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CDL Training in Automatic Transmission

Allen Smith's - "View from the Cab"
cdl training in automatic transmission
Official Trucking Information Series


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Many of those who are considering a career in professional truck driving are investigating the possibilities of obtaining their CDL training in a commercial motor vehicle with automatic transmission, rather than the standard manual transmission.  Before you begin your truck driver training, there are important factors that I believe you need to be aware of before you completely choose a CDL training course which is "auto trans" training only.

In the real world of trucking, you are more than likely going to be placed in a manual vehicle, so if you have been trained in an automatic, and took your driving test in an automatic, when you “hit” the real world of professional truck driving, you may find yourself “lost” when your new employer places you in a 10-speed standard.  Also, it is highly possible, that even if you train in an automatic, when it is time for you to go and take the CDL road driving test, chances are it will be performed in a manual transmission tractor.

What then? Unless your school and the testing facility has agreed that you can use the automatic for your test, you may be in for a surprise with your CDL road test.

Secondly, most of the nearly 750,000 trucking companies in the United States operate with manual transmissions. You would be greatly limiting yourself by having an automatic transmission restriction on your CDL license. It would be best to learn by manual and have the knowledge to operate both kinds of transmissions. With experience, shifting through the gears will become so second-nature, that soon you will not even be thinking about it and you will soon forget about automatics.

The FMCSA set new standards on rules concerning CDL and CLP testing procedures. One of these rules brought about the action of placing an “automatic restriction” on your license. These new rules fall under the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986.  This Act was established to "improve highway safety by ensuring that drivers of large trucks and buses are qualified to operate those vehicles and to remove unsafe and unqualified drivers from the highways."  The Act retained the individual State's right to issue a CDL license, but established minimum national standards which each State where they must still meet these standards when issuing a CDL.

One of these new standards is the issuing by the State of the "E" restriction on the commercial driver license. (States may have additional codes for additional grouping of endorsements, as long as such codes are fully explained on the license.)

Under the minimum national standards, the "E" restriction is defined as: "If the driver takes the Skills Test in a vehicle that has an automatic transmission, then an "E" no manual transmission restriction is placed on their license."   (Reference: Commercial Driver's License Program (CDL/CDLIS).

Should you choose to receive your CDL truck driver training in a CMV with an automatic transmission, you will find yourself limited to truck driving jobs with those very few trucking companies that actually operate any trucks of this kind.

The reason for considering CDL training in auto trans only, is certainly largely due to apprehension on the part of the CDL student. Medical issues are a different factor and certainly understandable, but "apprehension"  should play no part in your CDL training process.

Do not let your presentiment limit you to the availability of truck driving jobs. With the right attitude, desire and commitment, anyone can learn how to operate a CMV with a manual transmission, both safely and professionally.

You can do it.




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