The 2022 guide to getting a Class A California License is here! COVID has accelerated the growth of companies that rely on trucks to get their products from point A to point B. The American Trucking Association announced in October of 2021 that there is a shortage of 80,000 drivers!
That means having a Class A California license is your first step to entering this in-demand industry. Such a shortage isn’t likely to go away anytime soon and it implies that getting a good-paying trucking job is pretty much guaranteed.
This guide will cover everything you need to know. Everything from minimum requirements, costs, documentation and tests to help you get going.
Let’s get started!
What is a Class A license in California?
How to Get a Class A California License in 4 Easy Steps
Step 1: General Requirements
Step 2: Health Requirements
Step 3: Training
Step 4: Tests
Summary, Tips and Resources
What is a Class A California License
A Class A license in California allows you to drive any vehicle with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of 26,001 lb or more and with a trailer that weighs 10,000 pounds or more. Essentially, if you want a drive a tractor-trailer for a living, this is the license you need. It is the highest license you can get which allows you to drive any other vehicles in categories like Class B and Class C.
Why get a Class A California License?
Naturally, you may be thinking about why this license may be the right one for you. The reasons why are simple and quite definitive:
- You can drive the greatest variety of trucks. This open the most number of job opportunities for you, allowing you to apply and interview for a greater number of jobs.
- You will earn more. The earning potential ceiling for these jobs is noticeably higher than other commercial ones and therefore makes it more desirable.
- Versatility: it will allow you to try out different types of vehicles, which can make the job more interesting and exciting in the long run.
How Do You Get a Class A California License
If you are wondering how you get a Class A California License, we have broken the process down into 4 easy steps.
Step 1: Check the Minimum Requirements
Before we get into the process of applying and training for a Class A California License, you need to make sure you meet the requirements before you start investing your time and money.
In summary, the Class A California license requirements are:
- Be at least 18 or 21 years old, depending if you plan on driving out-of-state
- Be in good physical health (medical certificate required)
- Have good vision (there will be a test)
- Complete on-the-road training (15 hours minimum)
- Pass a knowledge and road test
Where and What are You Driving?
The first thing you need to know is where you are going to drive and what you are going to drive. This determines what type of license you will apply for and the minimum requirements vary.
Interstate vs Interstate
Interstate trips are those that involve more than one state boundary. This could be a trip that starts in California but ends in Texas, for example.
Intrastate means staying within state. Each trip must start and finish within the state of California, and doesn’t allow the possibility of leaving state lines.
In the state of California you must be at least 18 years of age to drive intrastate (as long as you don’t transport hazardous materials and waste).
On the other hand, for interstate trips, you must be a minimum of 21 years old. You may also transport hazardous materials and waste.
Excepted or non-Excepted
You must then determine if you belong to the excepted or non-excepted category, as defined by the Department of Transport. Check this link to see if any of the exceptions apply to you:
According to the Department of Transport, “ Most CDL holders who drive CMVs in interstate commerce are non-excepted interstate commerce drivers”
The main difference is you need a medical examiner’s certificate for non-excepted classes.
NOTE: If you are unsure where and what you want to drive, then you should go for an interstate license in the non-expected category because this offers the most employment options.
Commercial Learner’s Permit
Before applying for your Class A license, you need to obtain your commercial learner’s permit. You need to have this for at least 14 days. This allows you to practice and train with another driver. Here’s what you’ll need in order to get going on the road as soon as possible:
- Be a resident of the state of California
- Have a social security number
- Speak/read enough English to interact with the public, read signs, make reports, etc..
- Pass a vision test and provide a medical certificate of good heatlh
Step 2: Health Requirements
Certain medical conditions can potentially disqualify you from obtaining a Class A License in California. It’s good to know what these are in advance and potentially save yourself a massive time sink if you don’t fit the correct profile.
The following issues are unfortunately going to prevent you from moving forward in the process:
- Extremity disabilities
- Insulin-dependent diabetes
- cardiovascular disease
- respiratory disease
- high blood pressure
- arthritic, orthopedic, or neuromuscular conditions that could affect driving
- epilepsy or other conditions that can cause a loss of consciousness
- poor hearing
Of course, you must have good eyesight in order to be on the road. The minimum vision requirements are:
- 20/40 with both eyes tested together
- 20/40 in one eye and at least 20/70 in the other eye.
- visual acuity in at least one eye better than 20/200 (best corrected)
- glasses and contact lenses are acceptable
- color vision (to recognise different traffic light colors, for example)
Drugs and Sobriety
You will be required to pass a Department of Transportation drug test to be eligible to work. The drug test looks for the following substances:
- Marijuana metabolites/THC
- Cocaine metabolites
- Amphetamines (including methamphetamine, MDMA)
- Opioids (including codeine, heroin (6-AM), morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, and oxymorphone)
- Phencyclidine (PCP)
Step 3: Training
Driving a multi-ton vehicle is no joke and requires special training. Similar to non-commercial driver’s licenses, there are special driving schools that will get you prepared for hitting the road in a safe and comprehensive manner.
As of February 7, 2022, the federal government has made driver training mandatory for obtaining your Class A California License. This must be done from an approved school on the Training Provider Registry. In addition to the federal requirements, the state requires 15 hours of training in order to get a Class A California License.
Training programs can get costly. For example, in Santa Ana, California, the median cost of a truck driving academy is around $4,000.
