Erica Schueller in the cab of a truck at an media event.

A step-by-step look at how to get a Class A CDL

April 6, 2021
Access the full archive of posts providing insight on obtaining a Class A Commercial Driver's License through a professional truck driving course.

It's been more than two years since I went back to school. In September of 2018, I officially enrolled in a professional truck driving program at Waukesha County Technical College, in Waukesha, Wisconsin. The goal was to gain a thorough understanding of the fundamental aspects of operating a commercial truck.

This course provided great insight on all aspects of operating a commercial truck – from tangential things professional drivers need to know like hours of service regulations and logbooks to track operational hours, varying driving and bridge laws across states, safety protocols, etc., to the actual preparation and driving of the vehicle itself. I learned how to conduct a thorough pre- and post-trip inspection on a tractor-trailer, how to properly upshift and downshift a manual 18-speed transmission, and how to accurately and safely back a tractor with a 53-foot trailer.

Check out the comprehensive list of blog posts from start to finish, beginning with the my initial impressions after enrolling in the class, all the way up to graduating from the 12-week professional course. 

  • Getting in the driver's seat - Some perspective on why I decided to enroll in the 12-week professional truck driving program.
  • Understanding the clutch is, well ... clutch - When I reviewed options for different technical schools and professional truck driver programs in the area, one aspect that stood out with Waukesha County Technical College's program was the focus on learning how to shift properly in a world where automated manual transmissions are becoming more commonplace. 
  • Testing for the commercial driver's license permit - Nowadays they’ve got smartphone apps and downloadable PDFs you can use as study aids. Having everything accessible online and at your fingertips can be both a blessing and a curse.
  • The importance of pre-trip inspections - Understanding how to inspect all aspects of a commercial vehicle before operation is a key skill. This professional training program stresses how critical it is for drivers to understand the entire process of conducting a pre- trip inspection.
  • Performing the air brakes LABS test - The LABS test is a method for remembering all the steps to testing the air brake system on a commercial vehicle, which should be done during a pre-trip inspection. LABS stands for Leaks, Alarms, Buttons, and Service Brake.
  • Turn, baby, turn! - Before enrolling in this program, I acknowledged tractor-trailers needed to operate a bit differently on the road. But now, more thoroughly understanding the process, I have a newfound respect for it. 
  • Backing a big rig is no joke - One portion of the Class A commercial driver's license testing involves mastering three types of backing maneuvers: straightline, offset, and 90-degree. Read more about perfecting this love/hate process here. 
  • Taking the test for a Class A CDL - The Class A commercial driver's license test is comprised of three parts: the pre-trip inspection, backing, and a road test. Find out which one gave me the most grief.
  • What I learned from going back to school - Takeaways from my time as a student in the WCTC professional truck driving program.

While 2020 and the pandemic has made it a bit more challenging to get behind the wheel, I've had quite few opportunities to continue testing my learned skills from this course. I look forward to getting out on the road more in 2021. 

For more updates, follow Erica Schueller on Twitter and Instagram.

This blog originally appeared on Fleet Maintenance.

About the Author

Erica Schueller | Editorial Director | Commercial Vehicle Group

Erica Schueller is the Editorial Director of the Endeavor Commercial Vehicle Group. The commercial vehicle group includes the following brands: American Trucker, Bulk Transporter, Fleet Maintenance, FleetOwner, Refrigerated Transporter, and Trailer/Body Builders brands.

An award-winning journalist, Schueller has reported and written about the vehicle maintenance and repair industry her entire career. She has received accolades for her reporting and editing in the commercial and automotive vehicle fields by the Truck Writers of North America (TWNA), the International Automotive Media Competition (IAMC), the Folio: Eddie & Ozzie Awards and the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) Azbee Awards.

Schueller has received recognition among her publishing industry peers as a recipient of the 2014 Folio Top Women in Media Rising Stars award, acknowledging her accomplishments of digital content management and assistance with improving the print and digital products in the Vehicle Repair Group. She was also named one Women in Trucking’s 2018 Top Women in Transportation to Watch.

She is an active member of a number of industry groups, including the American Trucking Associations' (ATA) Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC),  the Auto Care Association's Young Auto Care Networking Group, GenNext, and Women in Trucking.

In December 2018, Schueller graduated at the top of her class from the Waukesha County Technical College's 10-week professional truck driving program, earning her Class A commercial driver's license (CDL).  

She has worked in the vehicle repair and maintenance industry since 2008.

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