Differences Between CDL vs. Non-CDL Driver’s Licenses

Ever wondered what it takes to get your commercial drivers license (CDL) or why you might need your CDL truck driver certification in the first place?

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Commercial truck drivers are in high demand, and getting CDL training could be your path toward building a recession-proof career with real earning power.

DAT is here to tell you everything you need to know about CDL requirements, from “What is commercial driving?” to understanding which driver’s license class might be right for you.  

How to become a truck driver

If you’re looking to become a truck driver, you’ve probably been weighing all the pros and cons of getting a CDL. The good thing about obtaining a CDL, especially a Class A CDL, is that you’ll be qualified to drive a wide variety of trucks for a living. However, before you can do that, you’ll have to complete (and possibly pay out-of-pocket for) CDL school, a CDL test, and a host of other requirements before you can start making money as a professional truck driver. If you’ve been wondering about commercial license requirements, here are the main steps you’ll need to take to become a CDL truck driver:

  • Know the type of job you want. Different truck driving jobs require different certifications. For example, if you want to haul loads that contain hazardous materials, you’ll need special certifications from the Department of Transportation (DOT) in addition to your commercial drivers license, DOT number, and motor carrier (MC) authority. On the other hand, driving a smaller passenger van will require different skills, along with a different class of CDL license.
  • Talk to a truck driver. Once you’ve researched the types of truck driving you’re interested in, it is tremendously helpful to talk to someone who currently works as a truck driver about how they got started in the industry and exactly what the job entails. For some drivers, life on the road can mean long stretches of solo driving. You might want to ask questions about how they pass their time on the road, where they sleep and eat, and what they do in their downtime, along with questions about the specifics of the job before you make a decision about what type of truck driving interests you.
  • Understand the requirements. Before you make decisions about CDL training, you’ll want to make sure you meet all the requirements for becoming a CDL truck driver. A reputable CDL school will likely require a GED or high school diploma, and you’ll need to be at least 21 years old to obtain a CDL license for interstate travel (though it’s sometimes possible to become a commercial driver at 18 if you don’t cross state lines). You’ll also need a birth certificate or proof of citizenship and proof of residency in the state you plan to complete your CDL training. You’ll have to pass a medical examination, and if you are on certain medications or have medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or some physical handicaps, you’ll need a note from a physician saying that these conditions won’t impair your driving ability. Lastly, you’ll need a clean driving record. Minor offenses, like parking violations, shouldn’t be an issue, but bigger offenses, such as reckless driving or DUI will likely make you ineligible for a commercial drivers license.
  • After you’ve made sure you meet all the requirements, you’ll need to find a reputable CDL truck driving school and pass your exams.
  • Find a CDL truck driver job. Once you have completed your CDL training, there are a wide variety of jobs to choose from. With drivers and owner-operators in high demand, there’s no shortage of great driver jobs out there. You could also choose to go into business for yourself, buying your own rig and getting your own motor carrier authority.

Differences Between CDL vs. Non-CDL Driver’s Licenses

You might be wondering “What is commercial driving?” Do all driving jobs require a CDL driver license? Commercial driving is simply driving in exchange for money, as opposed to getting in your car and driving to work (which you still need a non-commercial license to do). Commercial driving does not always require a CDL license. There are jobs such as rideshare driving, driving a small moving truck, some types of mail carriers, and delivery drivers that do not require CDL training (though they may require other types of training). Here are the differences between CDL vs. non-CDL driver’s licenses.

CDL licenses

CDL licenses require specialized training, testing, and medical clearances and are usually intended for people who intend to operate larger vehicles or transport more than eight passengers for compensation. There are three main types of CDL driver license class.

Class A License

A Class A License is an all-purpose license for CDL driving. Obtaining a Class A License affords all the privileges of a Class B License and a Class C License and more. With a Class A truck driver license, you can operate anything from heavy farm equipment to big rigs, haul hot shot loads, passenger vans, and pretty much any other type of job you’d take to earn a living.

Class B License

A Class B license allows you to operate a single vehicle that weighs more than 26,000 pounds or a 3-axle vehicle weighing over 6,000 pounds. With a Class B License, you may also operate a bus and any farm equipment, along with all vehicles below Class C. These types of licenses can be commercial or non-commercial, depending on what you’ll use them for.

