In this series, we look at the steps and missteps involved in obtaining and maintaining your commercial driver’s license (CDL).
Here’s the scenario: You’ve planned hard, worked your way through high school and have a stellar driving record. You dream of life on the road, and you can’t think of a better career than being a truck driver.
“What could be easier?” you think to yourself. Just drop by your local Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) office, stand in line a while, get behind the wheel of a Class 8 tractor trailer and show them what you can do!
Sorry … but fortunately for everyone on the road it’s not that easy.
First of all, the FMCSA doesn’t handle licensing. That responsibility lies with individual states.
While the FMCSA may issue a lot of guidelines — and even determine who can and cannot operate an 18-wheeler — there’s no nationwide agency administering the commercial driver’s license (CDL) testing process. In most states you’ll find the task is relegated to the Department of Motor Vehicles or a similar agency, usually the same one that issues run-of-the-mill driver’s licenses for four-wheeled vehicles.
However, as the FMCSA website states, driving a commercial vehicle “requires a higher level of knowledge, experience, skills and physical abilities” than a non-commercial vehicle. For that reason, the requirements for earning a CDL are more complicated than those for teenagers who are testing for their first drivers’ licenses.
There are a few points to keep in mind when you’re deciding if a career as a commercial motor vehicle operator is right for you.
Training for the CDL test is not easy, and it’s not supposed to be. If you thought driver’s education class was difficult in high school, get ready for a whole new world. In fact, you can take everything you learned in driver’s ed — and everything you’ve experienced on the road as a driver — and magnify it.
You’re getting ready to drive a larger, heavier and more dangerous vehicle than you’ve ever operated before, and you can’t expect to be a natural behind the wheel. Even if you are a natural, there are enough FMCSA restrictions, regulations and guidelines on the books to make you feel like you’re jumping straight from pedaling a tricycle to piloting a jumbo jet.
In addition, the requirements for a CDL are built so that you’ll feel like you’re starting at the bottom. It may not be like joining the Army, but you’re planning to enter a profession where you’ll be held to a higher standard of responsibility and safety than most drivers with whom you share the roadway. In fact, a traffic violation that might result in a fine for the driver of an automobile could threaten your ability to keep your CDL — and your career.
But before you go any further, be aware that being a commercial motor vehicle driver is a major responsibility. After all, you’ll share the highways with a lot of other drivers, each of which has a different level of ability, knowledge, skill and even concern for safety than you. It’s not a career for everyone.
With all that said, don’t lose heart. Earning a CDL and enjoying a successful career on the road is well within reach; you simply need to understand the process.
To find truck driving schools in your area, click here.
Check back next week for the second installment in The Trucker’s “So, you want to be a truck driver” series.
Since retiring from a career as an outdoor recreation professional from the State of Arkansas, Kris Rutherford has worked as a freelance writer and, with his wife, owns and publishes a small Northeast Texas newspaper, The Roxton Progress. Kris has worked as a ghostwriter and editor and has authored seven books of his own. He became interested in the trucking industry as a child in the 1970s when his family traveled the interstates twice a year between their home in Maine and their native Texas. He has been a classic country music enthusiast since the age of nine when he developed a special interest in trucking songs.