to your desired CDL.
Additionally, you should consider taking some practice tests. Doing so will help to familiarize you with the format and material of the CDL written exams, as well as identify areas that might require more studying.