For some, the call of the open road is hard to ignore. Whether you are interested in working long haul, taking the opportunity to travel the country while working, or would prefer something more regional, becoming a truck driver starts with acquiring the proper driver’s license. In the state of Connecticut, certain steps must be taken before you will be awarded your commercial driver’s license, also known as a CDL.
Different Types of CDLs
CDL licenses are generally available at one of three levels, listed as CDL A, CDL B, and CDL C. The letter denotes the size of the vehicle in question, with CDL A being the largest and CDL C being the smallest.
Along with the variety of CDL licenses comes the options to hold additional endorsements. An endorsement allows a driver to operate the chosen CDL class vehicles that require additional competencies or training. This can include, but is not limited to, the ability to carry passengers, haul double or triple trailers, the transportation of liquid, or the transportation of hazardous materials.
A special endorsement, deemed an “S” endorsement, is required if the driver intends to drive a school bus. This endorsement must be obtained in addition to the standard passenger endorsement, listed as “P.”
There are a variety of employment opportunities for licensed truck drivers, with some variation depending on the type of license obtained and the sort of work performed. Light truck or delivery drivers can provide a variety of functions. They may transport merchandise between business locations or deliver items to customer businesses or homes. Truck driving of this nature often comes with certain loading and unloading duties. Depending on the exact work being performed, full time and part time opportunities may be available. The nationwide mean annual wage for these types of truck drivers is listed by the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is $34,080.
By comparison, the BLS mean annual wage for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers is listed as $42,500 with the highest 10% earning $62,010. Additionally, with an anticipated growth rate of 5% between 2014 and 2024, demand in this field is expected to keep up with the national average.
Truck driving in this industry generally requires a CDL, and is normally focused on the transportation of goods from one point to another. The majority of CDL truck drivers in this field participate in what is referred to as long-haul truck driving. Most long-haul truck drivers do not return home from work every night, instead having interstate routes that keep them away for specified periods of time. In this regard, long-haul trucking is considered a lifestyle choice as well as a form of employment.
With the proximity of Connecticut to other states, as well as the state’s overall size, interstate driving may be in higher demand than intrastate driving.
While not necessarily a requirement in obtaining a CDL, most trucking or transportation companies require the drivers to have a high school diploma or equivalent as a condition of employment. Additionally, most required the successful completion of an approved truck driving school along with the receipt of an appropriate CDL.
A key component of working towards a CDL begins with classroom learning. Just as with a regular driver’s permit, a commercial learner’s permit (CLP) requires a written test be successfully completed prior to the issuing of the permit. The most common way to begin gaining this knowledge is through an appropriate truck driving school.
While attendance at a truck driving school may not be mandatory before the issuing of a CLP, it will help ensure that all of the required information has been provided prior to the examination, and that students have had the opportunity to ask any questions they may need to feel confident in their ability to pass the written exam. Additionally, many truck driving schools offer this portion of the learning to assist in obtaining a CLP for the hands-on learning that will be provided later in the program.
Besides basic road safety, CDL schools will cover topics including various federal and state regulations, how to complete a log book, and the various components that exist in different types of vehicles, such as air brakes and different transmissions.
In order to receive instruction in the proper operation of a commercial truck, you will need to first be granted a CLP. Similar to a learner’s permit issued while learning to operate a private motor vehicle, the CLP provides the holder the right to operate a commercial vehicle under the direct instruction of a licensed operator.
You must be at least 18 years of age to qualify for a CDL, though that age requirement is lifted to 21 years of age if the driver is looking to driver interstate or haul materials deemed hazardous. In order to prove eligibility, a current driver’s license must be presented at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) along with a valid Social Security card or recent W-2.
An unexpired medical certificate, supplied by a valid medical examiner, is also required. This information must be reported on a form MCSA-5876 and is designed to assert your general wellness in regards to an ability to safely operate the types of commercial vehicles in question. Additionally, you must self-certify in regards to which types of commercial vehicles you wish to operate. Lastly, you will need to complete an Application for Commercial Driver’s License form to provide with the other materials.
Taking the CDL Examination
Once all needed documentation has been supplied, and the required fees have been paid, you will be scheduled a time to take the written examination. The general knowledge test will go over vehicle operation and safety regarding the forms of vehicles you intend to operate. A passing score must be obtained before a CLP will be issued.
