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What are the Essentials of Getting a School Bus Driver’s License

Thursday February 15, 2018


School bus drivers are the professionals behind the wheel who steer kids back and forth from home and school safely. To be qualified as a school bus driver, you should possess a CDL, wondering what is a CDL?

It is the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and along with it, you should have an authorization to drive a passenger vehicle (P), and a permit to drive a school bus (S). These are typically called as P and S endorsements.

Nevertheless, every state has established its own set of requirements and licenses, it is wise for you to be knowledgeable regarding the prevailing norms specified by your school district. For all those drivers who are planning to ferry school kids, here are the essentials to secure a school bus driver’s license.

The first step is to qualify for a CDL.

How can you qualify for a CDL?

Below are the prerequisites that should be committed before you possess a CDL.

  1. Pass a Physical Examination

According to Federal Law, it is mandatory for all the school bus drivers to carry a medical card endorsed by the Department of Transportation (DOT). This card is an authentication, which serves as evidence for passing the DOT physical exam.

This exam comes with a fee, which should be remitted by you and you can proceed and apply for a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP). CLP is the certificate that permits you to practice your driving skills under the guidance of an experienced commercial driver.

What will the physical exam evaluate?

  • Primarily looking into your medical and physical condition, a Physical exam sanctions that you can transport your students safely. A list of approved physicians performs this exam and check your physical and medical conditions thoroughly.


  • The next step is to fill up the Medical Examination Report that probes into your medical history and personal information. After that, the physician will provide the results of the examination and endorses whether you match the federal requirements for commercial drivers.


  • Any sort of physical disability such as impaired arms or legs will disqualify you as a commercial driver since these impairments come in the way of your driving abilities.


  • Medical conditions such as arthritis, diabetes and hypertension can also come in the way of your securing a CDL.


  • Speaking of vision, it is important for commercial drivers to have either nature or corrected vision of 20/40 in both the eyes. You will also be checked for your ability to distinguish between the three traffic light colors; red, amber and green.


  • Drug abuse and alcoholism are the two other parameters that will be checked by the concerned authorities and you need to come out clean with all such examinations. If you are a consumer of habit-forming drugs either under prescription or otherwise, you will be labeled ineligible to secure a CDL.


  1. Visit your state’s driver’s license website to understand the eligibility requirements.

Despite the fact that federal DOT has certain minimum eligibility requirements in place, it is important to realize certain additional rules that should be met, if at all you are driving in other states.

  • Legal identification documents such as a birth certificate or your passport should be furnished along with a proof of residency. You can check out the requirements that are enlisted under your state’s mandate and submit them accordingly


  • Your past driving history for 10 years is another important data that will be evaluated by your state’s driver license office


  • All your state-wise driver licenses will also be scrutinized


  • If your license has a ranking less than 4 points, it can be an ideal situation for you


  • Talking of permissible age, you need to be at least 18 years for obtaining a CDL. However, an age limit of 21 years is enough to drive a school bus in certain states.


  1. Qualify the Knowledge Tests in Writing

To secure a CLP, you need to pass written tests, which test your driving knowledge in addition to meeting the general eligibility sanctions. In order to drive a school bus, it is mandatory for you to not only qualify the general commercial driving test but also additional tests.

Moreover, these additional tests will intend to provide eligibility for you to secure passenger and school bus endorsements. For you to sit for the written examination, you need to pay a fee; irrespective of the outcome.

  • Every knowledge test evaluates your grip over 20 general areas specified by federal CDL regulations. You should answer 30 questions with a minimum of 80% of correct answers linked to both general and endorsement tests for you to qualify. 


  • You will be tested in areas concerning the inspection and maintenance of your vehicle, including the parameters linked to safe vehicle operations. Your knowledge regarding lights and horns coupled with vehicle control attributes such as skid control, backing and shifting will be tested. Last but not the least, your basic control over the vehicle will be tested in conjunction with safe driving skills.


  • If your school bus has air brakes, it calls for another knowledge test on air brakes and their operation. You should also pass this test. 


  • Your knowledge on how you perform various school bus activities including the loading and unloading operations of school children, the timely utilization of signal devices attached to school buses, and the emergency exit mechanisms that are in place will be assessed before granting you an S endorsement. 


  1. How to Secure a CDL?

Of course, after meeting all the above-mentioned pre-requisites for a CDL, you are one step closer to getting a CDL. For instance, you now need to follow these guidelines so that you can eventually walk away with a CDL.

  1. Apply for a CLP

CLP is a 2-week certificate that allows you to undergo skill tests before you finally secure a CDL.

