Trucking Business and Insurance 101

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If you need a trucker's license or are wondering if you have the right kind of insurance for a commercial truck, you've come to the right place. Without a commercial license you cannot become a truck driver. Any person driving a commercial motor vehicle must have a commercial driver's license (CDL). Each state has its own minimum standards for the licensing of commercial drivers. However, there are Federal CDL requirements that apply in all U.S. states.

To get a CDL you'll have to pass two tests. A CDL manual will help you pass the state exams and is available at your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). However, it's advised that you take a truck driving training class even if it's not required of you. This is the most reliable way to learn the skills you need to pass the skills test for the CDL. It's also the safest way to begin driving a large commercial vehicle.

If you drove a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) or the military equivalent of one in the past, you may be able to waive the driving skills portion of the test to get a CDL. In most states you must currently be licensed or were employed in a position within the past 90 in which you operated a vehicle comparable to a CDL while in the military.

If you're considering starting a trucking company, know that it can be a lucrative business but one that is heavily regulated by the state and federal government. You'll also need the right commercial insurance for your business as well as the right commercial auto insurance for your fleet.

Here's what else you need to know before you or your employees get the right CDL and after:

When Do I Need a Commercial Driver's License?

Any vehicle weighing 26,001 pounds or more requires a commercial driver license (CDL) and so does any vehicle under 26,001 pounds that is used to transport more than 15 passengers including the driver. In some states, the rules regarding licensing are even more stringent. For instance, in California, if you transport 10 people or more you're required to have a valid commercial driver's license with a passenger vehicle (PV) endorsement.

It's important to note that school bus drivers need to have a school bus driver certificate in most states, not a commercial driver's license.

Minimum Requirements for a Commercial Learner's Permit (CLP) or Commercial Drivers License (CDL)

  • You must have a valid driver's license and be 18 years old or older.

  • You must be 21 years old or older to driver a commercial vehicle interstate

  • You must be 21 years old or older to drive a commercial vehicle that contains hazardous materials.

  • You must have one or two years of driving experience (this varies per state)

  • You must prove citizenship or lawful permanent resident status.

  • You must have a social security card or number.

  • You must have a birth certificate or green card.

  • You must pass all background checks.

  • You must provide the names of all the states where you have been licensed to drive in the past 10 years.

  • You must have no active driver's license suspensions or revocations in any state.

  • You must surrender your regular state driver license once you earn a CDL.

  • You must certify that you are not subject to any disqualifications: such as repeat traffic violations and leaving the scene of an accident, certain convictions.

  • You must not have a driver's license from more than one state or jurisdiction.

  • You must be able to speak and read English to drive a CMV in the U.S.

  • You must not hold a CDL in more than one state.

  • You must have a hazardous materials endorsement or Hazmat endorsement if you transport hazardous materials.

  • You must self-certify medical information and use authorized medical examiners on the National Medical Registry.

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Your Physical Health: Meeting Qualifications

Not only do you need to have a valid Medical Examiner's Certificate (also called a DOT card) or a photographic copy of the Certificate to get a commercial drivers license, you should consider whether or not you're cut out to do the job. Not only does driving for hours place terrible strain on the body, so do the heavy lifting, sleepless nights and other types of exertion that go with being a truck driver or the driver of commercial vans. If you have physical impediments, you may have a hard time getting a DOT card.

Things you'll be tested on:

  • 20/40 vision in both eyes (with or without glasses or contact lenses)

  • 70 degree peripheral in each eye (with or without glasses or contact lenses)

  • Diabetes (diabetics who need needle-injection of insulin are disqualified)

  • Standard hearing levels (with or without hearing aid) with average hearing loss in the better ear must be less than 40 dB

  • High blood pressure that may interfere with the ability to operate a commercial motor vehicle safely

  • Other conditions that include some common sleep disorders.

Self-Certification for the Commercial Drivers License

You must certify the type of vehicle you're going to operate according to the following categories:

  • Non-excepted interstate (you have the DOT card requirement mentioned above)

  • Excepted interstate (you do not have the DOT card requirement)

  • Non-excepted intrastate (you have the DOT card requirement)

  • Excepted intrastate (you do not have the DOT card requirement)

Driving Test for a Commercial Driver's License

There is a three-part driving test. You must come to the test with the same type and class of commercial vehicle you're getting licensed in.

  1. The pre-trip vehicle inspection. This is all explained in sections 11, 12 and 13 of your CDL manual. Basically, this is a test

  2. Basic vehicle control. You will be tested on your ability to maneuver the vehicle forward, back and within a defined area.

  3. On-road driving exam. You will have to show that you can safely drive a commercial vehicle in various situations, much like a driving test. You will be tested on left and right turns, stopping, taking curves and more.

Federal DOT and Motor Carrier Authority Numbers

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) administers the Federal DOT and motor carrier authority numbers required for a truck to haul cargo. The USDOT number is used to track your company's safety record and compliance with regulations. The motor carrier (MC) authority number identifies the type of trucking business you run and the kinds of goods you are legally allowed to haul.

In order to qualify for your USDOT and MC numbers you complete an application, which will be reviewed by the FMCSA. It includes a "mandated dispute period" for 10 business days and is made public to see if anyone contests your case.

Unified Carrier Registration (UCR)

The UCR system verifies active insurance coverage. You must register your company's USDOT and MC numbers by visiting your state's Department of Transportation website.

International Registration Plan (IRP)

An IRP tag and IRP license plate are issued by your state in order that you can operate in all U.S states and in Canada. This license plate must be renewed every year.

Heavy Use Tax

If your truck weighs 55,000 pounds or more, it is subject to the federal heavy-highway vehicle use tax. You must file a 2290 tax form with the IRS on an annual basis. An accountant will be familiar with this charge.

International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA)

The IFTA agreement was established to simplify the way fuel use was reported by trucks across the U.S. Your company needs a fuel license and you must file quarterly fuel use tax returns in your state. For more information, contact your state's Department of Transportation website.

BOC-3 Form

If your trucking business plans to have interstate operations you'll need to register an up-to-date BOC-3 form with FMCSA in case there is a legal complaint in another state. For more information about the BOC-3 form, visit

Standard Carrier Alpha Code (SCAC)

You'll need an SCAC code if you haul military, government, international or intermodal loads. For more information visit the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA).

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