The Commercial Driver’s licensing (CDL) examination is required by the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 and is a knowledge and skills test used to ensure drivers of trucks and buses are qualified to operate them on roads and highways throughout the country. The Act establishes the minimum required national standards, and it is the responsibility of each state to ensure those standards are met or exceeded when licensing a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) operator.
The registration process, cost, and location
The process for obtaining a CDL varies state to state. Generally, the steps are: apply and pay the fee, take a written and vision test (including endorsements), receive a temporary learner’s permit, pay an additional fee (if required by your state), take a road skills test, and receive your CDL. Written test fees vary state to state and can range from $16.50 to over $100.00.
Some states include the written and road test in one fee, while other states assess a fee each time you present yourself for licensure. Some states require you to hold a learner’s permit for a certain time period, while some states do not. Additional endorsements range $5.00 to $41.00. Your state licensing office has the information you need regarding fees and requirements, including how to register for the written, road, and endorsement tests.
To obtain your CDL, you will take a general knowledge test, one or more endorsement tests, an air brakes test (if your CMV has air brakes), and a skills test. The general knowledge and endorsement tests are computer-delivered. The skills test is performed in your CMV with an examiner in the passenger seat.
General Knowledge Test
The general knowledge test consists of 50 multiple-choice questions. Often the exam is delivered at your local licensing offices. Some states may have you take the exam at a testing center. You have 60 minutes to complete the exam. The general knowledge test covers the same topics as a regular driver’s license exam and includes such items as reading road signs, weather and driving, special circumstances, and rules of the road.
- Passenger Transport – all potential bus drivers take this exam.
- Air brakes – if your CMV has air brakes, you are required to take this exam.
- Combination vehicles – drivers of combination vehicles are required to take this test.
- Hazardous materials (HAZMAT) – if you are planning to transport hazardous materials in-state or across state lines, you are required to take this exam. Additionally, you have to pass a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) background check. The TSA background check is an additional cost.
- Tanker – this test is required if you are going to haul liquid or liquid gas in a permanently mounted cargo tank of 119 gallons or more, or a portable tank of 1,000 gallons or more.
- Doubles/triples – this test is for CDL drivers who will be pulling double or triple trailers.
- School bus – this test is used for school bus drivers.
Endorsement tests assess your knowledge of the unique operation, additional rules, and regulations governing some of the largest vehicles on United States roads. The passing score for the general knowledge test and each endorsement test is 80%.
The skills test, or road test, is the final assessment before receiving your CDL. This hands-on assessment tests your ability to handle the operation of your CMV. There are three parts to the road test:
- Pre-trip inspection. The purpose of the pre-trip inspection is to ensure your CMV is ready to drive. The inspection is designed to capture malfunctions, defects, and failures before they become an issue on the road.
- Basic controls. The road test evaluates your ability to operate and control your vehicle in a variety of situations. You use a course marked by cones, lines, and other items to present various driving requirements, including a backing test. You are scored on your ability to stay within the boundaries and how many pull-ups and looks you make.
- Road test. The road test evaluates your ability to drive safely in a variety of on-the-road situations. Techniques evaluated include turns, intersections, railway crossings, curves, and different public road types.
The passing rate for the skills test varies from state to state. Some states require 100% performance rate, while others have a number of mistakes you can make before you are unsuccessful. Check with your local licensing office.
How Can I Prepare for the CDL Test?
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