More and more people today are rethinking their career choices and looking for new job options. Getting a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and going into trucking or other professional vehicle operation can be a great option! There is a huge demand for CDL drivers across numerous fields, and the potential for profits are extremely high. Plus, operating large equipment can be a genuinely fun and fulfilling career – if you qualify.
Almost anyone can sign up for CDL classes in Ontario to learn the basics of heavy vehicle operation – but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re right for the trade, or that they’ll be able to find a job afterward. It’s a good idea to think carefully about your chances of entering the field before taking CDL classes so that you can make the most of your educational investment.
In this article, we wanted to talk about the requirements to be a commercial driver, as well as some of the “dealbreakers” that might keep a person out of the field.
I. What Are The Requirements For An Ontario CDL?
On paper, the requirements for obtaining a CDL are fairly simple. You must:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Have grade 10 high school or equivalent (i.e., a GED)
- Have a valid non-learners driver’s license for four+ wheel vehicles
- Pass a vision test
- Submit a medical report
- Complete CDL classes or similar training
- Pass both written and road tests on vehicle operation
However, there are a lot of wrinkles here, as well as a few unwritten requirements, so let’s dig deeper.
II. Medical requirements
It’s not just a matter of submitting a valid medical report on your health – there are several medical conditions that can disqualify a person from obtaining a CDL. This is unfortunate but necessary. People need to know that you don’t have any health issues that could impede your ability to operate the vehicle. Heavy machinery can be incredibly dangerous if mishandled, so this is critical.
For one thing, you’ll be required to submit a list of all medications you’re currently taking, as well as any you’ve received in the past. They’ll be looking for things such as psychiatric medication that might indicate the applicant can’t function without their meds. Employers won’t be willing to risk an accident if a driver’s prescription runs dry.
Also, certain medical conditions will be automatic dealbreakers, particularly neurological issues such as epilepsy or narcolepsy. It’s nothing personal, but again, heavy vehicles are simply too dangerous to risk a neurological event.
III. Driving records
Anyone who currently has a valid non-learner driver’s license for cars or trucks can theoretically get a CDL – but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to find an employer if your driving record is poor. Beyond any immediate concerns about an applicant’s fitness to drive, the insurance they pay hinges on their drivers’ records as well. Many companies simply won’t be willing to pay extra for a driver with a poor driving history.
Ideally, you should have at least three completely clean years of driving on record – not even a speeding ticket. Minor moving violations or accidents where you weren’t at fault might not prevent you from finding employment, but they will be scrutinized. In these cases, every employer will be different and have different standards or levels of leniency.
Also, certain infractions will almost certainly be too bad to overlook, particularly DUIs. If you have intoxicated driving convictions in your past, you probably won’t be able to find employment as a working driver.
IV. Other criminal records
When you apply for a commercial driving job, they will order a full background check on you. If you do have any convictions in your past, you want to disclose them thoroughly on your initial application and be willing to discuss them at length. Attempting to hide a criminal record won’t work and will immediately disqualify you.
Having felonies in your past won’t necessarily prevent employment, but they will be a red flag. In this situation, an applicant would need to come prepared to explain themselves and – most importantly – give good reasons why the company wouldn’t need to worry about repeat incidents. After all, if a person had been convicted of theft in the past, why would a company trust them with a truck full of valuable goods?
Drug convictions will be seen as another big red flag, particularly addictive substances. Again, this is another situational issue. Some companies will be more lenient than others, but an applicant should be ready and willing to explain themselves.
V. Employment history
Having a strong employment history, particularly if you have recommendations from past employers, will be a big boon in your job hunt. Companies hiring CDL drivers will be looking for a level of commitment, so having multiple jobs where you remained employed for at least a couple of years will put you in a good position.
On the other hand, some companies are willing to hire eager new recruits straight out of high school, so extensive employment histories aren’t necessarily a requirement.
However, if you have a spotty employment history, or bouncing from job to job with only a few weeks at any gig, will look very bad to recruiters.
VI. Home issues
Finally, the other thing to consider – both for yourself and your employer – is what sort of commitments you’ll have at home. This is particularly important if you’re looking towards medium- or long-haul trucking. Truckers will spend most of their time away from home and might potentially even spend weeks on the road before having an opportunity to go home.
This can be extremely stressful for truckers with families. It’s not a problem that’s impossible to overcome, but if you do have a family, think very carefully here. Will your spouse be OK left alone for days at a time? How high are the chances that an emergency will come up?
From an employment perspective, this is a tricky issue. Employers can’t deny you employment for being married, but the truth is that single/unattached drivers are preferred for longer delivery routes. Don’t look down that road unless you’re genuinely certain you’d be able to commit to the job, otherwise, it could end badly for everyone.
On the other hand, partner drivers are far from uncommon. If your spouse were willing to live on the road with you, especially if they have a CDL as well, the situation becomes a lot easier to manage.
The 5th Wheel Training Institute Offers Superior CDL Classes
If you’ve read through this guide and still feel that you’ll be a good fit for commercial driving, we’d love to have you! 5th Wheel is one of Ontario’s oldest and most respected CDL training groups. We have highly experienced staff taken from the industry, and our own dedicated on-site training facilities designed to mimic real-world vehicle operation. In addition, we have extensive industry contacts – many of our students get hired straight out of school.
To learn more about our CDL classes and your job prospects, just click here.