Can I Get a CDL Without Going to School?

So you’re thinking of getting a Commercial Driver’s License, but you are also budget-conscious. You may be wondering if you can skip the whole driving school deal, pocket the cash the class would have cost you, and just get your CDL. The short answer is, yes, some states in which you get your license require only that you pass the CDL tests and pay the fee. So, sure, you can get a CDL on your own, but why would you want to? You could end up with a laminated CDL and nowhere to use it.

Learning Truck Driving On Your Own

Truck driving appeals to rugged individualists. You may be the type of person who enjoys the independence, freedom to travel, and opportunities that truck driving brings. You, self-made as you are, say to yourself, “I don’t need a school to get by CDL; I can get it all by myself.” If that sounds a little like a five-year-old, it’s meant to, and here is why: Most state DMVs require evidence of commercial driving school. Very few commercial carriers will hire you without certification showing you learned road operations, tractor-trailer systems, and the regulations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which oversees commercial drivers and trucking companies.

Taking the CDL Exam

The CDL exam is a mere stepping stone toward your future career as a truck driver. You can check out plenty of online CDL tests for yourself, but none offer behind-the-wheel experience. Surf the web all you want, but no trainer will be riding to your right as you cruise the internet, providing practical advice and cautions like a driving school instructor.

Sample CDL test questions are easy to come by online and easy to answer, such as this one, based on Virginia’s CDL exam:

To help you stay alert and safe while driving, you should:

A. Roll down your windows to get fresh air
B. Drink coffee if you get drowsy
C. Avoid medications with warning labels
D. Have a whiskey to brace yourself

(If you really think D is a good choice, driving a commercial truck—or driving in general—should not be part of your future.) The right answer is C.

Most states have a CDL exam that includes a vision test, knowledge exam, and road skills exam. No amount of online preparation will ready you for the practical road skills test.

You cannot get to the road skills test until you pass the knowledge test. Most CDL knowledge tests include general knowledge, safe transport of cargo, and air brakes. Almost no commercial carrier will hire you if you lack air brake certification.

Once you pass the knowledge exam, you can schedule a road skills test. You have to know how to complete a pre-trip inspection, demonstrate basic vehicle control, and drive on roads with the examiner. You must bring a vehicle matching the type of vehicle you intend to use (Class A, Class B, Class C), and—here is the kick in the pants to you from some states, including Virginia—either show a previously held CDL or provide certification from a driver training school specifically for commercial driving.


To get a CDL, many states do require evidence of truck driver training from a commercial driving school, but some still do not. In Virginia the DMV states you must either pass a driver education program or hold the learner’s permit for at least 30 days before taking the CDL pass, in addition to holding a valid Virginia driver’s license.

Why Struggle?

This attempt to avoid driving school is classic “penny wise, pound foolish” thinking. You can search out a state where you can get your CDL (which usually involves surrendering any driver license from another state, providing proof of residency, waiting 14 days between getting your Commercial Learner’s Permit [CLP] and taking the CDL test, and passing the multi-step CDL exam) without attending a school.  That is a lot of time and money just to avoid driving school.

With most states requiring certification, you soon realize tractor-trailer commercial driving school is not just a middleman, but a welcome beginning to your career. Consider how much smoother your road to success can be when you get a complete, detailed education before trying to tackle the CDL test.

Find a CDL Training School

An excellent place to get the practical and classroom knowledge you need is at ATI’s Tractor-Trailer Commercial Driving School. In around eight weeks of classes (232 contact hours), you can learn:

  • Vehicle Systems
  • Road Operations
  • Operating Systems
  • Documentation

You get behind-the-wheel experience with an instructor in the cab. You practice all the maneuvers you will see on the actual CDL road skills test. You become confident and enjoy the benefit of professional, outside advice. You become fully prepared to take that CDL test, pass it, and begin your over-the-road career. Contact ATI today to learn about professional training and Tractor Trailer Driving Certification.

Tractor-Trailer Truck Driving Training

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