A commercial driver's license (CDL) requires specialized training and additional licensing fees. This could be a great career investment - but you're probably wondering just how much you'll need to pay for it. We did the research and have some answers for you.
Getting a CDL will cost you anywhere between $3,000-$7,000 for driving school and around $150-$200 for CDL registration fees.
This figure is an average total cost and does not describe individual expenses. That’s why we are writing this article, to give a comprehensive overview of what a CDL is, the types of CDLs, and the individual costs needed to obtain your CDL.
What Is a CDL?
CDL is an acronym for “commercial driver's license.”
Commercial drivers require special training to make sure they are familiar with the operation and maintenance of large commercial vehicles like trucks, tractor-trailers, and semis. Normally, commercial drivers must attend a commercial driving course in order to apply for a special license which reflects the scope of their training. This license is the CDL.
The Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 obliges all states to meet certain requirements before granting a CDL license. Before 1986, most states had their own, often contradictory commercial driving requirements, which meant that many commercial drivers were not trained and not qualified to drive. Nowadays, a CDL is legally required to operate any large commercial vehicle.
There has never been a better time to be a commercial driver. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual median salary for commercial tractor and trailer drivers in 2018 was $43,680 and the profession is expected to grow by 5% from 2018-20287, slightly faster than the national average for career growth.
What Are the Different Types of CDLs?
There are 3 major types of CDL licenses, each one based on the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) and the specific type of trailer attachment.
Class A CDL
A Class A CDL is needed to drive any vehicle that weighs more than 26,000 lbs. or for towing a trailer that weighs over 10,000 lbs. The exact kind of vehicles you can drive depends on the specific endorsements you receive. A Class A CDL can qualify you to operate:
- Livestock carriers
- Tanker vehicles
- Tractor-trailer buses
- Truck and trailer combinations (semi-trucks)
Some states will allow those with a Class A CDL to operate vehicles that require a Class B or Class C CDL.
Class B CDL
A Class B CDL is required to legally operate single vehicles with a GVWR of over 26,000 lbs or for towing another vehicle that weighs no more than 10,000 lbs. The main difference between a Class A and Class B CDL is that a Class A CDL qualifies you to operate any vehicle over 26,000 lbs and trailers over 10,000 lbs while a Class B CDL lets your drive single vehicles over 26,000 lbs or a trailer under 10,000 lbs. For instance, a Class A CDL would qualify you to drive a semi-truck (a vehicle over 26,000 with a trailer over 10,000 lbs) but a Class B CDL will not.
Some vehicles that you may be qualified to drive with a Class B CDL include:
- Large busses like school and city buses
- Straight trucks
- Dump trucks
- Large box trucks (e.g. delivery drivers and furniture delivery)
- Segmented busses
Again, some states let you drive Class C commercial vehicles if you hold a class B CDL.
Class C CDL
A Class C CDL is required for any commercial vehicle that does not meet the requirements for a Class A CDL or Class B CDL. So this includes single commercial vehicles under 26,000 lbs. For instance, a Class C CDL is required to drive vehicles that transport hazardous waste or any vehicle that holds more than 16 passengers.
Some vehicles you might be qualified to drive with a Class C CDL include:
- Passenger vans
- HAZMAT vehicles
- Any other commercial vehicle not covered by Class A or Class B
Class C CDLs are somewhat unique as they are the only CDL that requires training to transport hazardous materials, such as biological or chemical waste.
There is also the option of obtaining your commercial learner’s permit (CLP). A CLP functions similarly to regular learner’s permit and allows people to practice operating commercial vehicles. Most states require obtaining a CLP as a prerequisite for acquiring a CDL.
In order to get your CLP, you must pass three tests covering:
- General knowledge
- Combination vehicles
- Air brakes
Different states may also have you take specific exams about road safety rules unique to the state.
In addition to the general Class A, B, or C licenses, most states require commercial drivers to have specific endorsements to operate special types of vehicles. For instance, an “H” endorsement is required for operating vehicles transporting hazardous waste and an “S” endorsement is required to operate a school bus.
Also, CDLs have certain restrictions that limit the kind of vehicle the driver can operate Restrictions for specific CDLs differ depending on the state. The specific restriction code is on the CDL. For example, an “E” restriction prohibits drivers from operating a manual transmission vehicle and an “L” restriction prevents drivers from operating a vehicle that has a full air brake system.
Usually, these restrictions can be changed by acquiring specific CDL endorsements.
How Much Does Truck Driving School Cost?
Most truck driving schools charge the entire tuition in one lump sum rather than charging by the semester or credit hour. Also, the specific cost of the programs depends on whether you want to get a Class A, B, or C CDL and endorsements you want.
