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FAQ: CDL Qualifications & Regulations

Last Updated: Oct 6, 2016

CDL Qualifications & Regulations - Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if I need a CDL?

You need a CDL to drive:

  • A single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more.
  • A combination vehicle with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, if the vehicle(s) being towed is over 10,000 pounds.
  • A vehicle designed to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver).
  • Any size vehicle which requires hazardous material placards or is carrying material listed as a select agent or toxin.

What are the requirements for getting a CDL?

Generally, you must be 21 years old to drive interstate , be a legal resident of the U.S., read & write English, and be able to pass a DOT physical examination.

Can I just get a CDL Class "B" license and get a driving job?

It very rarely makes sense to get a Class "B", rather than "A", because it will severely limit your future opportunities. Once you have the Class "A", you can legally drive any commercial vehicle, so it's always better to go for the "A", if at all possible.

Do I need the Hazmat endorsement?

The hazardous materials endorsement will allow you to haul freight containing material requiring placards. Even if you are not currently in a position where you need one, it is always recommended to get it, anyways, for future opportunities.

How do I get a Hazmat endorsement?

You will need to pass a TSA background check, as well as take a written exam. The background check could take 30-45 days to complete, so get it done early.

What is a TWIC card, and how do I get one?

The TWIC card, or Transportation Worker Identification Credential, is required for drivers requiring un-escorted access to shipping ports and other maritime facilities. It will require a TSA background check, as well.

How much does it cost for a Hazmat/TWIC background check?

Currently, the Hazmat background application costs $86.50 for new applicants, the TWIC application is $128.00.

What could disqualify me from getting a Hazmat endorsement or TWIC card?

There are a handful of crimes and conditions that will disqualify an applicant, like treason, murder, robbery, arson, or being under warrant or indictment. Some of the disqualifying factors have minimum time frames that must have passed.

Do I have to have a perfect driving record to get a driving job?

Not necessarily, but the cleaner, the better. Some companies are more lenient than others on tickets, accidents, etc., while many will require that a certain amount of time has passed since the incident.

Do I have to disclose any tickets or accidents that I've had?

Yes, if the application asks for it. Answer any questions accurately and honestly, as the trucking companies will find it, anyways, and omissions will make you look bad.

What if I fail to include something from my past, like tickets or criminal convictions?

If it's asked for, and you neglect or forget to include it, the company will probably not hire you if (when) they find it.

Can I become a truck driver if I have a DUI , DWI , or felony?

Yes, it's not out of the question, though it will make things harder and narrow your options.

What will show up on my background check?

Everything. Expect trucking companies to dig up things that you may even have forgotten about.

How will my employment history affect getting hired as a truck driver?

The DOT requires you to provide work history, or explanations, for the last 10 years. Every company will approach it differently, but having a lot of jobs or a lot of employment gaps may make it harder.

Can I get hired as a truck driver if I have bad credit?

Yes. Some companies run credit checks, some don't, but as long as you don't have a history of stealing or embezzling, it shouldn't be much of a problem.

Can I get my CDL if I don't live in the U.S.?

No. You must be a legal, permanent resident of the U.S.

What is the minimum age to get a CDL?

21 years old to drive interstate , 18 for intrastate travel.

How long do I need to have a regular license before getting my CDL?

It varies by state. Some have no requirements, most require at least a year.

How seriously is distracted driving taken in trucking?

Very seriously. Getting caught texting or using a hand-held phone while driving carries DOT penalties, along with the various state and local laws.

Can I drink in the truck while I'm off duty?

No. All companies will have rules prohibiting alcohol in the truck, and possessing alcohol while either on-duty or driving will put a driver out-of-service for at least 24 hours.

Can I bring a gun on the road in the truck for personal protection?

No, not if you're a company driver. Most, if not all, companies will prohibit it, most customers will prohibit firearms on their properties, and the various state and local laws are a legal labyrinth that just makes it too risky.

Can I bring weapons in the truck for protection?

It depends. State laws will vary on what you can carry for personal protection, as will company rules. Even personal defense sprays are illegal in some states.

Do I need to have a physical street address as a truck driver?

Yes, you will need a "home base".

Can I transfer my CDL between states without having to take the tests again?

In most states, yes. Illinois, for instance, requires re-taking the exams and skills test.

How many hours can truckers drive?

The hours-of-service regulations allow for drivers to drive 11 out 14 hours per day, 60 hours total in 7 straight days, and 70 hours total in 8 straight days. The first day in the 60/7 or 70/8 scenario falls off at midnight, so good drivers will keep a rolling total that will let them maximize their driving.


Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.


Hazardous Materials

Explosive, flammable, poisonous or otherwise potentially dangerous cargo. Large amounts of especially hazardous cargo are required to be placarded under HAZMAT regulations

Combination Vehicle:

A vehicle with two separate parts - the power unit (tractor) and the trailer. Tractor-trailers are considered combination vehicles.


Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA)

The CSA is a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) initiative to improve large truck and bus safety and ultimately reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities that are related to commercial motor vehicle


Department Of Transportation

A department of the federal executive branch responsible for the national highways and for railroad and airline safety. It also manages Amtrak, the national railroad system, and the Coast Guard.

State and Federal DOT Officers are responsible for commercial vehicle enforcement. "The truck police" you could call them.


Gross Vehicle Weight Rating

GVWR is the maximum operating weight of a vehicle as specified by the manufacturer, minus any trailers.


Commercial trade, business, movement of goods or money, or transportation from one state to another, regulated by the Federal Department Of Transportation (DOT).


The act of purchasers and sellers transacting business while keeping all transactions in a single state, without crossing state lines to do so.


Gross Combined Weight Rating

The GCWR refers to the total weight of a vehicle, including all trailers.


Transportation Worker Identification Credential

Truck drivers who regularly pick up from or deliver to the shipping ports will often be required to carry a TWIC card.

Your TWIC is a tamper-resistant biometric card which acts as both your identification in secure areas, as well as an indicator of you having passed the necessary security clearance. TWIC cards are valid for five years. The issuance of TWIC cards is overseen by the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.


Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.


Driving Under the Influence


Driving While Intoxicated


When a violation by either a driver or company is confirmed, an out-of-service order removes either the driver or the vehicle from the roadway until the violation is corrected.

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