Truck Driver Requirements: What you need to qualify for a CDL

There are many truck driver requirements that you will need to prove in order to get your commercial driver’s license (CDL).

These include your age, background, and driving history.

But what exactly do these mean?

Do you need your GED to get your CDL license? How much experience do you need to be considered an experienced driver? Are there any other physical requirements besides being over 18 years old?

Here, we’ll go through all the requirements needed to become a truck driver so that you can see whether or not becoming a professional trucker is right for you.

How old do you have to be to get your CDL?

According to the United States Department of Transportation, you must be at least 18 years old to obtain your CDL license. In most states that requirement is 21.

However, even if you get your CDL at age 18, you won’t be able to drive a big rig outside your state until at least 21 years old. For that reason, it is rare to find a CDL job hiring anyone under 21.

Many trucking industry leaders are calling on the government to lower interstate driving to 18 years old to help combat the ongoing driver shortage.

However, with the Drive Safe Act, highway safety advocates are concerned that 18-year-old long-haul truck drivers would be a public safety risk.

There are solid arguments for both sides. On the one hand, lowering the age could help the driver shortage and boost the economy. But on the other hand, younger drivers aren’t as experienced, which may lead to poor decision-making and unnecessary risk-taking. 

What education is needed to become a truck driver?

Now you may be wondering, ‘Do you need a GED to get your CDL license?

It’s generally required to have a high school diploma or GED to obtain a commercial driver’s license.

That’s because most driver schools will not admit students without a high school diploma or GED.

The best part? CDL training only takes 6-8 weeks, so you can get behind the wheel and start earning fairly quickly. 

Additionally, we suggest attending a truck driving school.

While it is possible to obtain your CDL without going to driving school, it may hurt you in the long run.

Many companies will not hire truck drivers if they do not attend driving school.

That’s because if you’re just starting, you’ll be way behind others in both knowledge and experience. 

Is driving school worth it? 

Yes, truck driving school is worth it!

Driving school can help give you the jump-start you need when starting a new career.

Driving school programs combine in-classroom learning and behind-the-wheel training. CDL driving schools help you gain safe, professional driver experience. 

The downside is that driving school can be expensive.

However, some employers will reimburse driving school costs or even cover the tuition entirely.

Whether you pay the out-of-pocket cost for independent driving school or your employer pays for the training — you’ll still get a good return on your time and money with long-lasting career opportunities. 

Check out this article for some options for how to pay for your CDL A license and driving school

How to get into truck driving school 

When it comes to driving school, drivers have essentially two routes to choose from.

There are private truck driving schools, usually through community colleges or universities — or paid training programs where you earn your CDL through a company. 

First, you’ll need to determine which truck driving school you’d prefer to attend.

Before you apply to any school, do your research. Ask questions like, ‘Do I want to pay the upfront cost of tuition?’ ‘What is the curriculum?’ ‘Does this school have highly experienced instructors?’

Then ask yourself what your long-term goals are.

When it comes to schools, you can choose between an independent truck driving school, usually through community colleges or universities or a company — or a sponsored CDL training program through a carrier.

If you’d like to be hired immediately and have job security, it might be better to go the paid training route. You’d agree to be hired by this company, train with them, and then drive for them for a set amount of time before moving on with your career.

If you’re looking for more freedom, the private school option allows you to work for whoever and wherever you want once you graduate. This is usually more expensive with no job guarantee but might appeal to someone looking for more autonomy. 

Lastly, whichever route you choose, most driving schools require you to get your CLP (Commercial Learner’s Permit) prior to starting their course.

The CLP will allow you to practice driving semi-trucks while preparing for in-classroom and on-the-road training. Look into this information before applying. 

Are there any other requirements to become a truck driver?

While we’ve touched on age limitations and education, there are also many other physical rules and requirements for truck drivers established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) outlined below:  

  • You must be 18 years old to drive intrastate (within your state) and at least 21 years old for interstate (out-of-state).
  • You must be able to pass a physical, including a drug test.
  • You must have good vision.
  • You must be able to pass a hearing test.
  • You must have a valid driver’s license in the state where you wish to drive, and it can’t have any suspensions that would disqualify you from driving on public roads (this includes things like moving violations).

​​In addition, you’ll need to pass the CDL road test as the final step of obtaining your CDL.

This exam is given at each state DOT office and costs money (usually around $10-$20), but there are usually no other requirements for attending this exam — just bring yourself!

Qualifications to be a truck driver 

Now that you’ve chosen to commit your time and money to driving school and passing your CDL,  you may be wondering if you’ll need experience before being hired. Yes, you can still get a trucker job without experience, especially if you have a good driving record and meet all the other requirements for a CDL.

However, many companies will only hire drivers with at least one year of professional experience (even if it’s not in trucking) because that shows that they are serious about their career and committed to making it work. This is especially important when considering how difficult finding a job can be in this industry.

In conclusion

As you can see, there are many requirements for becoming a truck driver. But it’s not a difficult process if you have the drive and aren’t afraid of a little effort. If you’re ready to get started on this great career opportunity in America, check out our guide on becoming a truck driver.