To become a commercial driver you need more than a driver's license and a love for the open road. Like any career, it requires careful planning and consideration.
Step 1: Decide on a Truck Driving Category
Before rushing to your Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to apply for a commercial drivers license (CDL), take time to decide on what type of driving interests you.
Trucking categories are diverse and include:
- Auto Haulers: Hauling cars on specially designed trailers that require special loading and unloading skills.
- Boat Haulers: Hauling large boats, including yachts, across country in specialized trailers.
- Bullrack: Haul livestock.
- Dry Van Drivers: Haul non-perishable goods across country.
- Flat Bed Drivers: Haul large pipes, lumber and other assorted items.
- Hazmat: Transport hazardous chemicals. Obtaining an endorsement requires, among other things, fingerprinting and an extensive background check.
- Home Movers: Drive moving trucks.
- Interstate: Drive cross-country, requiring many nights, sometimes weeks, away from home.
- Intrastate: Drive only within your home state. You may have one or two nights a week away from home.
- Local Drivers: Drive mainly within the limits of your town or county. This means you're home every night after work.
- Bus Driver: This requires a special endorsement. Tour buses require cross-country driving, meaning several nights away from home. School bus drivers, however, are home every night.
- Tanker Drivers: Drive tanks filled with various forms of liquid (gas, fertilizer, milk...) The shifting nature of the fluid makes driving difficult, requiring a special endorsement.
- Vocational Drivers: Drive dump trucks, cement mixers and garbage trucks. Driving is mainly local.
When mulling over what type of driving interests you, also consider the hours. Many trucking jobs require many nights away from home, sleeping in truck cabs along interstate highways. If you prefer being home every night, don't pursue an interstate driving job.
Step 2: Apply for a CDL
Before applying, you may want to check with local trucking companies about their current job status. If hiring, some trucking companies may pay for your truck driving school tuition. Otherwise, visit your local DMV office to apply.
Specific truck driving license requirements vary by state and by trucking company, but in general you will need to:
- Own a regular driver's license.
- Be at least 21 if you plan on trucking across state lines.
- Be in good physical condition and able to obtain medical certification.
- Own a relatively clean driving record.
- Pass CDL knowledge and road tests.
- Obtain, if applicable, an endorsement.
If you're not already lined up with a trucking company, you, when applying, will more than likely talk with a trucking recruiter. Be honest. You'll be red-flagged if caught lying about your driving history, jeopardizing chances of getting hired as a truck driver.
When meeting with a truck recruiter, be prepared to present:
- Your current, non-expired CDL.
- Names and contact numbers of former employers.
- A copy of your driving record.
- Proof of eligibility to work in the U.S.
In addition, due to Homeland Security laws, you will be expected to pass a background check, which may, depending on the job, require fingerprinting.
Do you know any commercial drivers who can help you along the way?