How do I get a tractor trailer license?

Updated February 21, 2017

In order to legally operate a semi-trailer truck and haul loads on a tractor trailer, the U.S. Department of Transportation requires you to possess a Class A Commercial Drivers License, or CDL-A. Developed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the CDL-A certifying process involves a general written exam and skills demonstration. If you plan on transporting hazard materials or operating personnel carriers, the FMCSA requires that you obtain further credentials by passing an additional examination.

Schedule a DOT physical exam with your family doctor. If you are deemed healthy enough to operate a commercial vehicle, the doctor will give you a copy of the Pathologist's Certificate, also known as the Federal Medical Certificate, or Fed Med Card.

Bring your Pathologist's Certificate and driver's license to the local vehicle-licensing agency's office. To find the office nearest you, see the Resources section.

Fill out the CDL learner's-permit application and return it to a cashier at the DMV, along with your Pathologist's Certificate, a valid driver's license and the posted application fee. Complete a brief written exam at the office to receive your permit. See Resources for a state-by-state collection of CDL manuals to study.

Practice operating a semi-trailer truck and performing the pre-trip vehicle inspection. If you don't have access to a semi-trailer truck, consider enrolling in a CDL training course at a local community college.

Drive a truck (including semi-trailer) to your local vehicle-licensing agency office.

Fill out the CDL application form, making sure to check "A" under "License Class." Check all the endorsements (e.g. Doubles/Triples, Hazardous, Tanker, Combination and Air Brakes) you want to add to your license. Return the completed application to the cashier, along with your CDL Learner's Permit, a valid driver's license, your Pathologist's Certificate and the posted testing and registration fees.

Take and pass the General Knowledge written examination and the written exams for any endorsements you selected.

Take the skills test with the official license examiner. You will be required to perform the pre-trip vehicle inspection, a basic vehicle-control demonstration while the truck is parked and an on-road exercise.

Get your picture taken, sign your license, and you are now licensed to operate a semi-trailer truck.


While you don't need a semi-trailer truck to obtain your CDL learner's permit, you must bring a truck (including trailer) to your CDL license testing. Because you're not allowed to operate the truck alone, a person who is at least 21 years old and possesses a valid CDL-A should ride with you to the DMV office for the skills test. However, neither you nor this person must actually own the vehicle; a rented truck will suffice.

Things You'll Need

  • Valid driver's license
  • Semi-trailer truck (on the day of your driving test)
  • Pathologist's certificate
  • State CDL operator's manual
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About the Author

A Chicago-based copywriter, Andy Pasquesi has extensive experience writing for automotive (BMW, MINI Cooper, Harley-Davidson), financial services (Ivy Funds, William Blair, T. Rowe Price, CME Group), healthcare (Abbott) and consumer goods (Sony, Motorola, Knoll) clients. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Harvard University but does not care for the Oxford comma.