A CDL license, also known as a commercial driver’s license, is a type of driver’s license issued to drivers to operate large and/or heavy vehicles, which are typically used for commercial reasons. CDL license requirements vary according to each state and type of vehicle, but follow general guidelines that were established by the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986. There are various types of CDL endorsements that pertain to different categories of commercial vehicles, such as trucks, trailers and buses, and whether those vehicles transport hazardous materials or passengers.
A commercial driver license test and medical exam required for a state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to issue a CDL. In certain cases, CDL qualifications may be obtained through education courses with a focus on the type of vehicle that the driver intends to operate for commercial reasons. For more information, read the sections below.
What is a CDL?
A CDL drivers license classification is a document issued by a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to drivers who are seeking employment opportunities that involve the transportation of a substantial amount of goods or passengers. Getting a commercial drivers license before 1986 was an entirely different process in each state, but CDL license requirements became more standardized throughout the entire country with the issuance of the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act by the Federal Highway Administration. The standardization of these requirements has allowed the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to systematize training, testing and medical requirements for CDL applicants. Additionally, federal regulations that concern a commercial drivers license suspension were able to be put in place.
Different CDL endorsements are offered depending on the needs required for drivers to perform the jobs they are seeking. Each endorsement may involve passing a CDL written exam and driving test and has specific requirements that must be met for each. Additionally, to obtain a commercial drivers license, a driver may be required to undergo a physical exam and a background check. However, certain drivers and activities qualify for a CDL exemption, such as farm owners or employees who transport goods to and from a farm.
Who needs a CDL?
Getting a CDL is required for most drivers who intend to be financially compensated for the transportation of a significant amount of goods or passengers. Commercial vehicle owners must also adhere to additional regulations such as annual inspection, repair and maintenance requirements. A CDL license must be obtained by drivers who intend to perform one or more of the following activities during employment:
- Operate a vehicle with gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of over 26,000 pounds
- Operate a combination of vehicles with gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of over 26,000 pounds
- Operate a vehicle capable of towing another vehicle with GVWR of over 10,000 pounds
- Operate a vehicle transporting hazardous materials
- Operate a vehicle designated to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver
- Operate a vehicle designated to transport school children, such a school bus
In most cases, a CDL drivers license classification is not required for farmers and farm employees who are operating vehicles to transport goods to and from a farm. In order to receive the proper CDL qualifications required by the U.S. Department of Transportation, drivers who intend to operate box trucks or vehicles with air brakes must also obtain a commercial driver’s license. Learn more by downloading our comprehensive guide.
What kinds of vehicles require a CDL?
A driver must obtain a commercial drivers license to operate a vehicle with gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of over 26,000 pounds or combination of vehicles with gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of over 26,000 pounds. CDL endorsements are typically required for the following vehicles:
- Tow trucks
- Tank trucks
- Box trucks
- Semi trailers such as double or triple trailers
- School buses
- Public or private buses
- Vehicles with air brakes
Getting a CDL is not required for drivers to operate covered farm vehicles (CFVs), which are vehicles that transport goods to and from a farm. A covered farm vehicle is exempt from all CDL requirements, including the annual inspection, repair and maintenance regulations that apply to most commercial vehicle owners. The following considerations justify the classification of a vehicle as a CFV:
- The vehicle is operated by a farm worker. For a vehicle to be considered a CFV, it must be operated by a farm owner, employee or family member.
- The vehicle is transporting farming goods. A CFV must be exclusively transporting agricultural commodities, livestock and farm machinery or supplies.
- A rented vehicle’s lease agreement stipulates its farming purpose. If a vehicle is rented to perform farming duties, its lease agreement must identify its purpose for it to be considered a CFV.
What are the different types of commercial driver’s licenses?
CDL endorsements are offered in several different ways. Among the various types of CDL endorsements, the two main types are:
- Class A. The Class A commercial driver’s license is issued for drivers who need to operate a vehicle or combination of vehicles that weigh over 26,000 pounds for the purpose of transporting goods. DMVs also issue commercial learners permits (CLPs), which prepare drivers to obtain a Class A endorsement.
- Class B. The Class B commercial driver’s license is issued for drivers who must be able to transport various passengers for work purposes. In certain states, the passenger count that requires a driver to obtain a Class B CDL is eight passengers, including the driver. However, this requirement varies according to each state.
- Class C. The Class C commercial driver’s license encompasses any vehicle or combination of vehicles that do not meet the definition of a Class A or B endorsement.
After obtaining a CDL license classified as Class A or B, drivers may pursue other endorsement types that may be required for certain job opportunities. The following CDL endorsement list includes some of the most common endorsements that may be added to a Class A or B commercial driver’s license:
- Class H endorsement is required for the transportation of hazardous materials.
- Class N endorsement is required for the operation of tank trucks.
- Class P endorsement may be required for the operation of passenger vehicles that carry a great amount of passengers.
