Every state has their own set of policies and procedures to obtain your Commercial Drivers License (CDL). All of the states, however, have to follow a set of Federal Guidelines administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administraton. The purpose of the regulations is to insure that the operators (drivers) of large trucks and buses are qualified. The rules are also intended to help remove unsafe and unqualified drivers from the roads.
In general, the steps to getting a CDL license are:
- Determine your CDL license type
- Verify the requirements and present documentation
- Take the CDL exams and pay fees
These steps are detailed below.
Determine Your CDL License Type
The first step in obtaining your CDL is to determine which class of vehicle you will be driving. There are three Classes (A,B,C) of Commercial Motor Vehicles
Commercial Class A
- Any combination of vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of more than 26,000 pounds
- GVWR of towed vehicles greater than 10,000 pounds
Commercial Class B
- Any single vehicle with a GVWR of more than 26,000 pounds
- Any vehicle towing a vehicle with a GVWR less than 10,000 pounds
Commercial Class C
- Any vehicle not described in Class A or B
- Designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver
- Used in the transportation of hazardous materials that require the vehicle to display a HAZMAT placard
In addition, you will need to determine whether you need any endorsements to your CDL.
Endorsements are special authorizations which allow drivers to drive certain vehicle types, transport certain materials, or carry certain numbers of passengers. The following endorsements can be added to any class (A,B,C) of CDL.
- H - Placarded Hazmat: Required if you wish to drive vehicles that require a HAZMAT placard.
- N - Tank Vehicles: - Required if you will be driving a vehicle over 26,000 pounds that carries liquid/gaseous materials. This endorsement is required if you are driving a Class A or B vehicle with a permanently mounted tank greater than 119 gallons or a portable tank greater than 1,000 gallons.
- P - Passengers: - Required if you plan on driving 16 or more passengers including the driver.
- S - School Bus: Required if you will be driving students to/from school or school-sponsored events. The P endorsement is also required.
- T - Double/Triple Trailers: - Required if you will be driving Commercial Motor Vehicles with double or triple trailers. Triple trailers are not allowed in certain states.
- X - Placarded Hazmat & Tank Vehicles: - For drivers with both the H and N endorsements.
CMV Operation Type
Effective starting in 2012, CDL operators must certify to one of four federally defined types of Commercial Motor Vehicle Operation:
- Interstate (non-excepted) - Operates a CMV between states.
- Interstate (excepted) - Operates a CMV between states with the following exceptions: school bus operations, state and federal transportation, fire/rescue vehicles, transporation of human corpses, vehicles designed for transporting 9-15 passengers, and transportation of propane winter heating fuel
- Intrastate (non-excepted) - Operates a CMV within a state.
- Intrastate (excepted) - Operates a CMV within a state with the follwoing exceptions: public utility, telephone/cable repair, public utility service vehicle used in emergency, or implements of husbandry (self-propelled or pulled by farm tractor).
2) Verify The Requirements And Present Documentation
There are several requirements that must be met to become eligible for a Commercial Drivers License. These requirements may vary slightly depending on your state. The requirements include the following:
Must be at least 18 years old - restricted to intrastate (within the state) operation
Must be at least 21 years old for interstate (between state) operation
You must also submit medical documentation (obtain a medical card) if you will operate your CMV in non-excepted Interstate or non-excepted Intrastate operation
To apply for your CDL you will have to provide the following documentation:
- Proof of age and identity - You will typically be required to present 2 forms of proof. Acceptable documents include driver license, birth certificate, social security card, school documents, Military ID, passport, marriage certificate or US Government or Court documents.
- Proof of Social Security - social security card, 1099, W-2, payroll records, military ID or Medicaid/Medicare cards
- Proof of Residency - acceptable documents include state government documents, bank statements, lease/mortgages, utility bills or school records.
- Proof of Liability Insurance - required by some states
- Proof of clear Driving Record - must certify that your license is not suspended, disqualified or revoked and that you currently do not hold more than one Driver License.
- Medical Card - for drivers operating CMVs in non-excepted Interstate or non-excepted Intrastate operation
CDL Drivers will have to take a combination of written tests and skills tests. The written tests include a general knowledge exam (50 questions) and a combination of optional endorsement exams. The skills tests can be taken either at a state agency or via certified Third Party testers. The skills test will cover three areas: pre-trip inspection, basic vehicle control and on-road driving.
3) Take The CDL Exams And Pay Fees
The fees for your CDL will vary from state to state and will also vary according to the license class and endorsements that you are seeking.