The average truck driving course costs anywhere between $3,000-$7,000. Factors that can affect the price of the course are:
- Available technology for teaching
- Instructor experience
- Classwork intensity
- Whether you are earning a Class A, B, or C CDL
- Extra endorsements
- Job placement statistics
Along with training courses, potential commercial drivers should expect to pay license fees. Specific fees that you may have to pay include:
- Knowledge test (Usually between $5-$20)
- Road skills exam ($30-$60)
- Standard CDL license (~$75-$100)
- Endorsements ($5-$10 per endorsement)
So overall, you can expect to pay around $150-$200 for licensing fees.
CDL Fees By State
Here are some CDL requirements and fees for some particular states:
California CDL Fees
- Standard Commercial A or B CDL: $78
- Renewal: $46
- Driving test: $36
- Adding endorsements (tank, double/triple/HAZMAT): $46
Texas CDL Fees
- Standard CDL fee: $61
- Renewal: $61
- CLP fees: $25
- CLP renewal: $25
- Endorsements: $11 per endorsement
The state of Texas also charges an extra 1$ administrative fee for each of the above fee amounts.
New York CDL Fees
- Application fee: $10
- Standard Class A, B, or C CDL: $164
- Road test: $40
- Endorsements: $5
Florida CDL Fees
- Standard CDL license: $75
- Renewal: $75
- Knowledge retest: $10
- Skill retest: $20
- Endorsements: $7
Can I Get a CDL Without Going to School?
Short answer: Yes, you can study for and take the CDL exam without attending a truck driving course.
The longer answer is yes, but it will be very hard to find a company that will hire you to drive for them.
There are plenty of free online materials you can peruse to prepare for the CDL knowledge and driving tests. You may have to pay to schedule driving practice times. You can even study for and take endorsements exams without attending an accredited truck driving program.
If you do get your CDL license without taking a course, it will be much harder for you to find a job though. Most companies require their drivers to have completed an accredited truck driving program that includes at least 160 hours of instruction, normally due to insurance and policy reasons. If you are lucky, some companies may hire you and pay for your training, but most employers prefer to hire candidates that already have their CDL qualifications.
Can You Drive a Semi Without a CDL for Personal Use?
No. It is illegal to operate a semi-truck or other commercial vehicle without the proper CDL. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has national regulations and standards for testing and licensing commercial vehicle drivers.
If you are caught driving a commercial vehicle without the proper CDL, you can be charged with a misdemeanor. Violating CDL requirements can incur a civil penalty between $2,500-$5,000 and between 1-3 years in prison if you harm another person or damage property while driving without a CDL. Moreover, employers who are caught knowingly employing drivers without the proper CDL qualifications can incur a $10,000 penalty.
Additionally, a driver caught violating CDL requirements can have their license suspended for 90 days or completely revoked for repeat offenders.
If you take a truck driving course, you will study the various legal requirements and penalties regarding CDL violations.
Do I Need a CDL for Vehicles Under 26,000 lbs?
Strictly speaking, no. You generally do not need a CDL to drive vehicles under 26,000. However, if you are driving a vehicle under 26,000 lbs, you cannot load it so it then weighs more than 26,000 lbs and then drive it without a CDL.
So for example, If you had a 25,000 lbs truck and loaded it with 1001 lbs of goods, you would no longer be able to legally drive it without a CDL because the total gross weight of the vehicle would be over 26,000 lbs.
Also, the rules are a bit different for trailers. If you have a trailer and you do not have a CDL, the total weight of the trailer can not exceed 10,000 lbs. You can drive a trailer under 10,000 lbs as long as the truck in the truck trailer combo is under 26,000 lbs.
Additionally, some special vehicles under 26,000 lbs require special CDL endorsements like HAZMAT trucks. These kinds of vehicles are normally covered under a Class C CDL and accompanying endorsements.
Will Trucking Companies Pay For CDL Training?
Yes, some companies will pay for your truck driving training. Generally, companies that do on-the-job training own and operate their independent truck driving courses. In return for the company sponsoring their education, employees agree to work for a specific amount of time which is usually between 8 months and 1 year. Sometimes a company may sponsor you for a third party truck driving course.
To sum up what we talked about:
- The average truck driving course costs anywhere between $3,000-$7,000
- CDL fees cost between $150-$200
- You can get a CDL without attending a program, but it will be hard to find a job
- It is illegal to drive a commercial vehicle without a CDL and you can incur harsh fines and penalties
- Some companies will pay for truck driving training and CDL fees
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