Washington State eventer Meika Decher recently went through the process of obtaining a Class B Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and kindly agreed to share her experience with EN. Read more from Meika at the Polestar Farm blog.
Last December I and every other horse trailer driver felt completely behind the curveball. The deadline for new licensing requirements came and went, and recreational horse haulers were suddenly realizing that they had not paid close enough attention to the new rules. There were a flurry of meetings to get the horse community informed of the new details of the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) and licensing, and I can attest that there was also a flurry of confusion and disinformation. (Enforcement of the ELD mandate has since been delayed until Sept. 30, 2018 — read the latest here.)
I realized that regardless of what the ELD rules were or may become, I was facing the stark fact that I drive a large semi named Vanna, and it was only a matter of time when I would be pulled over by a grumpy cop and all kinds of trouble would happen. My van is an International 4600, a box truck; she hauls six horses and has living quarters and most importantly, she has air brakes. She weighs 30,000 pounds. For the last five years, she has been registered as an RV to get past the requirements for a Class B license. However, the truth is that Vanna looks like a commercial van and I do actually charge people to haul their horses, so I am indeed commercial by every stretch of the definition. The airbrakes are a grey area, but likely to cause suspicion for any grumpy cop.
I not really a rule abider but since the law changes are inevitable, I might as well get it done and avoid the hassle in the future. So I started the process of getting my Class B Commercial Drivers License. This blog is to educate others on the process, because it did feel confusing at the time for me, I wanted to help others with a little clarity on what I did to get my CDL.
Class B: This is a box truck, a non-jointed truck like you would see delivering packages to your door. This requires a six-day class for training.
Class A: This is any truck and trailer combination, such as your F-350 and your three-horse LQ trailer, with a combination weight of over 26,000 lbs. This requires a MONTH long class for training, and it’s specifically designed for commercial haulers, anyone who charges anything to haul horses. **Cue the pitchforks and torches, because soccer-moms hauling big horse trailers are not commercial usually.
What I did:
Step 1. Go to the DOL and pick up the free Commercial Truckers Guide. Read this and memorize it! Everything you need to know about the written test is in this guide.
Once you feel you have highlighted every possible important sentence, then go online and start mock testing. There are plenty of tests available to help you feel prepared. (See Washington States’ CDL testing information page.)
Step 2. Go to the DOL and take your written test. This costs $35 in Washington per test. It took me three tries to pass … (don’t laugh!!) First time, I actually had no idea that I needed to learn the Air Brake part so I was laughably unprepared. Second time, I actually knew the subject but I didn’t take the test well because I didn’t utilize the options well.
HINT: When you take the test and you don’t like a question, press the “SKIP” button. You get a new question! You can avoid the questions you don’t like and accumulate answers to the questions that you do know. It’s that easy.
Once you pass the written test, you have 180 days to complete the rest of the process, so don’t put it off too long.
Step 3. Go to a licensed DOL/CDL Medical Testing Facility and get your physical. This is not just at any clinic, it is particular to the DOL certificate. You need to verify all medications you are taking, as they test everything that might be pertinent to you driving a truck safely: vision, hearing loss, blood pressure, seizures, etc. I can’t remember specifically, but I think it cost just over $130 for the certificate. You should leave the office with a few copies of the exam, as well as a wallet-sized, laminated copy of the exam. Keep a copy in the truck as well as in your wallet. You will need them for your testing and to show at any inspection station. You need a new exam every two years.
Step 4. Take the Medical Certificate to the DOL and you can now get your permit and are legal to drive Intrastate, but not Interstate.
Step 5. Find a third party truck driving school and sign up for the license class that you need. There are several schools in our area– I chose Check Ride Driver Training Services in Woodinville. The Class B school is one week long, which is a complete 40-hour work week. This is NOT a class that you can do your regular day job at all. You will be fully committed to attending school to accumulate the hours of training that are required before you can take the driving test.
The class cost me $2,600, and they provide the truck, practice trucks and they also set up all the testing times for you. They have the schedule already set for how you put in the required hours for class training, driving and backing training and they help you practice for the Pre-Trip Inspection (this is definitely NOT a trivial matter).
Step 6. Go get a pee test. This is testing for drugs, and you must be clean in order to pass. The school sent me to a facility and had the paperwork all ready for me, all I had to do was the pee part.
Step 7. Memorize the Pre Trip verbatim! Practice as much as possible and learn exactly what to say. And then pay the state for the test. This is $250 and it gives you two tries to pass the test. If you need a third try you will need to pay for another $250, so its motivation to pass it the first time!
Step 8. Celebrate that you are done and never need to do that again.
Weigh Stations: Now that you have your CDL, you now must pull into Weigh Stations. Sometimes you just pass through, and other times you are told to pull over and bring all the documents inside. When you are pulled over, they will inspect your truck for safety issues. For every clean inspection you get, you get a rating on your record that improves your odds of not being inspected again. It’s like a report card that follows you around.
Tonnage: Because you are commercial, you will now pay your regular license fee for the truck, but also a tonnage fee. Tonnage is the amount of weight you expect to be hauling, so your truck weight plus six horses and gear, in my case. I will estimate this, and err on the heavier side, but that number is what the weigh stations are measuring. Are you overloaded (and underpaying the state for taxes) or are you legal, is what they want to know. (See Washington States’s Commercial Vehicle Services page.)
I hope that this information was helpful. There aren’t many box trucks out there like mine — there are more on the east coast — but the argument that horse show moms with GVW over 26,000# are going to need to get a Class A license is completely ridiculous. I think that the state is doing a good thing to require heavy vehicles to get a more comprehensive education about their trucks. But it seems that there should be a new category for recreational horse haulers that doesn’t require a month long course to get their Class A.
I know a few people in that situation who are going to get the Class B and hope that it’s good enough. I can’t vouch either way on that, but at least it’s something.