There are some ways to reduce the financial burden of these programs:
- The GI Bill, for eligible veterans can cover the costs of school, the test and even an apprenticeship
- Company sponsored training. If you find a company that is willing to take you on as a driver, usually asking for a minimum one year commitment, they will cover the expensive costs of training
- Apply for federal and state CDL grants and scholarships
- Comparing driver school fees in your area in advance by visiting their website and phoning in… many schools offer the same end result but will charge different amounts
Here are some of the crucial skills that you will learn on your journey to becoming a class A licensed CDL truck driver in California:
- Pre trip inspection
- Vehicle control
- Driving skills
- Maneuvers: parallel parking, reverse, traffic signs
- What to do in case of emergencies
- …and more!
The time and financial investment in a course are well worth it, and again, graduation from a proper school will be required from many employers. Don’t worry, you will very quickly earn that money back!
Step 4: Take the Tests
There are two different tests you need to take, a written knowledge test and a road test.
- You can schedule your test online by clicking here or, if you prefer, by calling 1-800-777-0133 during the regular business hours (8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon., Tues., Thurs., and Fri., and between 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed., excluding holidays)
- You must bring a Class A vehicle with you. Plan in advance and make sure that their vehicle is available, since, due to the size and power of class A trucks, they may require a prior reservation and may not always be available. Often times driving schools have them available to rent.
- The test must be done in English. If you fail any part of the skills test, all the other tests will be postponed for another day! Make sure you are prepared since you’ll have to pay to retake certain parts of the test again. Here’s a brief overview of what the skills test contains:
- Vehicle inspection
- Demonstrating that the vehicle is safe to drive. Be ready to explain what you need to inspect and why
- Basic controls
- Moving forwards, backwards, turning, etc…
- Road test
- Intersections, curves, streets, highways, slopes, etc…
- It’s possible to skip the skills test requirement if:
- You have a CDL from another state. It must be current or expired less than 2 years from the time of your application. The license must have the equivalent class permission, endorsements, restrictions etc… as the one that you are applying for in California
- You can submit a signed Certificate of Driving Skill (DL 170 ETP) if your employer is allowed to issue them
- If you have military driving experience and hand in a filled out Commercial Military Waiver (DL 965)
- If you completed CDL training in another state (the results will be sent to California’s DMV division)
- If you are out of state and meet these requirements then you’ll be issued an interim CDL that has a validity of 60 days while you wait for your official one to arrive
- Vehicle inspection
Again, it’s always good to go to the official DMV website for all the updated links and fees Click here for the official DMV checklist for a CLP in the state of California
The knowledge test is a crucial part of the process that tests important theoretical concepts. Similar to how we have to learn the distance we can legally park from a fire hydrant or intersection in order to get a basic non-commercial driver’s license, the CDL is no different. You’ll have to get a minimum of 80% to pass. Don’t sweat it, tons of material is available online to help you pass.
These are the elements you can expect to be tested on for the knowledge test:
- Safe driving
- CDL rules
- Safe cargo transport
- Combination vehicles
- Vehicle inspection
Here’s one of many free online practice test for the knowledge exam. Many helpful resources can be found by simply googling “California CDL knowledge practice exam” or something similar.
Class A California License Cost
The Class A California license cost is $4,263.00. on average from start to finish. This factors in application fees and trucking school. The application fee is $85 for the license itself plus $39 for each test. The medical report should cost no more than $100 and then driving training as noted is around $4,000.00. This is the most variable cost, as it depends on whether you want the minimum amount of training or extensive on-the-road training from a reputable school.
Looking for a job
Those of you who graduate from a school may already have a job lined up and ready for you. If not, many companies accept fresh graduates. Don’t have a job lined up? Don’t worry, here are a few job search aggregators to help get you started:
- CDL Job Now
- Simply Hired
- Zip Recruiter
- Glass Door
Simply googling “CDL jobs California” is a good way to get started. Look for local recruitment agencies too for some extra help, if necessary.
Short cheat sheet to summarise everything
Overwhelmed? Feel free to go back and reread any of the relevant sections that apply to your situation.
For your convenience, we’ve assembled a handy cheat sheet to get your going as soon as possible:
- Decide if you want to pursue intrastate or interstate trucking
- Check if you are excepted or not (most commercial drivers are not according to the DOT)
- Inexperienced? Find a decent driving school in your area. Do some budgeting about how to pay for its cost. Remember to review the options described above to see if you are eligible
- Experienced? Go to your local DMV commercial testing office to finalize your application and make sure your out of state driving license and record are successfully on California’s database. Submit a signed Certificate of Driving Skill (DL 170 ETP) if your employer is allowed to issue them
- Get ready for any necessary medical/drug testing
- Schedule a skills test by clicking here or by calling 18007770133 during regular business hours. Remember to bring the type of vehicle for the class that you’re looking to drive
- Pass the skills test. Remember: you have three tries before you have to pay a retest fee
- You will be issued an interim CDL that’s valid for 60 days. It should arrive within 45 days, and if it doesn’t feel free to call 18007770133 for an update
- Start looking for a job
- Get hired and enjoy your new role
Hot tips to get you even more prepared
Here are some useful bits of information that can help you succeed on your CDL journey in California:
- Go for interstate and class A, if possible. These will open the greatest number of opportunities for your future.
- Prepare adequately and try to pass everything on the first try. Many of these tests have re-testing fees that you should aim to avoid
- Take advantage of all the free online practice tests that are available
- Check out Youtube for some real-life examples and testaments about the tests and the industry. Lots of truckers are more than eager to share their real life experience. Here’s what the air brakes test in California looks like
- Practice religiously until you feel more than comfortable operating your class A vehicle of choice. Don’t book a test until you feel 100% confident in your abilities
- Take safety seriously. You will be operating a heavy machine and accidents can be fatal. Take the safety checks and inspections seriously
- Make sure you’re familiar with California’s specific legislation. Many online guides and information is intended for other states. Each state has its own regulations that may not apply elsewher
A few helpful resources