  • The CLP comes with an additional fee that needs to be paid by you. Certain states charge a consolidated fee for all the written tests and CLP. You can check out your state’s CDL manual to acquire the listing of itemized fees for securing a CDL. 


  • With the CLP in hand, you are now in a position to practice all the driving drills that will help you qualify the skill tests. 


  • While certain states operate exclusive training courses for school bus driver applicants, there are others which demand additional training once you have passed the skill tests of your state. This will assist you secure a CDL with P and S endorsements. 


  • A caveat here is to appear for the skill tests before the CLP period expires. 
  1. Enroll Yourself for the General CDL Skills Test

The General CDL Skills Test has 3 sections; namely: vehicle inspection, basic driving controls and the actual driving test. Furthermore, it is mandatory that you pass all the three parts of this general test for you to secure your CDL.

  • The payment terms are the same with the general CDL skill test that you need to pay for them irrespective of the outcome. You should follow your state’s mandate that either charges an additional fee for the CDL or a consolidated fee for the entire school bus driver’s license. 


  • You will be subjected to a pre-trip inspection that is part of your skills test. You will be tested for your ability to exactly identify and evaluate warning and monitoring devices. Testing your ability to precisely assess the condition of the brake system, this test focuses on your skill to evaluate low pressure warnings. You should not be caught unawares when you will be asked to perform an operational check concerning all the alarms and emergency gadgets. 


  • The basic skills required to control the school bus will be put to the ultimate test. This test assesses your ability to start the vehicle, stop it and maneuver it around in a safe manner.


  • The third section of the test pays attention to evaluating your safe driving skills. Along with visual search methods, you will also be tested on the timely usage of driving signals. Bringing weather and traffic conditions into the picture, this test provides a holistic assessment of how you can control the speed of your vehicle during testing times. You will also be assessed on the appropriate positioning of your vehicle while initiating a turn or when you need to change lanes. 


  1. Test the Feel of Being At The Wheel of a School Bus
  • You as an applicant for a school bus driver’s license will be required to attend a test in a school bus. Now is the time to test your CDL to bestow you with both P and S endorsements; in a single step. 


  • Upon qualifying the skills test, you need to collect all your documentation and head to the driver’s license office and remit the prescribed fee. While certain state authorities give you the CDL right away, others can mail it across to you. 

The process of securing a CDL is not over as yet if you are associated with a school district, where the school bus drivers are required to submit additional certificates. These credentials are termed under the head of state-specific requirements that should be met by school bus drivers to ply school buses with a valid driving license.

  1. Conformance to State-Specific Requirements


  1. First Aid Certification

Certain states constituted it as a compulsory procedure for school bus drivers to be certified in basic first aid.

  • You can knock on the doors of your local high school or district office to obtain pertinent information, whether you need to undergo the first aid training and test. 


  1. Sign Up for a Criminal Background Check

Every state should compulsorily conduct a criminal background check for all the potential school bus drivers, and you need to follow the same. The FBI or a state investigative bureau will come as regulatory authorities certifying you of your flawless background

  1. Pass the Alcohol and Drug Tests

All the states governed by federal laws form it a pre-employment requirement to conduct random drug and alcohol tests on school bus drivers. These tests can be conducted either during employment or as an aftereffect of an accident that a school bus driver was involved in.

  1. A Holistic Agility Training

School bus drivers are tested for their presence of mind while being at the wheel. In an attempt to test their agility, certain states demand the need to train and qualify drivers for unforeseen exigencies. As a school bus driver’s license applicant, you will be assessed on your abilities to support school children wriggle out safely in emergency situations.

  1. Steer Under the Guidance of an Experienced School Bus Driver

Several school districts need you to put in a certain number of training hours when you will be at the wheel of a school bus, driving with the guidance coming from an experienced school bus driver. During this training period, the experienced driver will oversee the way in which you maneuver the school bus and provides you with invaluable inputs that will improve your performance as a licensed school bus driver.

Closing Thoughts

Driven by a mission to provide safe and comfortable rides to school children day in and day out, state authorities have enlisted a number of essentials that need to be fulfilled before a school bus driver is granted a driver’s license.

Along with essential requirements, you should pass a series of physical and driving tests that will vouch for your welfare along with a strong assessment of your driving skills.

Only when all the above- mentioned requirements are fulfilled will you as a school bus driver’s license applicant will be permitted to be at the wheel of a school bus ferrying groups of chirpy and intelligent kids. After all, the safety of school children is in your hands!

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