Certain operations, such as driving a school bus, or generally carrying passengers, as well as the hauling of certain cargo will required additional endorsements. These require additional tests to show you have the knowledge necessary to operate vehicles of the specified type.
Upon the successful completion of the required tests, a CLP will be issued. This allows you to operate commercial vehicles, based on any noted endorsements, with the direct guidance of a licensed CDL holder.
If you do not pass the examinations, you must wait until at least the next business day before reapplying. A new Application for Commercial Driver’s License must be supplied with each retest request.
Learning to Drive
With your CLP in hand, you are now ready to begin learning how to physically operate the commercial vehicles in which you are seeking your license. Some learning will be observational, allowing the CLP holder to watch more experienced drivers complete certain operations as well as seeing other students attempt to complete them.
After some observation, you will have the chance to participate in hands-on training. Some training will take place in controlled environments, such as facilities owned and operated by the truck driving school. This allows you to practice the basics of certain operations or maneuvers with limited risk to other people and property. Training in this area may include, but is not limited to, items such as basic shifting technique, how to safely negotiate corners, and how to back up a trailer to a loading dock.
Other training will take place on public roads, allowing the student to experience real world conditions first hand while building on previously learned skills and acquiring new ones. Aside from going over the techniques previously used in controlled environments, this allows students to experience unique conditions that may only be present on public roadways. This includes negotiating changing traffic conditions and building awareness of other vehicles on the road, as well as ensuring all traffic laws that apply to commercial vehicles are properly understood and followed.
The purpose of these segments is to assert that you have the knowledge and skills required to pass any required driving tests. Though your original CLP is only valid for six months, it can be renewed for one additional six month period, within two years of the original CLP being issued, should a student feel more time under supervision by a CDL holder is warranted.
Driving Skills Test
Once a sufficient amount of hands-on instruction has been provided, you may choose to schedule your skills test. The type, or types, of license being sought will determine the vehicle you will need to perform the skills test. In order to be scheduled for a test, you will need to supply your current CLP as well as non-commercial driver’s license, a new Application for Commercial Driver’s License, a current medical certificate, and a copy of your appointment letter.
In order to drive the test vehicle to the site, a currently licensed CDL holder will need to accompany you on the trip. In cases where a truck driving school has been attended, this will most often be someone from the school.
Your test will be comprised of three or four sections, depending on the license sought. All tests will include a pre-trip inspection, and two driving portions. The first driving portion is the static course test. This test is completed in a controlled environment and is used to ensure you possess the ability to perform specific actions safely.
The second driving test, the on-the-road skills test, takes place on public roadways. The purpose of this test is to observe your ability to safely negotiate real world driving conditions, following all applicable laws and road signs. You will be required to follow instructions provided by the test administrator, but must ensure that all instructions are legal and appropriate before completing them. While it is not guarantee, a test administrator may test your response by asking you to complete an illegal or unsafe action.
Once you complete the skills test, your actions will be scored based on agency scoring standards. If you successfully pass all of the required segments, you will be able receive your CDL license at the level for which you applied and completed testing, allowing two business days for the information to be recorded before requesting the new license.
If you were unsuccessful in passing the skills test, you will need to retake it. You will need to complete a new application and wait for a new appointment to be scheduled, with a minimum wait of seven days between each skills test attempt. Once scheduled, you will proceed with the testing as you did previously.
Just as with a normal driver’s license, a CDL may be subject to various restrictions. Most commonly, this refers to conditions such as the mandatory use of corrective lenses or hearing aids, but can also restrict the forms of vehicle a person may operate, such as the inability to operate full air brake equipped motor vehicles or only vehicles with automatic transmissions.
Major Health-Related Restrictions
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has minimum health standards for those who look to obtain a CDL. As part of obtaining a CDL, you must complete a health screening to ensure you meet minimum standards in areas such as hand-eye coordination, hearing and vision ability, and overall physical health.
Certain health conditions are automatically restricted in regards to pursuing a CDL, including, but not limited to, colorblindness and epilepsy. Certain medical conditions can qualify for exemptions, though this may be addressed on a case by case basis.
While the ability to obtain a CDL is generally not restricted by a person’s background or criminal history, employers may have their own standards and requirements regarding their hiring practices. Additionally, any person who is not permitted to cross state lines cannot participate in interstate driving until the restriction is lifted.
Those who have had a CDL suspended in another state may not qualify to obtain a CDL in a different state until the aforementioned suspension is lifted and any conditions satisfied.