If you have a felony conviction and want to become a commercial truck driver, the first thing you need to get is a CDL license. Read on to see exactly what you need to do.
A CDL is a Class A commercial drivers license that is necessary to operate a vehicle or a combination of vehicles with a gross total weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 lbs. or more, including a towed vehicle that is HEAVIER than 10,000 lbs.
There are actually 3 CDL Classes:
Class-A you can drive pretty much any vehicle
Class-B you can drive almost any type/size vehicle that doesn’t have a trailer
Class-C you are limited to smaller vehicles
Getting a CDL – Step-By-Step
Here are the general federal guidelines on how to obtain a CDL (note, that every state may have additional tests and requirements) Get more detailed instructions here.
Before getting the actual license, you must study and pass a test in order to get a CDL learners permit.
Next, you need to hold this permit for a minimum of 14 days, and take the Road Skills Test. It has three parts:
– Vehicle inspection
– Basic controls exam
– Road test
Once you pass, you will also need to take a Knowledge and Skills Test. This test typically contains at least 30 questions and you need to score at least 80% in order to pass.
If you are a veteran with prior experience operating military vehicles, some states may wave this test for you. The same is true if you have prior experience operating a medical emergency vehicle, have been a firefighter, or worked in the farming and ice & snow removal industries. You need to contact local DMV to see if you would be eligible for this waiver.
When you pay all the associated fees (these will vary by state), you can now to get your license.
When applying for the license, all applicants must provide the following documents:
– Current valid drivers license
– At least 10 year driving history
– A medical exam form from a qualified doctor, stating that you are physically able to operate a commercial vehicle.
Felonies that disqualify someone from getting a CDL
This is the list of felonies that would prevent you from ever obtaining a CDL, as stated by the federal government. In addition to these, each state may have additional felonies that would disqualify an applicant from eligibility. You need to ask about these in your local DMV.
Assault with intent to murder
Using a motor vehicle to commit manslaughter (1st or 2nd degree)
Using a commercial vehicle to commit a felony
Causing a fatal accident or a pedestrian death through rekless vehicle operation
Misconduct with a motor vehicle
Operating a vehicle under the influence (0.08% or higher BAC)
Also, note that if you have more than one traffic violation (ticket), you may be temporarily disqualified from getting a CDL in certain states.
Will having a DIU be a problem?
When it comes to commercial vehicles, operating under the influence is a very serious offense. If you have a previous DUI on your record, you may still be allowed to get a CDL license (depending on the state), but many trucking companies may not want to hire you.
Commercial truckers are forbidden by federal law to drive the vehicle for four hours after drinking alcohol. You will lose your CDL, if you’re stopped by the police and they find that your BAC is higher than 0.08% or more.
Is A CDL license absolutely necessary to get a first job as a truck driver?
Yes, you can’t drive a commercial size truck without a CDL license. However, the good news is that because there is such a huge shortage of truck drivers, especially young people, large companies are willing to hire you and help you go through necessary training to get the license.
What this means is that the company will front the fees for your education and certification, on the condition that you will work for them for a certain period of time. Its usually one year. So you sign a contract, agreeing to their terms, and then go through the training for FREE. Once you finish, you are usually automatically hired.
If for some reason, you are unable to work the full amount of time stated in the contract, you will need to pay a penalty. This may be all of a portion of the cost of your trucking education.
Each company offers slightly different terms, so you can contact a few to see which would be the right fit for you. For example, while some companies may advertise Free training, they will actually start deducting a portion of the cost from each of your paychecks. Other companies actually do pay for your schooling all on their own.
Here are some large trucking companies that offer sponsored CDL Training:
C.R. England Trucking
Another point to consider is that you still have a higher chance of getting the job (especially in light of a felony) if you already have a license. Your starting salary will also be higher than for someone who is still in the process of getting the right certification and training.
So – if you can, go get a Truck Driver’s training from an approved school in your state.
How Much Does Truck Driver Education Cost?
Typically a complete course to become a truck driver from an accredited school can cost $3,000-8,000. Most people report paying about $6,000
List of the top CDL schools across the US
Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA) – they have programs all over the states.
Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) – they have accredited schools all over the country
Sage Truck Driving Schools – programs in the following States: Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, Idaho, Indiana, Colorado, Utah, Montana, North and South Carolina
HDS Truck Driving Institute – its in Tucson Arizona
National Tracktor Trailer School – various branches in the state of New York.
In addition to these, many local community colleges offer CDL programs. Another option is to go through training provided by trucking companies, which we have listed above.
7 things to consider when choosing a truck driving school
There are literally dozens of institutions that offer truck driver training, so how can you choose the right one? Look for the following features in the program you are considering:
1. Accreditation. The program should be fully licensed and accredited by the state.
2. Total number of hours. There should be a combination of educational classes, as well as hands-on training on the road. Look for a program that offers at least 200-300 total hours. Many high-end programs are as long as 500-650 hours. Definitely be cautious of programs that are under 200 hours.
3. Job placement assistance after you graduate. Ask for a list of top truck driving companies that consistently hire their graduates.
4. Length of training. This should be at least 3-4 weeks. Stay away from programs that offer to teach you in less time!
5. Financial assistance. Paying the full cost of the training out of pocket can be way too expensive, but some programs offer various types of assistance that can make it very affordable.
6. Individual training. The best schools will give you practice training driving a truck on your own, not with a team of other students.
7. Driving time. You should be getting at least 45 hours of personal driving time (this doesn’t include observation). In fact, many schools mislead students by advertising hours they will spend in the truck as driving time, when in deed 50-60% of that time turns out to be observation:(
Future Job Opportunities
When deciding whether or not to become a truck driver, you may wonder if this will still be a good job 10, 15, or 20 years down the road?
The short answer is YES, commercial trucking is one of the few professions that is in extremely high demand, and will remain such for at least the next 10 years. Because online sales are continuing to grow in every industry, from computers, to shoes, to groceries, companies need workers to deliver these goods.
Just think about it: there are over 1.5 million truck drivers on the road now across the US, and this is still not enough. There are over 200,000 open positions all over the states and every major trucking company is aggressively recruiting new drivers, both male and female. The Bureau of Labor is projecting that by 2020 there will be an additional 330,000 open positions in trucking that will need to be filled.
Even if vehicle automation takes off, and there will be self-driving trucks on the road (this technology is actively being developed and tested), companies will still need a real person in the truck, just in case something goes wrong and they would need to take over.
Last but not least, the pay is very good, and puts you square into the middle class. You start at about $40,000 and an experienced OTR trucker (long distance) can easily make over $70,000 a year. Half of all truckers with more than 3-5 years experience make $55,000-60,000 a year.
Not sure if you want to get into truck driving?
If you are having a hard time figuring out whether truck driving would be the right career for you, consider taking a quick online course (only $20) that will give you a great overview on how to become a trucker (Getting CDL, Finding Jobs, Choosing the Right company to work for, Trucker-Family advice, etc)
- Trucking Success 101 – taught by Hervy Christmas, a Truck Driver of 13 years and Career / Life Coach.
- Jump Start Trucking – taught by James Davis, who drove trucks over 1,000,000 without single preventable accident!