Commercial Driver Education in South Dakota

Have you ever wanted an office with a view? How about an office with a view of the South Dakota Badlands one day, and the lush Black Hill forests the next?

Wouldn't you like to make your living by driving and experiencing all that South Dakota has to offer? As a SD commercial driver, you can make this daydream a reality.

When you apply for a South Dakota commercial driver's license (CDL), the Department of Public Safety (DPS) will give you a series of tests to establish your knowledge of all the necessary commercial vehicle driving and safety skills. In addition to obtaining a South Dakota CDL, some commercial drivers could also be required to complete specialized trainings that are specific to the commercial vehicle that they'll be driving.


Per new federal entry-level driver training requirements effective February 7, 2022, the SD Department of Public Safety 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.

South Dakota CDL Ed Requirements

South Dakota commercial driver license applicants are not required to take CDL test prep courses for the DPS' exams.

HOWEVER, school bus drivers ARE required to complete training on school bus operation and safety before being able to work, but after earning your commercial driver's license.

SD School Bus Drivers

All school bus drivers in South Dakota must complete the following trainings with their school district in order to legally be able to transport students:

  • First aid instruction.
  • Bus safety course.
  • Passenger management.
  • Behind-the-wheel training.

In order to maintain your status and validity as an active SD school bus driver, you will need to take a refresher school bus driver course every 5 years.

The South Dakota Department of Education (in cooperation with the Highway Patrol and the Department of Public Safety) does not specify a specific amount of hours that you're expected to complete, so the duration of your training will likely depend on the school district that has decided to train and employ you. Contact your prospective school district for details on the training you're required to complete.

All SD Commercial Drivers

Though you aren't state-required to take CDL test prep courses, doing so will help to ensure that you pass the Department of Public Safety's exams in a single attempt. You may also be required to have completed some form of CDL education before an employer will hire you.

All South Dakota commercial driver license applicants must pass the following tests:

  • Written general knowledge test.
  • CDL skills behind-the-wheel test.

Dependent on your desired CDL's classification and endorsement(s), you could also be required to pass additional commercial driver exams. To avoid any surprises at the DPS on testing day, make sure that you know exactly which classification/endorsement applies to your desired South Dakota commercial driver's license.

To learn more, check out our following guides:

South Dakota CDL Test Prep Options

As you read above, CDL applicants in South Dakota are not required to take preparatory commercial Driver's Ed classes. You should still consider taking one though, for these primary reasons:

  • South Dakota employers may require that you've already completed some formal commercial driver training before considering you for a job.
  • CDL test prep classes are specifically designed to help you pass the Department of Public Safety's CDL exams with ease.

The following types of commercial Driver's Ed classes will give you ample preparation for the DPS' written and road exams:

  • Classroom courses will familiarize you with the layout and topics of the written CDL tests.
  • Behind-the-wheel training will acquaint you with the vehicle and exercises that you'll need to be comfortable with during the road skills CDL test.

If you begin to look into South Dakota CDL test prep programs, make sure that you ask the following questions about each of your options:

  • Can your personal schedule and budget accommodate for the duration and price of a South Dakota commercial Driver's Ed course?
  • Do certified instructors with valid South Dakota commercial driver's licenses teach all of the classes?
  • What's covered in the curriculum? Does it include all of the topics and skills you'll need to master for your particular CDL's written and road testing?

Classroom CDL Course Curriculum

Taking a classroom CDL course will prepare you for the SD Department of Public Safety's written CDL exams. A comprehensive program will at least cover the material that you can expect to see on the written general knowledge exam, including (but not limited to):

  • Inspecting your vehicle before, during, and after a trip.
  • Basic vehicle maneuvers (e.g. braking and reversing).
  • Shifting gears.
  • Seeing and communicating with the vehicles around.
  • Maintaining a safe speed during:
    • Slippery/icy roads.
    • Steep hills.
    • Tight curves.
  • Keeping a safe amount of space around your vehicle at all times.
  • Spotting and dealing with hazards like:
    • Dangerous drivers.
    • Construction zones.
    • Extreme weather conditions.
  • The perils of driving distracted or impaired.
  • Emergency and accident procedure.

You might also have to take additional written tests if your commercial driver license's classification and endorsement(s) call for it. The other written test topics that certain commercial drivers will need to learn include:

  • Vehicles with air brakes.
  • Driving a combination vehicle.
  • Transportation of passengers.
  • Pulling double or triple trailers.
  • Transporting hazardous materials.
  • Liquid or gas-filled tankers.
  • School bus operation.

When you feel ready to take your required written CDL exam(s), simply make an appointment at your local DPS office.

Behind-the-Wheel CDL Test Prep

After you've passed your required written CDL tests, you'll be given a South Dakota commercial learner's permit (CLP). You are legally required to hold your CLP for at least 14 days before taking your CDL road skills test.

In the meantime, taking a behind-the-wheel training course will familiarize you with the commercial driving skills you'll need to execute for the Department of Public Safety's commercial driver road test.

The exercises that you will be expected to perform for the CDL skills road exam include (but are not limited to):

  • Backing exercises (e.g. parallel parking and docking in an alley).
  • Safely passing through railroad crossings.
  • Entering and exiting an expressway.
  • Basic safety practices like:
    • Using your mirrors and turn signals.
    • Correct brake usage.
    • Keeping both hands on the wheel.

Like the CDL written testing, you could be expected to learn additional skills for the DPS' CDL road test depending on your commercial driver's license's classification and endorsement(s). The other skills that certain commercial drivers will also have to perform include:

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

Once you feel comfortable driving your commercial vehicle of choice, make an appointment to take your CDL skills road test. South Dakota DPS offices do not offer road testing, so you will need to be examined by an approved third party tester.

SD CDL Solo-Study Guide

Remember, it isn't mandatory for you to take commercial driver license test prep courses; you can always study on your own. South Dakota school bus drivers do not have this option, however, when completing the required school bus driver trainings.

All of the topics and skills that you'll need to know for the SD Department of Public Safety's written and road CDL tests is in the South Dakota Commercial Driver License Manual. Read over all of the sections with information pertaining to your CDL's classification and endorsement(s), as you will be tested on those topics.

As an additional study technique, consider taking CDL practice tests, which will give you an idea of how well you know the material. Online practice tests are especially useful, as you can retake them as many times as you need to get comfortable before your exam—even while waiting in line at the DPS!

As long as you have the right tools, discipline, and dedication, you'll be able to pass the DPS' commercial driver exams without issue.

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