Becoming an Owner Operator: CDL 101

owner operator

Welcome to Part 2 of our Becoming an Owner Operator series. Assuming you’ve read our previous post on the personal considerations one must take before committing to a life as an owner operator, you’re next steps are obtaining a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).

Step 1: Pass the DOT Physical

Before you can even apply for a commercial learner permit (CLP), you must pass a long-form Department of Transportation (DOT) physical examination. The medical check must be conducted by a licensed “medical examiner” listed on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) National Registry. You can expect the following to be examined at the physical:

  • Vision
  • Hearing
  • Blood Pressure
  • Heart Rate
  • Illegal Drugs

Step 2: Choose a License Type

Before signing up to take your knowledge tests, it is best to decide which class license you want/need. According to the Minnesota Commercial Driver’s Manual, the three classes are:

  • Class A Any vehicle towing a unit of more than 10,000 pounds GVWR with a gross combination weight rating (truck plus trailer) over 26,000 pounds.
  • Class B A single-unit vehicle that is over 26,000 pounds GVWR.
  • Class C A single-unit vehicle, 26,000 pounds GVWR or less, with one or more of the following endorsements: Hazardous materials, Passenger or School bus (with passenger endorsement).

Step 3: CDL Endorsements and Restrictions

As can be seen in the definition of a Class C license, some drivers may need endorsements in addition to a CDL. Such endorsements, and the testing needed in order to obtain them, include:

  • T Double/Triple Trailers (knowledge test only)
  • Passenger (knowledge and skills test)
  • Tank Vehicle (knowledge test only)
  • Hazardous Materials (knowledge test and background check)
  • S School Buses (knowledge and skills test)

As noted above, the hazardous materials endorsement requires a background check. Under the USA PATRIOT Act, commercial drivers must also be fingerprinted if they are going to transport hazardous goods. The hazardous materials endorsement will not be granted if you have been convicted of what the TSA and FBI consider to be a disqualifying crime (see complete list here).

Additionally, your CDL may come with restrictions. A restriction can result from a number of reasons, but most commonly they depend on the type of vehicle you take your CDL test in. A list of common restrictions follows:

  • E Cannot operate manual transmission
  • L Cannot operate full air brake system
  • Cannot drive a CMV with full air brakes
  • M Cannot operate Class B or C passenger vehicle or school bus
  • N Cannot operate Class C passenger vehicle or school bus
  • O Cannot drive any Class A vehicle with fifth wheel connection
  • V Indicates a medical variance has been reported by the FMCSA (i.e., vision or diabetes)

Click to see complete list of restrictions.

Step 4: Getting Your CLP

Once you have decided which class license you will need, and know the additional testing and tasks you must complete to receive endorsements or remove restrictions, it is then time to get your CLP. In order to obtain a commercial learner permit, you must be at least 18 years old and have a valid driver’s license. Then, depending on which state you reside in, you will be required to pass one or more knowledge tests (as seen above). You may attempt each knowledge test once per day.

Once you have a CLP, you are allowed to practice driving a commercial vehicle with another driver with the same class license or higher in the passenger seat. In the state of Minnesota, a CLP must be held for 14 calendar days before one is able to take the CDL road test. It should also be noted that CLPs are only valid for 180 days and are not renewable; you must retake the tests in the event your permit expires.

Step 5: Obtaining a CDL

You’ve now held your CLP for 14 calendar days and are ready for the CDL skills test. In Minnesota, these test can be broken into three phases:

  1. Pre-Trip Inspection This portion of the test determines whether the vehicle is safe to drive. Minnesota law requires drivers to complete a daily inspection.
  2. Basic Control Skills The basic control skills portion determines your ability to control the vehicle (i.e., straight backing, alley docking, etc.).
  3. Road Test The final portion of the skills test tests your ability to drive safely in a variety of situations. These may include, but are not limited to, railway crossings, basic turns and expressway driving.

You must be testing in a vehicle of the same class license that you are trying to obtain. For example, for a Class B license you cannot test in a truck tractor without a semitrailer. Additionally, you must be listed on the insurance of the vehicle you intend to drive during the skills tests.

We hope by breaking down the CDL process into 5 steps, you are able to better understand what needs to be completed in order to begin your life on the road. If you have any additional questions about becoming an owner operator, please don’t hesitate to contact us today.

The next post from our Becoming an Owner Operator series will be published April 6th.

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