- Class S endorsement is required for the operation of school buses.
- Class T endorsement is required for the operation of semi trailers.
- Class W endorsement is required for the operation of tow trucks.
- Class X endorsement is a combination of Classes H and N endorsements.
Who can get a CDL?
To obtain a commercial drivers license, you must first acquire a commercial learner’s permit (CLP), which allows you to practice driving larger vehicles while sitting next to an individual who has already been issued a CDL. Among the various CDL license requirements, you must consider the following:
- Your driving record should be clean. Before even issuing a commercial learner’s permit, the U.S. Department of Transportation checks your driving record for the last 10 years across all 50 states.
- You must hold a CLP for 14 days. Before being allowed to take a commercial driver license test, you must hold a CLP and practice alongside a CDL holder for at least 14 days.
- Your vehicle must pass an inspection test. The commercial vehicle you are going to operate must pass an inspection test to guarantee its roadworthiness. The individual or company that owns the vehicle, which may be you or your employer, is responsible for the necessary repairs to overcome any defects.
- You must pass written and driving exams. Passing a CDL written exam and a driving test is a requirement for you to be issued a commercial driver’s license.
CDL endorsements such as Class H and Class S also require drivers to pass a background check due to the nature of the activities being performed in those jobs.
How much does a CDL cost?
A CDL license typically costs $50, which takes into consideration the expenses related to the written and driving commercial driver license tests that must be taken by applicants. However, this cost may vary for several reasons, including:
- The CDL physical exam requirement. Most commercial driver’s licenses require applicants to undergo a Department of Transportation-approved medical exam that can range from $70 to $130. Depending on a driver’s health insurance coverage, this is an additional expense that CDL applicants must account for.
- The CDL endorsements required. Because certain endorsements require additional tests or investigations to be conducted, such as background checks, drivers may be charged additional fees to obtain certain types of CDLs.
- The state’s DMV. To get a commercial drivers license in each state, different Departments of Motor Vehicles may have varying price structures for drivers. Exams may be priced differently and certain processing fees may apply.
- The amount of attempts to pass. Drivers who fail to pass a written or driving CDL test the first time are typically given a second chance to retake the exam. However, if more attempts are necessary, additional fees may be charged by the DMV for drivers to take the tests again.
How do I apply for a CDL?
To apply for a CDL drivers license, residents must typically be at least 18 years of age or older and be aware of which types of endorsements they would like to obtain. CDL application requirements typically include the following:
- Reading the CDL manual. The DMV can provide residents with a digital or physical copy of the CDL Manual to prepare applicants for the CDL application, medical and testing requirements. The U.S. Department of Transportation encourages residents to read this document before submitting an application.
- Submitting the appropriate documents. Certain CDL endorsements may require applicants to submit additional documentation that is specific to each type of commercial driver’s license. Proof that a resident has undergone a CDL medical exam may also be requested by a DMV.
- Complete CDL application. Each state’s DMV has a specific CDL application form that must be completed by residents seeking a commercial driver’s license endorsement. Upon submitting an application, a resident’s driving record for the past 10 years will be checked, taking into consideration traffic tickets, penalties and infractions issued in all 50 states.
- Pass the CDL exams. Applicants must pass the CDL written exam and driving test required by the type of endorsement being obtained.
Do I need to take CDL exams?
A commercial driver license test is required for the issuance of any types of CDL. However, certain CDL endorsements may only require a written test, whereas others will require a written and driving test. The CDL written exam consists of 30 questions, and candidates must answer 80 percent of them correctly in order to pass. The driving test requires candidates to perform various driving maneuvers to test their skills in difficult situations that might arise during their careers as commercial drivers. CDL license requirements regarding a CDL test vary according to each state, but are generally as follows:
- Class A endorsement requires a written and driving test
- Class B endorsement requires a written and driving test
- Class C endorsement requires a written and driving test
- Class H endorsement requires a written test and a background check to be performed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
- Class N endorsement requires a written test
- Class P endorsement requires a written and driving test
- Class S endorsement can only be acquired after a P endorsement and requires a written test, background check and sex offender registry check
- Class T endorsement can only be acquired after an A endorsement and requires a written test
- Class W endorsement requires a written test
- Class X endorsement requires a written test
Do I need to take CDL education courses?
Residents wondering how to get a commercial drivers license may consider a driving course as a method to acquire CDL qualifications and pass the mandatory written and driving exams. These courses provide tips on how to pass the CDL exam and be an efficient commercial driver and are offered by public organizations, including certain states’ DMVs. The cost of these courses varies according to the types of CDL endorsements being pursued, state and institution. For instance, a truck driver training class could range between $1,500 and $8,000, depending on several factors.
CDL license training courses should have a focus on the CDL endorsement and type of vehicle that will be operated by the driver professionally. Thus, if a resident intends to have a career as a school bus driver, he or she must acquire all the knowledge and skills that pertain to a vehicle transporting a substantial amount of young passengers. Written or driving CDL exams are meant to assess whether a driver is able to perform his or her duties in the job being pursued, and a CDL education course can be of assistance to individuals to acquire the skills and knowledge required to perform those duties.
