What Does it Take to be a Hazmat Driver?

Are you interested in hauling hazardous materials across the country in a highly fortified 18-wheeler? If so, there’s a lot to learn, but with the right attitude, persistence, and background, you can be on your way to a hazmat endorsement in no time.

If you already have your CDL-A license, you can receive your endorsement in 30-60 days. However, it will take considerably longer if you’re new to commercial truck driving. Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about becoming a hazmat truck driver.

What is Hazmat Trucking?

Hazmat trucking describes the transportation of hazardous materials for purposes such as waste management and delivery of final products or materials for production.

“Hazardous materials” includes a variety of substances that require special care and handling to avoid harming the environment and the humans involved in their transportation and applications.

They include gasoline and other flammable liquids and gasses, radioactive material, perfume and cosmetics, batteries, cleaning supplies, pharmaceuticals, and more.

Hazmat Training and Education Requirements

To become a hazmat driver, you must be 21 or older and have at least three years of driving experience. No higher education is needed; the only formal education required is a high school diploma, GED, or equivalent certification.

However, hazmat drivers must receive specialized training so they can safely and effectively do their jobs while minimizing risks.

Requirements detailed by the DOT in Chapter 51, Title 49 of US Code explain that employees must receive training on how to load safely, unload, handle, store, and transport hazmat and be prepared for emergencies.

Hazmat drivers may also receive function-specific training for varying demands of job assignments and security awareness training to maintain proper levels of security during travel. This training could take place through lectures, interactive videos, group conferences, or other forms of instruction.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also requires training for employees with the potential to come in contact with hazmat. OSHA training includes clean-up operations, decontamination processes, and emergency responses.

Getting Your Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)

Before becoming a hazmat driver, you must obtain a commercial driver’s license. There are three different “classes” of commercial licenses, each for a different specialization.

To become a hazmat driver, a Class A CDL is required. While exact requirements for obtaining a CDL will differ by state, the process will generally mirror obtaining a state driver’s license.

Step 1: Pass a written knowledge test, proving you understand relevant laws and can safely operate a commercial vehicle. Depending on your state, this may be accompanied by a hazmat knowledge test and likely a TSA Security Threat Assessment. Pass the test and pay a fee to your state, and you will receive your commercial learner’s permit (CLP). At that point, you can operate a commercial vehicle when accompanied by a licensed commercial driver.

Step 2: After at least two weeks with a CLP, you can attempt a skills test to obtain a full commercial license. This will typically consist of three parts: vehicle inspection test, basic controls test, and road test.

Hazardous Material Endorsements

With a general CDL, you can gain “extra permissions” (endorsements) for specialized transportation by passing a written test for the desired endorsement and paying a fee, typically no more than $50.

CDL Endorsements Applicable to Hazmat Drivers

In addition to the typical requirements, licensing, and training needs of CDL drivers, those transporting hazardous materials must also obtain at least one of the following endorsements, if not all.

(N) Tank Vehicle

This endorsement allows you to operate a tank vehicle for transporting liquids and liquified gasses. These trucks are commonly used for transporting hazardous materials, so this endorsement is an advantage to have. However, having this endorsement alone does not allow drivers to transport hazardous materials. and a hazmat driver without this endorsement is at a disadvantage.

(H) Hazardous Materials

The hazardous materials endorsement is highly coveted and directly applies to all hazmat drivers. It is a mandatory requirement for the commercial transportation of any hazardous materials.

(X) Tanker / Hazmat Combination

This is another coveted CDL endorsement. The Tanker/Hazmat endorsement allows for the certification of both (N) and (H) with a single endorsement.

After passing a written test, newly minted hazmat drivers receive a new license with a unique mark indicating their earned endorsement.

Pros and Cons of Being a Hazmat Truck Driver

Hazmat endorsements are highly sought after by CDL truck drivers. While there are many benefits, there are also a few drawbacks. Learn about the pros and cons of being a hazmat truck driver below.

Pros of Being a Hazmat Truck Driver

A few of the most commonly cited advantages of driving hazardous materials include but are not limited to:

Job Security: Many trucking companies are desperate to find and keep reliable workers. This effect is increased in a specialized field such as hazmat transportation.

Compensation: The staff shortage combined with increased risks and certifications has resulted in hazmat drivers enjoying some of the highest salaries in the trucking industry. Annual salaries can reach $85,000, with the average annual salary being $63,000.

Education: Hazmat driving offers the opportunity to earn high wages without an undergraduate education. It costs less time and money to begin hazmat driving than professions with comparable salaries.

Cons of Being a Hazmat Truck Driver

Everyone is different. Some truck drivers may see no negatives to hazmat truck driving, while others only see disadvantages. With that in mind, a few of the most commonly cited drawbacks of being a hazmat driver include but are not limited to:

Long Hours: Hours can vary across the trucking industry, but most hazmat drivers work full-time, spending 40 or more hours of their week at work.

Regulations: Being a specialized and potentially dangerous field, hazmat transportation requires attention to unique rules, regulations, and hazardous symbolism. Hauling dangerous materials can limit roadways and routes for travel, especially in cities.

Risk: With loads identified as “hazardous,” there are inherent health and safety risks for those involved. Procedural activities such as making stops and checking your load are rendered more dangerous when carrying hazmat.

Drivewyze – Revolutionizing Hazmat Transportation Safety & Efficiency 

Are you considering driving hazmat? Drivewyze isn’t just for non-hazmat loads. In most states, qualifying hazmat carriers are eligible for bypass. Learn how Drivewyze can save you time and money with weigh station bypassing, up-to-date information about route conditions, and more!

“Drivers particularly like the hands-free aspect of Drivewyze PreClear, noting how simple it is to glance down and see the notification. Moreover, drivers feel better prepared with the heads-up notification occurring within 1 to 2 miles of an upcoming weigh station. The drivers are happier with the program,”

Christopher Taggart

Director of Safety, Atlantic Bulk Carrier