How to Get a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)

Written by Jessie Liu

Congratulations on your decision to start your career as a Professional Truck Driver!

You are entering a field that is in high demand, so your chances of getting a job and becoming a truck driver are more than excellent!

The first thing you have to do is to get your commercial driver's licence (CDL).

Different states have different guidelines, click on your state below to find out how you can get started.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration works with each individual state to license and certify drivers.

The Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 was designed to improve highway safety. It ensured that drivers of commercial vehicles are qualified to drive them and removed unsafe drivers from the highways. The Act established minimum standards and required states to upgrade their existing programs.

Before the Act was passed, even in states with separate license classes, drivers were not necessarily tested in the types of vehicles they would be driving. States must now test commercial drivers according to federal standards to ensure that drivers know how to operate the trucks or buses they intend to drive.

CDL Classes for Every State

There are separate classes of commercial driver's licenses. Every state issues licenses in these categories:

  • Class A: Any combination of vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GWVR) of 26,001 or more pounds, provided the GVWR of the vehicle(s) being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Class B: Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle not in excess of 10,000 pounds GVWR.
  • Class C: Any single vehicle, or combination of vehicles, that does not meet the definition of Class A or Class B, but is either designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver, or is placarded for hazardous materials.

The license allows you to drive at the class(es) below it. So If you have a Class A license, you can drive Class A, B, and C vehicles. Those with a Class B license can drive Class B and C vehicles.


To be licensed for certain types of commercial vehicles, extra testing is required. If you pass, you will receive an endorsement on your CDL. These are the endorsements that you can apply for:

  • T―Double/Triple Trailers (knowledge test only)
  • P―Passenger (knowledge and skills tests)
  • N―Tank Vehicle (knowledge test only)
  • H―Hazardous Materials (knowledge test only)
  • S―School Buses (knowledge and skills tests)

Applying for a Hazardous Materials Background Check

After you get a CDL, apply for a background check from the TSA if you'll be obtaining a hazardous materials endorsement. You may do this online or by contacting a TSA agent. They will ask for:

  • Your CDL or CDL permit number.
  • Proof of legal status.
  • Proof of Identity.

Next, the TSA will ask you to go to a fingerprint office to give your fingerprints. The TSA and the FBI will conduct background investigations. You will be responsible for various fees.  Learn more here.

If you already have your noncommercial driver’s license, check this round up of state guidelines and see what you’ll need to do to be certified to drive safely behind the wheel of a commercial rig!

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  • My husband needs to find a new job, so he’s considering getting his CDL license to work as a truck driver. It will help him to know about the endorsements he can apply for if he wants to be licensed for a certain type of commercial vehicle. I think he mentioned that he wanted to drive a double trailer, so he should know that he needs to take a knowledge test. Thanks for the tips!

  • I’ve always wondered if one license would cover you for everything, but it looks like there are different classes. I think if it were me, I would just go for the class A so it covers everything. I’ll have to see what my state requires for the CDL, too. Thanks for the info!

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