Do 18-Wheeler Drivers Need A Special License?

Yes!  You have to have specific training and obtain the necessary licenses and certifications before you can drive an 18-Wheeler or tractor-trailer according to a truck accident lawyer.

The license needed to drive an 18-wheeler is known as a Commercial Driver’s License, or CDL.  Before you can apply for a CDL, you have to meet certain eligibility requirements.  Eligibility requirements include that you be of a certain age (usually 18 or 21), that you have a clean driving record, and that you pass a medical examination that shows that you are physically fit to drive a commercial vehicle.

Once you meet the eligibility requirements, you need to attend a CDL training program.  These programs are usually offered by truck driving schools or community colleges. The training program covers the theoretical knowledge and practical skills needed to operate large commercial vehicles (such as 18-wheelers and tractor-trailers) safely.

After you complete your training program, you need to take the CDL written exam, which tests your knowledge of traffic laws, vehicle operation, and safety procedures.  Many states require that you pass the exam before you can get your Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP), and also require you to have your CLP before you can take the CDL skills test.

Once you have your CLP, you need to have a certain amount of behind-the-wheel training with a qualified instructor.  With this training, you will learn how to operate an 18-wheeler in a city, on a highway, in certain weather conditions, and in tight spaces.

When you finish your behind-the-wheel training, you are ready to take your CDL skills test and pass it. The test includes a pre-trip inspection, basic vehicle control maneuvers (like backing up, turning, moving in tight spaces), and an on-the-road driving test.  If you pass, you will receive your CDL license.

Sometimes a CDL license is not enough.  Depending on the type of cargo you will be hauling, you may have to get certain endorsements for your CDL.  For example, you need an additional endorsement to be able to transport hazardous materials.  To get this endorsement (called a Hazmat endorsement), you need to take and pass an additional exam.  Another endorsement you may need is one to operate double/triple trailers.

Even after you have your CDL and whatever endorsements you may need, you may still have to do additional on-the-job training with your employer.  Many times this includes company-specific policies and procedures, learning different types of routes, handling different types of cargo, or operating different types of vehicles.

The amount of time it takes to get your license and operate an 18-wheeler full-blown varies based on several factors such as your location, the specific licensing authority, and whether you have any prior experience according to our friends at Kiefer & Kiefer.  Other factors include the availability of training programs, testing appointments, and how quickly you are able to master the knowledge and skills required.  The entire process can take as little as a few weeks to several months.  Even after you are on the road, it is important to stay up-to-date with industry regulations and best practices throughout your career to ensure that you are prioritizing not only your safety, but for the safety of everyone on the road. If you are involved in a semi-truck accident, be sure to contact a lawyer near you for help.