Commercial Driver Education in Iowa

Do your office walls seem to be closing in on you? Do you yearn to be out on the open road, where your office walls are just a blur of corn fields as you make your way through the “Hawkeye State"?

If this sounds appealing to you, then you might consider applying for an Iowa commercial driver's license (CDL).

To receive your CDL, you'll have to pass a series of tests administered by the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT). The commercial driver exams are meant to gauge how well you're acquainted with the specific safety and driving skills needed to operate a commercial vehicle.

In preparation for the DOT's CDL exams, only certain CDL applicants are currently required to enroll in commercial driver training classes. This will extend to all drivers beginning February 7, 2022.

Whether it's mandatory for you or not, enrolling in CDL education can really improve your chances of passing your required commercial driver tests in a single attempt.


Per new federal entry-level driver training requirements effective February 7, 2022, the Iowa Department of Transportation 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.

What are the Iowa CDL Training Requirements?

As mentioned above, only certain CDL applicants are currently state-required to enroll in a formal commercial driver education course, though this will extend to all applicants February 7, 2022

School Bus Driver Applicants

If you're applying to become a school bus driver, then you MUST take a specialized CDL education course to receive a School Bus Driver's Authorization from the Iowa Department of Education (DOE).

Without a School Bus Driver's Authorization, you are not legally able to transport children in a school bus.

So, after you've received your school bus (S) endorsement, you'll be required to take the following courses to receive your School Bus Driver's Authorization:

  • Safety Training Option Program (STOP) class—12 hours.
  • Training class outlining the safety and driving laws of that particular year—3 hours.

The Iowa DOE provides a training schedule for both types of classes, which you can reference when you're going to get your School Bus Driver's Authorization.

All Other CDL Applicants

As long as you aren't applying to become a school bus driver, the Iowa Department of Transportation does not currently require you to take CDL education classes. This will change on February 7, 2022.

Whether it's mandatory for you or not, you should still consider enrolling in commercial driver education. Commercial driver education classes will give you optimal preparation for the DOT's required CDL exams.

All CDL applicants are required to pass the following tests:

  • General knowledge written exam.
  • CDL skills road exam.

In addition to the aforementioned CDL exams, you could also have to pass additional CDL tests, which are specific to particular classifications and endorsements.

If you aren't sure which classification and endorsement(s) apply to your desired commercial driver's license, refer to the following guides for more information:

Choosing an Iowa CDL Course

As mentioned before, only CDL applicants who want to become school bus drivers are currently state-required to take commercial driver education classes. For all other commercial driver applicants, CDL education is currently optional.

Though you may not be required by the state to do so, taking a commercial driver education class is one of the best ways to prepare for the DOT's written and road tests.

Taking an in-class CDL course will prepare you for the format and topics you'll see on the CDL written exam.

Enrolling in behind-the-wheel CDL training will allow you to learn and practice the skills that you'll need to master for the CDL road exam.

As you begin to look at your commercial driver's education options, you should first ask the following questions about each program:

  • Does the program's length and price fit comfortably with your schedule and budget?
  • Will the classes be taught by certified instructors who hold valid commercial driver licenses?
  • What's included in the curriculum? Will the classes teach all of the topics and skills that you need to master for your CDL's specific written and road exams?

In-Class Iowa CDL Education

The curriculum of a legitimate Iowa CDL classroom course should at least cover the material that you'll see on the general knowledge written test, including topics like:

  • Vehicle inspection before, during, and after a trip.
  • Rudimentary vehicle maneuvers (e.g. accelerating and braking).
  • Seeing and communicating with other drivers on the road.
  • Controlling vehicle speed in hazardous situations like:
    • Slippery roads.
    • Sharp turns.
    • Steep hills.
    • Heavy traffic.
    • Difficult weather.
  • The risks of distracted and impaired driving.
  • Procedure at railroad crossings.
  • Handling emergency situations.

Additional CDL Written Test Topics

As you might recall, your CDL's classification and endorsement(s) could merit passing additional written exams.

Other topics that you could be tested on include:

  • Driving a combination vehicle.
  • Using air brakes.
  • Passenger transport.
  • Operating a school bus.
  • Pulling double or triple trailers.
  • Working with hazardous materials.
  • Hauling a liquid or gas-filled tanker.

When you feel prepared enough, schedule a written test appointment at an approved Iowa Department of Transportation CDL testing location.

How to Take Behind-the-Wheel CDL Training in Iowa

Once you pass the CDL written test(s), the DOT will give you an Iowa commercial learner's permit (CLP) so that you can practice driving the commercial vehicle you'll be testing in for the CDL road exam.

You are required by state law to hold onto your CLP for at least 14 days before taking your CDL road test.

So, during that time consider taking a behind-the-wheel CDL training course. These training programs are specifically designed to help you pass the Department of Transportation's CDL road exam.

The curriculum of the behind-the-wheel course you choose should minimally teach the skills that you'll be required to execute for the general CDL skills road test, including:

  • Full internal and external pre-trip vehicle inspection.
  • Basic vehicle maneuvering (e.g. reversing and parallel parking).
  • Driving through intersections and railroad crossings.
  • Making turns and lane changes.
  • Leaving and re-joining the flow of moving traffic.

Additional Behind-the-Wheel Skills

Just as with the DOT's written testing, you could be required to know additional road skills depending on the classification and endorsement(s) on your prospective CDL.

Other CDL road exam material you might be tested on includes:

  • Extended pre-trip vehicle inspection for all buses and trailers.
  • Shifting gears with a manual transmission.
  • Checking air brake functionality.
  • Loading and unloading students from a school bus.

When you feel absolutely confident in your abilities to safely operate your commercial vehicle of choice, make a road skills test appointment at one of Iowa's DOT-approved CDL testing sites.

Iowa CDL Self-Study Guide

As long as you're not applying to become a school bus driver, you always have the option of studying for your commercial driver exams on your own. This might be the best choice for you if the pricing and length of the available CDL education courses aren't conducive to your daily budget and schedule.

Should you decide to study on your own, refer to the Iowa Commercial Driver License Manual. There's a chart in that indicates every section you'll need to review for the specific classification and endorsement(s) on your desired CDL.

As an extra study aide, consider taking some practice tests. These resources will familiarize you with the layout and material on the commercial driver written exams, as well as let you know which parts of the manual need more studying. Plus, you can take the practice test as many times as you need until you feel confident and ready for your CDL exam.

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