Commercial Driver Education in North Carolina

With endless miles of natural scenery for you to enjoy, North Carolina is a great state in which to become a commercial driver. You'll want to be out on the road so much that you might just find yourself driving through the entirety of the Tar Heel State.

However, if you'd like to apply for a North Carolina commercial driver's license (CDL), you'll have to acquire a whole new set of driving skills.

The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) requires that all CDL applicants pass multiple exams to prove their commercial driving abilities.

However, the NC DMV only requires certain CDL applicants to enroll in commercial driver education. Keep reading for details you need to know as a CDL holder in North Carolina.


Per new federal entry-level driver training requirements effective February 7, 2022, the NC Division of Motor Vehicles 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.

School Bus CDL Education Requirements

Future school bus drivers are required by the North Carolina DMV to complete:

  • A School Bus Driver Training course lasting at least 3 days.
  • A behind-the-wheel training course with a Driver Education Program Specialist (DEPS).

You can contact your local NC Department of Motor Vehicles for more information on where to receive school bus training.

By the end of your training, you'll have been tested on your driving and safety skills. If you pass the required exams, the DMV will administer your commercial driver's license with a school bus (S) endorsement.

All Other North Carolina CDLs

If your CDL does not require a school bus endorsement, then you are not state-required to enroll in commercial driver education. Though they may be optional, CDL classes will give you excellent preparation for the DMV's required exams, and should be strongly considered.

All CDL applicants are required to take the following tests:

  • Written general knowledge test.
  • Basic CDL skills road test.

Enrolling in a classroom course will prepare you for the format and material on the CDL written test.

Taking a behind-the-wheel course will familiarize you with the skills needed to pass the CDL road test.

Depending on the classification and endorsement(s) attached to your desired commercial driver license, you might have to take additional written and road tests.

So, your first step in preparing for the North Carolina CDL exams is to determine which classification and endorsement(s) apply to your commercial driver's license.

Refer to the following guides for more information:

In-Class NC CDL Education

As mentioned above, only CDL applicants who wish to become school bus drivers in North Carolina are state-required to enroll in commercial driver education.

Otherwise, an in-class CDL course is optional, but will probably help you to pass the required CDL written exam(s) in a single attempt.

When deciding on a classroom course, first ask yourself the following:

  • Does the course length fit into your schedule?
  • Is the tuition practical for your budget?
  • Will the curriculum cover all of the material you'll need to know for your written test(s)?

CDL Written Test Prep Curriculum

To determine the validity of the classroom CDL courses you're looking at, consider the offered materials. The programs should at the very least cover topics that you'll be responsible for on the written general knowledge exam, including:

  • Performing a complete vehicle inspection.
  • Basic vehicle maneuvers like:
    • Backing up.
    • Braking.
    • Steering.
    • Accelerating.
  • Using manual and automatic transmissions.
  • Establishing an adequate field of vision.
  • Communicating and sharing the road with other drivers.
  • Calculating required braking distance.
  • Controlling speed in difficult situations like:
    • Curves.
    • Expressways.
    • Slippery road surfaces.
    • Heavy traffic.
    • Steep hills.
  • Managing a safe amount of space:
    • Above your vehicle while passing under bridges.
    • Below your vehicle on uneven road surfaces.
    • In front, behind, and to the sides of your vehicle in traffic.
  • Dealing with hazards on the road like:
    • Erratic and/or ignorant drivers.
    • Construction areas.
    • Pedestrians and bicyclists.
    • Inanimate objects.
  • The dangers of distracted and impaired driving.
  • Driving at night.
  • Safety precautions for bad weather conditions, like:
    • Snow.
    • Fog.
    • Rain.
    • Extreme heat.
  • Lawfully passing through railroad crossings.
  • Handling emergency situations.

Additional Required CDL Written Tests

Don't forget that you could be required to take multiple written tests depending on the classification and endorsement(s) of the CDL you're applying for.

