Specific training on driving a commercial motor vehicle will be required in February 2020. The new federal training requirement is known as the “Entry Level Driver Training” rule, or ELDT.
Until the new ELDT rule goes into effect, there is no specific federal training required to get a CDL (although some states have their own training requirements). Applicants for a CDL simply need to pass several knowledge tests at their local DMV to obtain a commercial learner’s permit (CLP), and then successfully take a state CDL test to be issued a commercial driver’s license (CDL).
The CDL test is a 3 part test that includes vehicle inspection of about 100 items, ability to complete multiple specific backing maneuvers in a truck, and a road test that evaluates the driver’s proficiency in the operation of a truck under numerous road and traffic conditions. The state CDL test is administered and graded by a State Examiner who has been trained to evaluate driving skill using a detailed scoring system.
The bottom line is that until the ELDT rule goes into effect in 2020, a driver seeking a CDL is not required to take any specific training. But . . . 9 out of 10 people will not come close to passing the CDL test without going through training. And the 1 person who could pass the CDL test without formal training would probably have to have some experience driving a vehicle with a trailer (like a camper, boat, farm vehicle, etc.), and would need to really study all the specific requirements.
Anyone who has been in or near a tractor-trailer knows that they are difficult to drive for those with no experience. Tractor-trailers are known as “articulated vehicles.” This means that the vehicle has a permanent or semi-permanent pivot joint in its construction. For a tractor-trailer, this is the fifth wheel point where the tractor power unit attaches to the non-powered semi-trailer. Articulated vehicles have numerous operating differences from 4 wheel cars or trucks, including differences in backing, steering, turning, braking and handling (just to name a few). In addition, trucks can have complicated 10 speed transmissions, and they are larger and heavier than other vehicles.
For this reason, learning how to safely and competently drive a tractor-trailer is necessary, even if not required to take the CDL test. Moreover, training is almost always required for safety reasons.
That is why truck driving schools are so important. Good schools can provide a safe learning environment for those who have no experience operating a tractor-trailer. This helps new drivers understand the unique characteristics of a truck, learn all the truck systems, and get the benefit of experienced instructors. CDL training also offers practice and skill development starting with non-traffic areas and moving to more difficult traffic patterns.
So, while CDL training may not be required until at least 2020, anyone who has driven a tractor trailer, or who is responsible for their safe operation, will tell you that CDL training is necessary in order to pass the CDL test or operate a truck safely.