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Driving a truck can be a high-paying job, the average salary for an intrastate driver in California is between $40,000 and $60,000 per year. Over-the-Road (OTR) or long-haul truckers make an average of $80,000 annually. The national average salary according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is $42,480 per year including local and interstate drivers. Plus, there’s a shortage of drivers for commercial motor vehicles (CMV) nationwide, so many companies are offering higher incentives and paid training. But, what are the requirements and how do you get a CDL?

The information we will present here pertains to getting a CDL in CA. Although there are federal requirements, each state has specific guidelines for their state in addition to the federal conditions. The first step most successful CDL applicants take is to find a quality training school for truck drivers and continuously study the 2018 CA Commercial Driver Handbook, particularly the air brake test. The best place to start your search for a quality driving school is with drivers you may know and the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE).

If you go to their website and search truck driving schools, you will find nearly 250 schools. BPPE won’t narrow your search much, but all these approved schools must post their curriculum and student critiques, which will allow you to find out if their course fits your needs and which does a better job at training students.

Most truckers advise inexperienced drivers to memorize the steps for the air brake test, in-cab inspection, and daily vehicle inspection report (DVIR) or pre-trip inspection, which you will be tested on at the DMV to get your CDL.

If English is your second language and you are not very proficient yet, you should practice. Although you can take the written test in other languages, once you start driving, English proficiency is required to communicate with roadside inspectors who will ask various questions about the truck or bus and how it operates.

Who Needs a CDL?

Anyone that will drive a CMV to transport passengers or products for compensation requires a CDL. Each state has minimum prerequisites for the number of passengers or gross vehicle weight (GVWR) and depending on the cargo or vehicle, you may need a specific endorsement which entitles you to drive that specific vehicle. Not having the proper endorsement is a violation of Federal and State law.

Minimum Requirements for a CDL

A driver who intends to drive only within the state of CA must be at least 18. To cross the state line or international border with cargo or passengers for compensation, you must be 21. You must also be 21 to transport hazardous material (HAZMAT), even within state boundaries.

Other requirements include:

  • A Form DL 939, Ten-Year Driving History, only if you have had a CDL in another state within the previous ten years
  • A Form MCSA-5876, Medical Examiner’s Report
  • A Form DL 694, Self-Declaration Form, on which you will declare the type of CMV you will operate (interstate or intrastate)
  • Birth Certificate or Naturalization documents (Passport, Military ID card, etc.), Social Security Card or W-2, proof of legal residence (lease, mortgage, electric bill, etc.), and biometric data (fingerprints, photo, etc.)

Getting a CDL Learner’s Permit

Before you can get a CDL, you must have a commercial learner’s permit (CLP). When you apply for the CDL learner’s permit, you must have identification and proof of residence and citizenship status. Plus, if you are applying for a Real ID License/CDL, you must provide evidence of a Social Security number such as a W-2. Getting a Real ID CDL is probably the best way to go, as the full-compliance date is October 2020, when it will be a requirement for even domestic air travel. Getting a Real ID now will keep you from applying again later. Then, complete these steps before applying for a CDL:

Step #1 - Gather the required documents

Step #2 - Turn in the application (DL44) for CDL at the local DMV

Step #3 - Pass a visual acuity test and written exam (within three attempts)

Step #4 - Practice with your supervisor or assigned mentor/driver

Step #5 - Complete the required training

Step #6 - Pay the required fees

Getting Your CDL

After you have your learner’s permit, you will need to practice driving and inspecting the vehicle with a DVIR. The 2018 CA Commercial Driver Handbook provides step-by-step instructions on how to complete this inspection.

Now, you’re ready to make an appointment at the DMV to take your hands on driving exam. Call to make an appointment, take the vehicle you will drive and your co-driver/mentor, remember this vehicle must pass the DMV inspection. Then you must either pass the driver’s test or provide DMV with a Form DL 170 ETP, signed by you and your employer (if your employer is authorized to test drivers).

Now that you have a CDL, you will want to keep your driving record clean to avoid Out-of-Service (OOS) Orders and possible 60-120 day disqualifications for driving violations. Always obey traffic laws and when you get a ticket, challenge the traffic ticket with a traffic ticket attorney. Just one conviction or paid fine could lead to termination from some trucking firms, even in a private vehicle.

Protecting Your CDL

Experienced CDL holders know they must dispute every traffic ticket and keep their driving record clean from convictions to keep their jobs. Driving is their livelihood and their career. That is why many turn to Bigger & Harman who have an excellent reputation for protecting the driving privileges of all drivers in San Bernardino County Traffic Courts.

Call Bigger & Harman, (661) 349-9300, when you have unresolved traffic tickets and need expert advice. They practice only traffic law using a flat rate rather than an hourly fee, so you are always aware of how much you will pay.

Se habla Español 661.349.9755.

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The 2018 CA Commercial Driver Handbook .pdf

California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE) website

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