Additional written test topics you may need to study for include:

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

Once you pass all of the required written tests, the North Carolina DMV will give you a commercial learner permit. You must hold onto this permit for at least 14 days before taking your NC CDL road skills test. However, you have the option for holding it longer to get the adequate practice you need to feel confident in your CMV.

So, in the meantime, consider enrolling in a behind-the-wheel course, which will prepare you for the commercial driver road test.

NC Behind-the-Wheel CDL Training

As previously stated, only CDL applicants trying to get a school bus (S) endorsement are required by the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles to enroll in CDL education.

All other commercial driver applicants have the option of enrolling.

Whether it's required of you or not, taking a behind-the-wheel CDL course can be of great benefit. Most behind-the-wheel programs are designed specifically to help CDL applicants pass the commercial driver road test.

As you begin to search for a program, first consider the following:

  • Does the tuition and longevity of the course fit into your budget and schedule?
  • Do all of the instructors hold valid commercial driver's licenses?
  • Will you be able to train in the same type of commercial vehicle that you'll be driving for the CDL road test?
  • Does the curriculum teach all of the skills you need to master for your respective CDL tests?

CDL Road Test Prep Curriculum

Before you decide on a behind-the-wheel CDL course, take a careful look at the curriculum. A legitimate program will at least teach the skills you'll need to know for the general CDL skills road exam, including:

  • Steps to performing a proper internal and external vehicle inspection.
  • Demonstrating basic vehicle control while:
    • Reversing.
    • Parallel parking.
    • Docking in an alley.
  • Turning and changing lanes.
  • Passing through intersections and railroad crossings.
  • Entering and exiting:
    • Expressways.
    • Moving traffic.
  • Curve handling.
  • Safely passing under a bridge.
  • Proper transmission and brake usage.
  • Using your turn signals.

Additional CDL Road Tests

Just like the DMV's commercial driver written testing, you could be expected to know additional skills for the North Carolina CDL road test.

The classification and endorsement(s) of your desired CDL could mean you have to learn other skills for your behind-the-wheel exam, like:

  • Using air brakes.
  • Safety inspection and student loading/unloading on a school bus.
  • Pre-trip inspection of the secureness of connections on a trailer.
  • Checking the loading and emergency equipment on public and private buses.

Benefits of North Carolina CDL Ed

Though you'll have to set aside a portion of your time and money for it, taking a commercial education course can prove to be worth the effort.

For North Carolina CDL applicants wanting a school bus (S) endorsement, you are lawfully obligated to take CDL education courses.

For all other applicants, if you're still on the fence about it, consider the following benefits of a formal commercial driver education:

  • Extensive CDL test preparation.
    • You'll be taught by instructors who hold valid NC commercial driver's licenses and who have been through the CDL testing processes.
    • The courses will cover all of the all of the material that you need to know in order to pass the CDL written and road tests.
    • You'll be less distracted in a classroom environment.
  • Better job prospects.
    • Commercial employers will like, and oftentimes require, that you've had a formal commercial driver education.
    • Make professional connections with your classmates and instructors, helping with your job hunt in the future.

Study Solo for Your NC CDL

Maybe enrolling in commercial driver education is going to be too much of a strain on your budget and schedule. Or maybe you're the type of person who studies better on their own.

As long as you're not applying to become a bus driver, you can study on your own for the DMV's commercial driver examinations.

Everything that you need to learn is in the North Carolina Commercial Driver License Manual. Look for the chart in the beginning of the manual that indicates exactly which sections you need to study for your specific CDL tests.

As an added study aid, strongly consider taking some practice tests. Doing so will get you familiar with the format of the CDL written exam(s) and will let you know which areas need more studying in general. Indeed, you'll be able to experience the types of questions you'll be expected to know, but you'll also be able to quiz yourself as many times as you need to feel prepared.

DMV.ORG BBB Business Review