Gianni Evangelisti Authored By: Gianni Evangelisti

California - CA CDL Overview

A Commercial Driver's License (CDL) is a driver's license required by California to operate any sort of vehicle which

  • transports quantities of hazardous supplies that require warning placards under Department of Transportation laws
  • is designed to move 16 or more passengers, together with the driver. This includes (but is not limited to) tow trucks, tractor trailers, and buses.
  • has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 lb or more for commercial use

The CDL is ruled by the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986. The CDL regulations are designed to insure highway security by requiring that truck drivers and drivers of tractor trailers and buses meet minimum standards.  The Act also permits the elimination of drivers that are deemed unsafe or unqualified. States such as California are given the authority to issue Commercial Driver’s Licenses, but the minimal federal government requirements must be met.

Prepare for your CA CDL exams with our free California CDL practice tests

California CDL License Groups - CA CDL Classes

Commercial Driver’s Licenses are issued by California in keeping with the CDL License classes specified below.
Group A (Combination Vehicle) CDL License

Any vehicle or combination of vehicles that has a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 pounds or more provided the GVWR of the vehicle(s) being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.  When you have a Group A CDL license, you are allowed to drive any vehicle or combination of vehicles of any size.

Group B (Heavy Straight Vehicle) CDL License

Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle lower than 10,000 pounds GVWR. With a Group B CDL license, you might be allowed to drive any single vehicle regardless of weight. In addition, you are allowed to tow a trailer if the trailer’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is less than 10,000 pounds. If the trailer you might be towing has a GVWR of greater than 10,000 pounds, and the mixed vehicle weight rating is more than 26,000 pounds, you will need a Class A CDL.

Group C (Small Vehicle) CDL License 

A Class C CDL license is meant to cover any single vehicle, or combination of vehicles, that doesn’t meet the Group A or Group B definitions, but that either is designed to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver), or is intended to move Hazardous Materials (HazMat).

With a Group C CDL license, you may drive any vehicle designed to move 16 or more passengers, including the driver, if the GVWR is less than 26,001 pounds and you have a passenger endorsement. In addition, a Class C CDL also permits you to operate any vehicle used to transport hazardous materials if the GVWR is lower than 26,001 pounds and you have the right endorsement.

California CDL Examination Overview

Tests for the CA CDL License include both skills exams and knowledge tests.

The CDL Knowledge Exams encompass a general exam, a number of endorsement examinations, and an air brakes examination.  The examinations that you will take rely on the license classification that you're acquiring (Class A, B, or C) and the kind of vehicle that you will be driving (e.g., Tanker, Double/Triple, Passenger Bus).

Please consult with our free California CDL practice exams to help you prepare for your CA CDL examinations.

General Examination Overview

Drivers of each CDL class have to pass a General Knowledge exam which contains questions about driving safety, vehicle inspection, highway signs, traffic legal guidelines and other information you could determine to drive a commercial vehicle in California.

Endorsement Examination Overview

Along with the general knowledge test, you have to also take and pass various endorsement examinations depending on the type of vehicle that you'll be operating.  The endorsement examinations are described below.

  • Tankers endorsement - to drive a commercial tank vehicle (over 26,000 pounds) designed to move any liquid or gaseous material inside a tank that is permanently or temporarily connected to the vehicle or chassis. Transportable tanks having a rated capacity under 1,000 gallons are not required to have this endorsement.
  • Double and triple trailer endorsement - to pull double and triple trailers.
  • Passenger endorsement - to drive any vehicle, besides a school bus, designed to carry 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • School bus endorsement - required to drive school buses designed to carry sixteen or more individuals, together with the driver that is transport students to or from school and authorized school activities. Additionally, a driver must obtain a passenger endorsement before obtaining a school bus endorsement.
  • Hazardous materials endorsement - to drive any vehicle carrying hazardous materials.  Hazmat supplies are recognized by the Federal Department of Health and Human Services and require a Hazmat placard.

Air Brakes Exam

In the event you plan on driving any commercial vehicle that has air brakes, it's necessary to take and pass the air brakes examination to take away the air brakes restriction from your CDL.  The air brakes examination is completely different than the endorsement examinations because the air brakes examination works as a restriction instead of an endorsement.  If you do not pass the air brakes examination, your CDL will bear a mark of restriction which means that you're not authorized to drive a commercial vehicle with air brakes.

California CDL License Requirements and CA CDL General Qualifications

In accordance with federal laws, a CDL operator is qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle in California if they:

  • Are at the very least 21 years old.
  • Can read and speak English sufficient to speak with the general public, to understand highway traffic signals and indicators, to reply to official inquiries, and to make reports and records.
  • Are physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle.
  • Have a currently valid commercial motor vehicle operator’s license issued by just one state.
  • Have delivered their employer an inventory of violations or the certificate as required
  • Are not disqualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle
  • Have successfully passed a driver’s road test and associated knowledge tests and have been issued a commercial driver’s license by the state of California

More detailed California CDL Requirements can be found in the CA handbook link found in the part below.

California CDL Handbook and Resources

California CDL Handbook - supplies CA CDL requirements and application info

California CDL Agency - California Department of Motor Vehicles

Telephone: 1-800-777-0133

Hearing Impaired: TTY 1-800-368-4327

Call Center business hours are: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 8 am to 5 pm, Pacific time and Wednesday, 9am to 5 pm, Pacific time

This information applies to the entire state of California as well as the cities of: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Fresno.


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