Commercial Driver Education in Tennessee

Do you wish you could open your window and enjoy a sprawling field of Tennessee wildflowers? Rather than listen to the tick-tock of the office clock, would you prefer the rock and roll of your favorite Tennessee crooners as a regular part of your work day?

These can be yours when you make your living traveling as a TN commercial driver. To begin, you will need to apply for a Tennessee commercial driver's license (CDL) through the Department of Safety (DOS). You'll need to pass tests verifying that you can safely operate your commercial vehicle of choice.

Depending on your type of commercial vehicle (CMV), you could be state-required to complete specialized trainings after earning your CDL. Otherwise, there are CDL test prep courses that you can enroll to prepare for your DOS exams.

Keep reading for details on your options for mandatory and optional TN commercial driver education.


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

CDL Education in Tennessee

While preparing for the TN Department of Safety's commercial driver's license exams, you are not state-required to complete CDL test prep courses. However, if you plan on driving a school bus in Tennessee, it's mandatory that you complete specialized trainings, subsequent to receiving your CDL.

Required School Bus Driver Training

If you're looking to become a Tennessee school bus driver, you'll need to have the following credentials before being able to legally transport students:

NOTE: You need to be at least 25 years old to drive a school bus in Tennessee. 

To get your CDL with appropriate endorsements, you'll need to pass all of the DOS-required tests. It's important to note that the initial certification training curriculum will differ depending on the county that you're driving for. After that, you'll need to complete mandatory trainings with the county school district that you're employed with. 

After completing the necessary trainings, you'll receive your school bus driver certificate. To maintain your position as a certified school bus driver, you'll need to attend an annual training session that is 4 hours long.

For more information about school bus driver training in Tennessee, contact the Department of Safety's Pupil Transportation Section office at (615) 743-4974.

Optional TN CDL Test Prep

As mentioned above, commercial driver license applicants are not state-required to enroll in CDL test prep courses. Even though this is the case, taking preparatory commercial Driver's Ed can really improve your chances of passing the TN Department of Safety's CDL exams on your first attempt.

The tests that all Tennessee commercial driver applicants are required to pass include:

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

In addition to the aforementioned exams, you'll also have to pass written and road tests that are specific to your CDL's classification and endorsement(s). It's important that you know exactly which classification and endorsement apply to your Tennessee commercial driver's license. Otherwise, you could face exams on testing day that you simply aren't prepared for.

For more information about TN commercial vehicle classifications and endorsements, refer to the following guides:

Choosing a CDL Test Prep Course

Even though CDL test prep courses are optional, enrolling in them can be extremely beneficial for the following reasons:

  • Many Tennessee employers will require that you've already completed some formal CDL training prior to hiring you for a job.
  • Legitimate CDL test prep courses are specifically designed to help you pass the Department of Safety's exams with ease.

Different types of TN commercial Driver's Ed will help you pass the different kinds of commercial driver's license exams:

  • Taking a classroom course will ensure that you're familiar with the material and format of the DOS' written CDL test(s).
  • Enrolling in behind-the-wheel instruction will familiarize you with the skills and vehicle that you'll need to be comfortable with during the DOS' CDL road test.

If you do begin to look into your Tennessee CDL test prep options, make sure to ask the following crucial questions about each of the programs before making a final decision:

  • Can your budget and schedule comfortably accommodate for the pricing and duration of the commercial Driver's Ed program?
  • Are all of the instructors certified with valid Tennessee commercial driver licenses?
  • What's included in the curriculum? Does it cover all of the topics that you need to master for your particular CDL's written and road exams?

Tennessee CDL Classroom Curriculum

If you decide to enroll in a preparatory CDL classroom course, you'll want to make sure that the curriculum at least covers the topics that you'll see on the Department of Safety's written CDL general knowledge test, including (but not limited to):

  • Performing a full vehicle inspection.
  • Basic vehicle function (e.g. acceleration and backing up).
  • Manual and automatic transmissions.
  • Maintaining awareness and communication with other drivers.
  • Keeping your vehicle at a safe speed.
  • Reacting safely to hazards like:
    • Objects in the road.
    • Dangerous drivers.
    • Extreme weather.
    • Pedestrians and bicyclists.
  • The dangers of driving while distracted or under the influence.
  • Emergency procedures.

Remember that you'll have to pass additional written exams if your TN commercial driver's license has the classification and endorsement(s) to warrant it. The other written CDL test topics that you might also have to prepare for include:

  • Working with hazardous materials.
  • Pulling a liquid or gas-filled tanker.
  • Transporting passengers.
  • Driving a combination vehicle.
  • Pulling a double or triple trailer.
  • Vehicles with air brakes.

When you're ready to take your written test(s), make an appointment at one of the Tennessee DOS' full service office locations.

Behind-the-Wheel CDL Instruction

After passing the Department of Safety's written CDL exams, you'll be given a Tennessee commercial learner permit (CLP). Having a CLP allows you to legally practice driving your commercial vehicle of choice with a licensed supervisor.

Your CLP is valid for 1 year from the day it was issued, which gives you plenty of time to get comfortable driving your commercial vehicle before testing day. One of the best ways to prepare for the DOS' road testing is to enroll in a behind-the-wheel training program.

When looking at these programs, pay special attention to the curriculum and make sure that the class will at least teach you the skills that you'll need to execute for the DOS' general behind-the-wheel skills test, including (but not limited to):

  • Reversing exercises (e.g. parallel parking and docking).
  • Precautionary steps for passing through intersections and railroad crossings.
  • Merging into and out of a flow of moving vehicles.
  • Practicing basic safety skills like:
    • Keeping both hands on the steering wheel.
    • Checking your mirrors.
    • Using turn signals.

Like the Department of Safety's written testing, you'll need to learn additional skills for your road test if your commercial driver license has the classification and endorsement(s) that require it. The other skills you might be expected to perform include:

  • Specific type of vehicle inspection for:
    • Transit and school buses.
    • Trailers.
    • Vehicles equipped with air brakes.
  • Manual transmission gear and clutch usage.
  • Letting students on and off of a school bus.

As soon as you feel confident in your abilities to operate your commercial vehicle of choice, schedule an appointment at any Tennessee CDL road skills test location by calling (615) 502-4179.

TN CDL Self-Study Guide

If you think that a CDL test prep course will put too much stress on your finances or schedule, remember that you can always study on your own. The Tennessee Commercial Driver License Manual contains everything you'll need to master in order to pass the Department of Safety's CDL exams. Make sure that you go over every section with information that's relevant to your commercial driver's license's classification and endorsement(s).

As an additional study tool, also try taking some practice tests. Doing so can help you understand just how prepared you are for the DOS' commercial driver exams and will shed some light on which parts of the manual you need to revisit.

Additionally, online practice tests are usually:

  • Similar in difficulty and format to the written CDL exams.
  • Stress-free—prepare for the exam in a comfortable environment.
  • Entirely mobile—you can practice anywhere... even right before taking your test at the DOS!

As long as you're dedicated and have the right resources, you'll get your Tennessee commercial driver's license in no time.

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