What are the CDL medical requirements?
A CDL medical exam is required for residents to obtain any type of commercial driver’s license endorsement. A CDL physical typically focuses on checking a driver’s blood pressure, blood sugar levels, vision, hearing and drug use. Among the several CDL physical exam requirements, drivers must be mindful of the following:
- Blood pressure must be between 140-159/90-99. If an individual’s blood pressure is over 160-179/100-109, DMVs will typically only issue a temporary commercial driver’s license on the condition that the driver will take prescription medication to lower his or her blood pressure.
- Blood sugar levels must be under 200. If a driver has been diagnosed with diabetes that has to be managed by regular insulin shots, he or she may not be issued a CDL.
- Vision must be at least 20/40. A CDL license will typically not be issued to residents who do not have at least 20/40 vision in both eyes and cannot make a distinction between colors such as red, amber and green. Additionally, it must be noted on a CDL physical exam certificate if the driver uses corrective lenses.
- Hearing must capture sounds 5 feet away. A CDL medical exam involves testing a driver’s hearing to assess if he or she can hear sounds that are coming from 5 feet away or more. If a driver has experienced hearing loss in one ear, the hearing of that ear cannot be lower than 40dB.
- Blood cannot contain the presence of amphetamines or narcotics. A commercial driver’s license will typically not be issued to residents whose blood contains any type of habit-forming drugs.
When does a CDL expire?
Drivers must renew CDL license every time the document’s validity expires. However, the length of time that it takes for a CDL license to expire varies according to the regulations established by each state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, thus being particular to each region and type of license. In certain cases, such as in a Class H endorsement, a driver may be required to undergo a background check and pass a written test every time the commercial driver’s license expires.
A driver may renew commercials drivers license before the CDL expires or within a short period of time after the license’s expiration date. Failing to conduct a CDL drivers license renewal in due time may result in setting the driver back and require him or her to undergo an entire application procedure again. DMVs typically send renewal notices to drivers prior to the expiration date of their commercial driver’s licenses, which include renewal methods, procedures and costs in the state.
How do I renew a CDL?
The process of renewing CDL licenses varies depending on each state and whether the renewal took place before the license’s expiration date. In certain cases, a commercial drivers license renewal process may require drivers to undergo background checks and pass written and driving tests once again. However, CDL drivers license renewal requirements are typically the following:
- Submit CDL renewal form. Like an application form, a renewal form requires drivers to provide detailed information about themselves and the type of endorsement they are seeking in a CDL.
- Provide fingerprint. To renew CDL license, a commercial driver must provide his or her fingerprint for a DMV to properly identify who the resident is.
- Have a clean driving record. A resident’s driving record will be checked every time a CDL license is issued or renewed. Thus, having a clean record is a significant requirement for commercial drivers to guarantee their ability to keep working.
- Bring medical exam report. In certain cases, a new CDL medical exam may be required for commercial drivers to renew their licenses.
- Pay the applicable fees. Fees may apply during the renewal process of a CDL.
How do I reinstate a CDL?
The process to reinstate suspended CDL license varies according to each state, but it is typically significantly different from filing for a renewal. A suspended CDL is the revocation of a resident’s privileges to work as a commercial driver, and there are a few consequences to this disqualification. When reinstating suspended CDL license, residents must take the following steps:
- Wait for the suspension period to be over. A commercial drivers license suspension typically lasts a set amount of time. For instance, a first offense DUI charge may yield 12 months of suspension.
- Fulfill all court requirements. A suspended CDL license may not be reinstated if there are any pending court requirements the driver has not fulfilled.
- Apply for a CDL again. To reinstate a suspended CDL, a driver must meet all the application requirements and pass the required tests again.
- Pay any applicable fees. Fees may apply during the reinstating process of a CDL.
Do I need a CDL to drive an RV?
Getting a CDL is typically not mandatory for drivers who intend to operate a recreational vehicle (RV) with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) under or over 26,000 pounds. Most DMVs only issue commercial driver’s licenses to drivers who will operate vehicles for commercial purposes and will be compensated for their services. Thus, most states allow RVs under 26,000 pounds to be driven with a traditional driver’s license and RVs over 26,000 pounds to be operated with a special driver’s license that pertains to RVs. However, the issuance of a CDL license is required for RV drivers in the following states:
- New York
- South Carolina
CDL license requirements pertaining to RVs vary significantly depending on each state’s DMV regulations and each vehicle’s weight and length specifications. For instance, CDL qualifications may be required for drivers to operate vehicles that contain air brakes, which are typically included in RVs over 30 feet long. An L restriction code may be issued on a commercial driver’s license if the driver failed to pass tests or inspections that specifically pertained to the operation of air brakes. Download our online guide for more information.