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On the Marc, Step #3 – Getting Your CDL and Jumping Behind the Wheel

If you plan to drive a commercial vehicle or combination of vehicles with gross vehicle weight rating over 26,000 lbs, you need your CDL — or Commercial Driver’s License.

I recommend a Class A CDL.  There are other endorsements as well for things like Air Brakes, Mazmat, Doubles and Triples and then Passengers.  Please refer to the Commercial Driver’s License Handbook for your respective state to be certain you have all the correct information for your location.

For the purposes of this blog post, I’ll cover the GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) issue, not the other endorsements.

Several years ago, I learned the hard way that I needed a CDL.  I was in South Dakota, hauling a boat on my trailer for a friend of mine, when I was stopped by DOT enforcement.  Based on the classifications of what I was hauling, my vehicle and the model of the trailer, my GVWR was 26,150lbs, a buck fifty over the limit.

I explained to the officer I was driving a ¾ ton pickup truck, not a semi, to which he replied, and I quote: “I don’t care what you are driving.  You need a Class A CDL to move it any farther.” He then he gave me three choices:  a) leave my cargo, b) find someone with a CDL to drive it for me or c) keep driving down the road and be taken to jail.

While I was mulling my options at the truck stop just beyond where I was pulled over, I called the trailer manufacturer to determine how they classified the trailer weight.  In the process, I discovered from the customer service rep that they classify the trailer weight 25% over the actual weight, meaning my trailer weighed 200 lbs less than was classified. What a glorious moment!

I was able to get that fact in writing, showed the paperwork to the DOT officials, and was on my way down the highway UNDER 26,000 lbs.  While a technicality — and I might add, some quick thinking on my part — kept me from going to jail or taking money out of my pocket, I learned my lesson.  When I got back to Seattle, I got into a Commercial driver training program. I often wonder if
that officer has seen the show and remembered me.  These were some of “those days”!

Expect driver training to cost about $5,000. You’ll come out of it with your CDL, which essentially serves as your diploma. Generally these run 5 days a week for a month, so you really can’t work during this time – it’s definitely a commitment you’ll need to make.

They are designed for those who know nothing about driving a truck and all that’s involved with it. You learn how to shift, how to hook up your trailer, how to drive with the trailer, how to back up, etc. You take a written test a couple weeks in and then you get out in the yard and then the road a bit.

To be really clear, you don’t come out of it as Mr. Experience when driving a Class 8 vehicle. It simply doesn’t work that way, much the same way when you got your license as a teenager – you passed the written and driving tests but it didn’t mean you were experienced in the rules of the road. That takes time and simply putting in the miles.

This License gives you the ability go out and learn legally. There is much to know and learn from that point on. Don’t expect to get a bunch of high fives from all the experienced drivers on the road. You are just another rookie in their eyes. It is not for everyone and not every has the natural ability to be a good driver. Just remember it takes many miles and lots of lessons! Do a good job and stick to it and you might get some respect!

I personally really enjoyed the driving school experience. I did learn many things and I had driven many miles before I went there. I drove a straight truck (hoopie) for local 174 in Seattle for many
years as young man.  I knew I wanted to get into this life and I was making an investment and commitment to do it. I had a plan from the get go and it started with Uship. This is when I knew
I had to be all in, or leave it behind.

My advice for people who ask me about going big or going home, I tell them that trucking can be a very rewarding experience, and you can make good money, even great money, but every step in the set-up process will cost you time and money, just like it does starting any other type of business.  These setup costs shouldn’t discourage you.  Just be ready for them.

Bottom Line

Driver training is a core necessity when getting into trucking – both for the diploma and getting behind the wheel – but it takes time to become an experienced driver.