CDL Training in California
California has the second-highest number of truck drivers in the nation, totaling more than 143,000 in 2020. In fact, truckers hold eight out of every 1,000 jobs in the state. To become a truck driver in California, you must first earn your commercial driver’s license (CDL) by following a series of steps outlined by the California Department of Motor Vehicles and monitored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
If you want to learn more about the CDL requirements in California, read on for details on what it takes to earn a CDL Class A, how to find the best training programs, where to locate scholarships and financial aid, and which state or regional organizations provide support and resources.
CDL A Requirements in California
To earn a CDL Class A license in California, the DMV requires applicants to complete several steps and pass exams.
Step 1: Complete a CDL Training Program
Depending on your schedule and the CDL training course you decide to attend, you may have to swap steps one and two. Some CDL schools require you to have your driving permit before attending, while others have time built in to help you study for the knowledge tests you’ll need to pass for your commercial learner’s permit (CLP).
Step 2: Apply for a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP)
Applicants 18 years of age or older who possess a valid California driver’s license can apply for a commercial learner’s permit (CLP). In addition to a Commercial Driver’s License Application, requirements include:
- A 10-year history record check
- Medical Examination Report (MER) and Medical Examiner’s Certificate (MEC)
- Acceptable identity document
- Document proving California residency
- Proof of Social Security number
- Vision exam
- Application fee ($82) for first-time applicants.
After you pass your knowledge tests, you’ll receive your CLP. Then, you’ll need to wait at least 14 days to take the skills-based road test. When driving with a CLP, applicants must be accompanied by a driver who holds a CDL.
A CLP is only valid for 180 days from the date of issuance and is limited to the tank (T), passenger (P), and school bus (S) endorsements—although permit drivers must have empty tanks and no passengers while operating a commercial vehicle.
Step 3: Pass the Skills Test
After holding your permit for at least two weeks, you can take your skills test, which includes a vehicle inspection, basic controls skills test, and road test. You must have an appointment to take your skills test, so make sure to schedule well in advance on the California DMV site. You’ll need to bring the type of vehicle for the Class of license you’re testing for (i.e., a Class A vehicle for a CDL A) to the test.
What Disqualifies You From Getting a CDL in California?
Several driving-related actions and behaviors can disqualify you from earning a CDL in California, including driving under the influence, committing a felony, and leaving the scene of an accident. These can change, so make sure to review the state pages for the latest information and guidance. California’s DMV currently outlines several disqualifications, including:
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substance
- Leaving the scene of an accident
- Committing a felony while driving a CMV
- Driving with a suspended or revoked CDL
- Excessive or reckless driving
- Driving a CMV without a CDL
- Violating out-of-service orders
- Violating railroad-highway grade crossings
- Traffic violations in personal vehicle
- Violating hands-free and texting laws
CDL Training Classes in California
A comprehensive CDL training program introduces students to safe driving and transportation protocols, state laws and requirements, and scenarios drivers may encounter on the job. Curricula may vary slightly across different CDL schools, but all should adequately prepare students for the licensure exam. Some topics you may encounter include:
- Industry regulations and requirements
- Pre-trip inspections
- Driving conditions and hazard awareness
- Trip planning
- Lab-vehicle systems
- Hauling hazardous materials
- Coupling and uncoupling
- Interstate, highway, city, and mountain driving
As of February 7, 2022, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) enacted Entry-Level Driver Training requirements that require anyone planning to get their CDL Class A or B to attend a training program listed on their Training Provider Registry.
How Much Does CDL Training Cost in California?
The cost of CDL training programs in California can vary substantially—from free to several thousand dollars—based on the type of school. At the lowest end of the out-of-pocket cost spectrum, individuals can choose company-paid CDL training in exchange for working with the employer for a set amount of time after earning their CDL.
College of the Redwoods is a more expensive option, charging $4,295 for its truck driving training program. A more mid-grade option in terms of cost is Truck Driver Academy. Students who make a one-time payment owe $3,000 for their CDL training, while those using a payment plan must pay $3,500.
When looking at prospective programs, consider that community colleges typically charge less than independent private schools.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Class A CDL in California?
Most CDL training programs in California take between six and eight weeks to complete and include both practical and theoretical learning. After completing these programs or while enrolled, students apply for a commercial learner’s permit (CLP) and pass the knowledge test. You must then hold your CLP for at least 14 days before taking the skills test.
How to Pay for Truck Driving School in California
Future truck drivers who want to minimize their out-of-pocket costs can apply for scholarships and research other financial aid resources that can help them avoid substantial debt. In terms of scholarships, two great options include the $1,000 Women in Trucking Foundation Scholarship and the $6,200 TCA Scholarship made possible by the Truckload Carriers Association.
The California Trucking Association (CTA) also offers the TUFSOB scholarship to students looking to attend college or trade school. All ages qualify, but a CTA member company must sponsor applicants.
Because not all independent truck driving schools and CDL programs qualify for federal financial aid, some students turn to private loans. However, before going down this path, exhaust all other options to avoid years of high-interest debt. Many programs provide veterans’ assistance, accept employer tuition reimbursement, or cover CDL training costs in exchange for work.
How to Choose the Best CDL Training Program
Before investing substantial time and money into a CDL training program, it’s wise for prospective truck drivers to take the time to find the best options for their needs.
When considering a program, look at things like Google and Yelp reviews to see what others say about their experience. Also, ask for contact information for alumni, or look for them on LinkedIn, to ask about their training and whether they would recommend the school to others. You can inquire about any perks available at various CDL schools, such as a third-party testing status that can help expedite the process.
Finances understandably play a big role in any decision-making, so it’s worth asking about available payment plans, school-funded financial aid, and refund policies. Other helpful questions to ask include the CDL knowledge and skills exams pass rates, where alumni get truck driving jobs in California and how long it takes them to find work, and if the program offers any career resources.
Resources for Truck Driving Students in California
California Department of Motor Vehicles
The California DMV handles all CDL license processes for initial licenses and renewals. The department also provides information on the various steps and requirements toward becoming a CDL driver.
California Trucking Association
Founded in 1934, the California Trucking Association advocates for its members and the industry within the state. Members can take advantage of online and in-person events, networking opportunities, continuing education, discounts, a career center, and a legal resource center.
California Trucking Network
Billed as a page for the truckers by the truckers, this open and active Facebook group provides a place where truck drivers based in California can ask questions, get answers, share industry news, and converse with others in similar occupations.
California Trucking Jobs
This regularly updated page provides information on the types of trucking jobs available in the Golden State and what it takes to qualify. Users can also access information on current openings and hiring requirements.
Women In Trucking
Women truck drivers make up a growing minority in the industry, making it important for truckers who identify as women to have a place where they can find resources and support. Members gain access to virtual events, networking groups, and community.
Western States Trucking Association
WSTA represents truckers in several western states, including California. Some of the benefits of joining include access to health benefits and insurance, equipment financing, scholarships, and a tire program. Members also gain access to regularly scheduled chapter meetings.
Truck Driving Schools Near Me
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
California Truck Driving Schools
10691 Poplar Avenue
Fontana, CA 92337
10509 San Diego Mission Road #V
San Diego, CA 92108
10251 Calabash Avenue
Fontana, CA 92335