Commercial Driver Education in Virginia
When you apply for a Virginia commercial driver's license (CDL), the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will administer a series of tests to verify your abilities to safely operate a commercial vehicle.
In preparation for the VA DMV's commercial driver license tests, you are not-state required to enroll in preparatory commercial Driver's Ed classes. However, certain CDL applicants are required to complete occupation-specific training as part of their CDL application process.
For more information about mandatory commercial driver trainings and optional CDL test prep courses in Virginia, keep reading.
IMPORTANT FEDERAL TRAINING REQUIREMENTS UPDATE
Per new federal entry-level driver training requirements effective February 7, 2022, the VA Department 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.
Required Virginia CDL Training
If you're planning on driving a school bus in VA, you must complete mandatory training as a part of obtaining the appropriate CDL. After passing the Department of Motor Vehicles' written tests, you'll receive a CDL instruction permit, which you can then use to enroll in school bus driver training.
The VA school district or institution that's employing you will facilitate the necessary trainings, which should consist of:
- Classroom instruction on the topics listed below—24 hours.
- Role and responsibilities as a school bus driver.
- Managing student behavior.
- Pre-trip inspection.
- Driving and parking basics.
- Loading/unloading students.
- Accident and emergency procedure.
- Managing hazards.
- Behind-the-wheel training on the material listed below—24 hours.
- Driving with students in the bus.
- Must make up at least 10 hours of the required 24 hours.
- Defensive driving.
- Going over school bus parts and function.
- Instructor observation.
- Route planning.
- Driving with students in the bus.
Once your training is complete, you'll be eligible to get your Virginia commercial driver's license and can then legally transport students on a regular basis. To maintain your status as a valid school bus driver, you are required to complete the following annual trainings:
- Orientation before the school year starts—2 hours.
- In-service training during the latter part of the school year—2 hours.
If you'd like to know more about school bus driver training, contact the Virginia Department of Education's Pupil Transportation representative at (804) 225-2772.
Optional CDL Test Prep in VA
While preparing for the Department of Motor Vehicles' CDL exams you are not state-required to enroll in formal test prep courses. However, doing so can really improve your chances of being able to pass the DMV's required exams in a single go.
All Virginia commercial driver's license applicants are required to pass the following CDL exams:
- Written general knowledge exam.
- Behind-the-wheel CDL skills exam.
You will have to endure additional testing if the classification and endorsement(s) on your desired VA CDL require it. So, your first step in studying should be to determine exactly which classification and endorsement(s) apply to your commercial driver's license. This way, you'll be completely prepared for all of the exams that the DMV throws your way on testing day.
For more information about commercial vehicle classifications and endorsements, check out our following pages:
Virginia CDL Test Prep Options
Even though its optional, you should still seriously consider taking a preparatory VA commercial Driver's Ed course for the following reasons:
- A majority of Virginia employers are going to require that you've already completed some formal commercial driver training prior to considering you for a job position.
- CDL test prep courses are specifically designed to help you pass the DMV's commercial driver exams.
There are different types of CDL test prep courses that you can take to prepare for the VA Department of Motor Vehicles different types of CDL exams:
- Enrolling in a classroom CDL course will give you adequate preparation for the DMV's written exams.
- Completing a behind-the-wheel training program will ensure that you're familiar with the vehicle and skills that you'll need to be comfortable with for the DMV's CDL road skills exam.
It's important to ask the following crucial questions about any commercial Driver's Ed courses that you're thinking about taking:
- Can your personal finances and schedule reasonably accommodate for the tuition and time commitment that a CDL test prep course requires?
- Are the classes taught by certified CDL instructors who hold valid Virginia commercial driver licenses?
- What's included on the curriculum? Does it cover all of the subjects and skills that you'll need to master for your particular CDL's written and behind-the-wheel exams?
VA Written CDL Test Prep
If you choose to take a classroom CDL course to prepare for the Department of Motor Vehicles' written tests, make sure that the curriculum minimally covers the topics you'll see on the general knowledge exam, including (but not limited to):
- Performing a complete vehicle inspection before, during, and after a trip.
- Basic vehicle function (e.g. accelerating and shifting gears).
- Seeing and communicating with the traffic around you.
- Keeping an adequate amount of space around your vehicle.
- Controlling your speed while:
- Making sharp turns.
- On steep downgrades.
- Driving on icy/slippery roads.
- Driving at night or in harsh weather conditions.
- Procedure at railroad crossings.
- Dealing with emergencies and accidents.
- The risks of drinking and driving.
Depending on your commercial driver's license's classification and endorsement(s), you could have to pass additional written tests. The other written exam topics include:
- Vehicles equipped with air brakes.
- Combination vehicles.
- Pulling double and triple trailers.
- Transporting hazardous materials.
- Liquid or gas-filled tankers.
- Passenger transportation.
- School bus operation.
When you're ready, schedule a written CDL testing appointment at your local Department of Motor Vehicles customer service center.
Virginia CDL Road Skills Test Prep
Once you've aced all of the DMV's written CDL tests, you'll receive a commercial learner's permit (CLP). Having a Virginia CLP allows you to legally practice driving a commercial vehicle in preparation for the Department of Motor Vehicles' road skills exam.
Your CLP is valid for 1 year and cannot be renewed. This gives you adequate time to enroll in and complete a behind-the-wheel training course, which will teach you everything that you need to know for the DMV's CDL road skills test.
A legitimate behind-the-wheel training program will teach you the skills, specific to your type of commercial vehicle, that you'll need to perform for the DMV's CDL skills exam. According to federal law, you should minimally be tested on exercises including (but not limited to):
- Conducting an internal and external pre-trip vehicle inspection.
- Basic vehicle operation (e.g. acceleration and braking).
- Identification and use of emergency equipment.
- Driving your vehicle in traffic.
- Performing left and right turns.
- Reversing and parking (e.g. parallel parking and alley docking).
- Basic safety practices like:
- Checking your mirrors.
- Using turn signals.
- Keeping both hands on the steering wheel.
Just like the DMV's written CDL testing, you might have to demonstrate additional behind-the-wheel skills if your VA commercial driver's license has the classification and endorsement(s) to require it. You should refer to the Virginia Commercial Driver's Manual for specifics on which additional behind-the-wheel exercises are required for your particular commercial vehicle.
When you're ready to take the Department of Motor Vehicles' behind-the-wheel exam, contact any Virginia CDL road skills testing center to set up your appointment.
VA CDL Independent Study Guide
Remember, you can always choose to study on your own* in preparation for the Department of Motor Vehicles' commercial driver license exams. This might be your best option if your budget and schedule can't comfortably accommodate for the requirements of a CDL test prep class.
Everything that you need to know is in the Virginia Commercial Driver's Manual. Take care to study every section with information pertaining to your particular commercial vehicle. You should also think about taking some practice tests, which will help to gauge your mastery of the material as well as give you an idea of what format and difficulty to expect on the DMV's written commercial driver tests. Plus, you'll be able to study from home and learn at the pace that's right for you.
As long as you have the right resources and mindset, you'll get your Virginia commercial driver's license in no time.
* NOTE: If you're a VA school bus driver, you must complete training with the school district or institution that's hired you. You cannot complete school bus driver training on your own time.