Commercial Driver Education in Montana
The purity of Montana's natural world is like a breath of fresh, mountain air. “Big Sky Country" is indeed a fitting nickname, since most of your travels through Montana will bring you views of nothing but vast stretches of blue skies punctuated here and there by the snow-capped mountains that so famously populate the state.
Should you decide to drive a commercial vehicle in Montana, you can make your living taking in these types of views as a part of your daily routine. You'll first need to apply for a Montana commercial driver's license (CDL) through the state Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) and pass a series of written and road tests meant to validate your safety and driving skills needed to operate a commercial vehicle.
While preparing for the MVD's exams, you are not state-required to complete CDL test prep courses. HOWEVER, after you've received your MT CDL, you'll need to finish additional specialized training depending on the type of commercial vehicle you'll be driving.
Keep reading for more information about mandatory commercial driver training and optional CDL test prep courses.
IMPORTANT FEDERAL TRAINING REQUIREMENTS UPDATE
Per new federal entry-level driver training requirements effective February 7, 2022, the MT Motor Vehicle Division 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.
Montana CDL Education Requirements
The MT Motor Vehicle Division does not require you to take commercial Driver's Ed classes in preparation for your CDL exams.
However, Montana school bus drivers are state-required to complete specialized training before you can begin work in your school district.
MT School Bus Drivers
As a Montana school bus driver, you need to have the following credentials in order to legally transport students:
- Valid MT commercial driver's license with school bus (S) and passenger (P) endorsements.
- Montana school bus driver certificate.
After you've obtained a CDL with proper endorsements, you can begin to look at getting your school bus driver certificate. As part of the initial certification process, you will need to complete pre-service training with the school district that's hired you.
The number of required pre-service training hours varies by district, though each school must use a curriculum approved by the Office of Public Instruction (OPI), covering topics like:
- Crash prevention.
- Dealing with emergencies and accidents.
- Establishing an effective line of communication with the school administration and students' parents.
- Use of special lighting and turning/parking signals.
- Montana school transportation laws.
- First aid and CPR administration (if you don't already have current certification).
Once you've finished all of the initial required trainings, you'll get your school bus driver certificate and can legally begin to work. In order to maintain certification, you are state-required to complete at least 15 hours of annual in-service training.
For more information about school bus driver training in Montana, contact your local school district's school transportation office.
All MT Commercial Driver Applicants
Although it's not mandatory, taking CDL test prep courses can really improve your chances of passing the Motor Vehicle Division's required commercial driver tests in a single attempt. The exams that all Montana CDL applicants are required to pass include:
- General knowledge test—written.
- CDL road skills test—behind-the-wheel.
Depending on your desired CDL's classification and endorsement(s) you might also have to pass additional written and road testing specific to the commercial vehicle you'll be driving. To ensure that you're completely prepared for all of the MVD's commercial driver exams, you should know exactly which classification and endorsement(s) apply to your particular Montana commercial driver license.
If you'd like to know more about CDL classifications and endorsements, refer to our following guides:
Montana CDL Test Prep Options
As you know by now, taking a Montana CDL test prep course is optional; but consider the following major reasons for why you should still seriously consider enrolling in a program:
- Before considering you for a job position, many MT employers will require that you've already completed some formal commercial driver training.
- Legitimate CDL test prep programs are structured specifically to give you the best chances at passing the Motor Vehicle Division's commercial driver exams.
There are different types of commercial Driver's Ed classes that will help prepare you for the different types of MVD commercial driver exams:
- Taking a classroom course will prepare you for the layout and topics on the MVD's written exams.
- Enrolling in a behind-the-wheel training program will ensure that you learn all of the skills you'll need to execute for the MVD's CDL road skills exam.
If you begin to browse your Montana CDL test prep options, ask the following crucial questions about each program:
- Is the course's duration and pricing a reasonable fit for your personal schedule and finances?
- Are all of the instructors certified with valid Montana commercial driver's licenses?
- What's included in the curriculum? Does it cover all of the topics that you need to master for your specific CDL's written and road exams.
Montana CDL Written Test Prep
If you decide to enroll in a classroom course to prepare for the MVD's written CDL test(s), make sure that the curriculum will minimally cover the material that you'll need to know for the general knowledge exam, including (but not limited to) topics like:
- Performing a vehicle inspection before, during, and after a trip.
- Driving basics (e.g. accelerating and steering).
- Awareness and communication with the traffic around you.
- Controlling your vehicle's speed while:
- On slippery road surfaces.
- Making sharp turns.
- Going downhill.
- Recognizing and dealing with hazards like:
- Unpredictable drivers.
- Harsh weather/road conditions.
- Construction zones.
- The dangers of driving while distracted or impaired.
- Railroad crossings.
- Procedure in emergency and accident situations.
The Motor Vehicle Division will require you to pass additional written tests if your prospective Montana CDL has the classification and endorsement(s) to warrant it. The other written exam topics that you could be tested on include:
- Passenger transportation.
- Air brake use.
- Combination vehicles.
- Hazardous material requirements.
- Gas or liquid-filled tankers.
- Double and triple trailers.
- School bus operation.
When you're ready, make an appointment to take your commercial driver's license written test(s) using the MVD's online scheduling system.
CDL Road Skills Test Prep
After passing all of the Motor Vehicle Division's written exams, you'll receive a commercial learner permit (CLP) allowing you to practice driving your commercial vehicle with a licensed supervisor in preparation for the MVD's road skills exam.
The behind-the-wheel program that you choose should teach you the exercises that you'll need to execute for the CDL road skills exam, including (but not limited to):
- Pre-trip internal/external vehicle inspection.
- Basic backing exercises (e.g. docking in an alley and parallel parking).
- Making left and right turns.
- Merging out of and into moving traffic.
- Correct procedure at railroad crossings.
- Practicing safety basics like:
- Checking your mirrors.
- Using turn signals.
- Keeping both hands on the steering wheel.
Similar to the MVD's written testing, you could be required to perform additional behind-the-wheel skills depending on your commercial driver's license's classification and endorsement(s). The other skills you might need to demonstrate include:
- Extended pre-trip inspection for:
- Vehicles equipped with air brakes.
- Transit, coach, and school buses.
- Using a manual transmission.
- Boarding and discharging students from a school bus.
Once you're ready to take the Motor Vehicle Division's road skills test, schedule your appointment using their online system (just like when you scheduled your written CDL test). Not all MVD locations offer behind-the-wheel CDL testing, so refer to the Montana driver license exam station schedule to better plan ahead for your road skills examination.
Independent MT CDL Study Guide
If the time and money that you're going to have to spend on a commercial Driver's Ed course is too much of a sacrifice, remember that you can always study on your own to prepare for the MVD's commercial driver's license exams.*
All of the material that the Motor Vehicle Division will test you on is in the Montana Commercial Driver License Manual. The MVD will examine your knowledge of all of the information pertaining to your particular CDL's classification and endorsement(s), so make sure that you study every applicable section.
Practice tests are another great study tool at your disposal. Practice tests will give you an idea of what format and topics to expect on the MVD's written commercial driver exams, as well as let you know what parts of the manual you need to go back and study a bit more. Plus, online practice exams allow you to learn at your own pace, and never have to leave the comfort of your home.
As long as you're committed to studying the material and finding the right resources, you should be able to pass the MVD's commercial driver license exams without issue.
* NOTE: Montana school bus drivers CANNOT complete your mandatory certification trainings from home and must enroll in the appropriate school bus driver education within your school district.