Class C License

This is the most common type of license and is what most people think of when they think of a driver’s license. With this type of license, you may operate a car or vehicle under 40 feet and haul a trailer that does not exceed 9,000 pounds. These types of licenses can be commercial or non-commercial depending on what you’ll use them for.

What are the advantages of a CDL?

One of the main reasons to get a commercial drivers license is the fact that CDL truck driver jobs are in high demand and have been for decades. Commercial driving has some of the lowest unemployment rates of any industry in the U.S., no matter what type of driving interests you. Additionally, obtaining a Class A License allows you to drive pretty much any vehicle you want. Whether you would like to be an over-the-road (OTR) truck driver or a hot shot trucker who delivers small, time-sensitive loads, CDL training will help ensure you are certified to work in the trucking industry in any capacity that suits your job preferences. Additionally, new federal regulations have authorized the right for State Driver’s Licensing Agencies to waive CDL training requirements for military personnel “who have two years of safe driving experience in a large truck or bus,” according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. However, you’ll have to check state requirements to see if this waiver applies.

What are the advantages of non-CDL?

Not all driving careers require obtaining a commercial drivers license. If you’re interested in becoming a rideshare driver or hauling small loads locally (what can fit in the back of a flatbed truck or small trailer) you might not want to deal with the time and expense of CDL school. Likewise, there are reasons you might simply want to obtain a non-commercial Class B license, which will allow you to legally operate farm equipment or drive a large motor home. However, this will still require you to take a written knowledge test and a basic skills test, as will obtaining a Class A license.

If you’re not sure whether or not you want a Class A license, you might want to look into becoming a CDL assistant. Some companies hire assistants for their CDL drivers. You will perform every duty of a CDL driver except for the driving itself, from safety checks to safe cargo storage to route planning and other important aspects of the job.

How to get a CDL

If you’re interested in getting your Class A commercial drivers license there are a few steps to take. First, you should become familiar with the industry and figure out what types of trucking industry jobs appeal to you. Then, you should make sure you meet all the requirements for obtaining a commercial drivers license. Finally, it’s time to start looking into CDL school.

Finding a reputable CDL driving school is an important part of the process. There are a few things you should look for when you are choosing a training program:

  • Cost. Getting CDL training could cost you anywhere from $3,000-$10,000. However, there are many companies and schools that offer financial aid. Look into financial assistance and on-the-job training to avoid going into debt.
  • Length. Some schools will offer you training in as little as two weeks. That’s often not enough time to learn everything you need to know to pass CDL certification tests.
  • Faculty. Make sure your CDL driving school has instructors with strong resumes in the industry and small class sizes. You shouldn’t be training with more than four other students.
  • Testing. To get your commercial drivers license, you’ll need to take a written test and a driving exam. Find out what happens if you don’t pass the first time. Will the program offer additional training?

Once you’ve chosen the right CDL driving school, you’ll take the written CDL permit test at the DMV, which then allows you to train with a CDL-certified driver. After you pass the CDL permit test and a physical examination, you’ll learn everything there is to know about being a commercial driver, from backing up, driving, and conducting pre-trip inspections. After this training, you’ll take a final driving exam and a test on your pre-trip inspection skills. When you pass these tests, you’re ready to look for CDL jobs as a fully qualified truck driver.

Earn your commercial drivers license and get trucking with DAT!

If you’re ready to complete your CDL requirements and get started as a commercial truck driver, you’ll also want all the best tools to help you get certified, stay up-to-date with paperwork and make life easier on the road. And if you’re considering starting your own trucking business, tools like DAT Authority can help you stay compliant easily and quickly. Plus, DAT Load Board will get you the best rates no matter what kinds of loads you’re looking for. With millions of loads posted daily, there’s no place better than DAT to grow your business anytime, from anywhere. 

Get on the road with DAT!

Got a CDL and looking for loads? You’ll need a load board to find the best freight to get you moving. The DAT load board is the largest freight marketplace in the industry, with over 1 million new posts every day. Try it out today!

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