An Introduction to CDL Training

As of February 7, 2022, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires most new CDL applicants to complete an entry-level driver training program (ELDT) before earning a commercial driver's license.

Not only will this commercial driver training help you pass the written and road examinations, it'll also provide you with the knowledge and skills you need to have a successful career as a commercial driver.

Below is some of the basic information you need to know about CDL training.

What Is CDL Training?

Commercial driver training teaches prospective students the basic knowledge and skills needed to obtain a class A, B, or C commercial driver's license. While the exact format of each federally-approved school will differ, you can expect most accredited schools to consist of:

  • Classroom instruction.
    • This includes:
      • Learning the rules of the road.
      • Driver requirements and procedures.
      • State and federal requirements of commercial drivers.
      • Laws and other information needed to pass the written portion of your CDL examination.
  • Hands-on training.
    • Most schools have certified instructors that will teach you operation of the vehicle for the class of CDL you will be testing for.
    • Training will prepare you for the inspection and road examinations to obtain your CDL license.

The FMCSA doesn't set specific time requirements for your commercial driver training course—each individual training provider can dictate how long its courses will be. However, all ELDT programs must contain the following components:

  1. Basic operation
  2. Safe operating procedures
  3. Advanced operation procedures
  4. Vehicle systems and reporting malfunctions
  5. Non-driving activities

For more details, visit our guide to truck driver training, as well as the items to bring with you when you enroll.

Who Needs Commercial Driver Training?

Almost all new CDL applicants are required to complete commercial driver training, as of February 7, 2022. Specifically, you must complete an ELDT program if you are:

  • Applying for a new Class A or B commercial driver’s license.
  • Upgrading an existing Class B CDL to a Class A license.
  • Applying for a first-time passenger (P), school bus (S), or HAZMAT (H) endorsement.

Our guide to CDL Federal Requirements has even more detail.

A few of the common vehicles that you will learn how to operate in CDL training include:

  • Charter buses.
  • City buses.
  • Tractor-trailers.
    • Includes single, double, and triple trailers.
  • Large freight trucks.
  • Vehicles carrying hazardous materials.
  • Delivery trucks.
  • Large construction vehicles.
  • Waste management vehicles.

Some of the vehicles that may not require a CDL in order to operate (depending on your state of residence and/or employment) include:

  • Farm equipment.
    • Includes vehicles used to transport goods to and from farms.
  • Firefighting vehicles.
  • Military vehicles.
  • Large recreational vehicles (RVs).

CDL Training Curriculum

While reading your state's commercial driver's license manual and taking driver's education courses might help you with some of the questions on the written CDL examination, there's a lot more you'll need to learn in order to operate a commercial vehicle safely.

A few of the key skills you'll learn by attending CDL training include:

  • Commercial driving rules and regulations.
  • Identification of road signs.
  • Vehicle operation skills, including:
    • Emergency protocols.
    • Handling adverse weather conditions.
    • Altering driving habits with heavier weight loads.
  • Basic driving skills for commercial vehicles, such as:
    • Turning.
    • Backing up.
    • Passing procedures.
    • Shifting.
    • Road driving.
  • Coupling and uncoupling trailers.
  • Pre- and post-trip inspections.
  • Signaling.
  • Reading maps.
  • Use of trip-planning logbooks.
  • Delivery tracking.

In addition to CDL training, you may also benefit by preparing for the written exam with an online CDL practice test.

Choosing a Commercial Driving School

Not all CDL training is equal. The FMCSA provides a list of federally approved ELDT course providers, but in order to make an educated decision and find the best school for you, you'll need to take several factors into consideration:

  • How long the school has been accredited.
    • Do plenty of research for every school you're considering.
    • To check to reputation of a school, check for ratings and other information on the Better Business Bureau's website.
  • The school's pass/failure rate.
  • Job placement programs offered.
  • Cost.
    • NOTE: While many (if not most!) truck driving schools are exemplary educational businesses, there are some schools that claim to offer free training programs. Be wary of such offers, especially if you are asked to include credit card information in order to sign up. It could be a scam.
  • Training from certified, licensed CDL instructors.
    • Including hands-on and in-class training sessions.
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