Drivers have been required to have a commercial driver's license (CDL) in order to drive certain commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) since April 1, 1992. The types of vehicles and operations requiring a CDL are outlined below. In order to obtain a CDL there are a list of requirements that must be met, and getting your CDL involves several steps. There are medical requirements and residency requirements, along with knowledge and skills requirements.
Below we will list more specific requirements, qualifications, disqualifications, and restrictions along with links to pages specific to each state.
States develop their own knowledge and skills tests, which must meet the minimum Federal standards in Subpart G and H of 49 CFR Part 383. Model driver and examiner manuals and tests have been prepared and distributed to the States to use, if they wish.
Each basic knowledge test covers the 20 general areas outlined in 49 CFR 383.111(a). The knowledge test shall contain at least 30 items. A separate test for drivers seeking to operate CMV's with air brakes must cover the 7 areas outlined in 49 CFR 383.111(b).
To pass the knowledge tests (general and endorsement); applicants must correctly answer at least 80 percent of the questions.
To pass the skills test, applicants must successfully perform all the required skills (listed in 49 CFR 383.113 through 49 CFR 383.123). The skills test must be taken in a vehicle representative of the type of vehicle that the applicant operates or expects to operate.
Federal standards require States to issue CDLs to certain commercial motor vehicle drivers only after the driver passes the knowledge and skills tests administered by the State. The vehicle you take the CDL test in must also relate to the type of vehicle the driver expects to operate.
Restrictions are placed on a CDL when a driver takes the Skills Test in a vehicle which lacks critical equipment present in particular types of CMVs. Examples of these restrictions are listed below. Therefore, to avoid restrictions, drivers should take the Skills Test in the same type of vehicle for which they are seeking a CDL to operate.
Drivers are required to obtain and hold a CDL if they operate in interstate, intrastate, or foreign commerce and drive a vehicle that meets one or more of the classifications of a CMV are also described below.
Safe operations regulations. Driver-related elements of the regulations contained in parts 391, 392, 393, 395, 396, and 397 of this subchapter, such as:
All applicants must meet the following skills requirements to obtain a CDL:
Pre-trip vehicle inspection skills. Applicants for a CDL must possess the following basic pre-trip vehicle inspection skills for the vehicle class that the driver operates or expects to operate:
A) All test vehicles. Applicants must be able to identify each safety-related part on the vehicle and explain what needs to be inspected to ensure a safe operating condition of each part, including:
B) Air brake equipped test vehicles. Applicants must demonstrate the following skills with respect to inspection and operation of air brakes:
All commercial drivers of vehicles in interstate commerce with a maximum gross vehicle weight rating of over 10,000 pounds are required to obtain and maintain a valid Medical Examiner's Certificate (ME Certificate). CDL holders must provide their SDLA with a copy of their ME Certificate.
All CDL holders must declare to their State Driver Licensing Agency (SDLA) that they only operate or expect to operate commercially in 1 of 4 possible categories with their CDL. This process is called self-certification. The four categories are:
A person is physically qualified to drive a CMV if that person: First perceives a forced whispered voice in the better ear at not less than five feet with or without the use of a hearing aid or if tested by use of an audiometric device, does not have an average hearing loss in the better ear greater than 40 decibels at 500Hz, 1000HZ and 2,000 Hz with or without a hearing aid when the audiometric device is calibrated to the American National Standard Z24.5-1951.
You must meet the following vision requirements:
Your urine sample will be tested in a lab for blood, sugar, and protein, which might indicate hidden health problems.
Drivers with physical impairments, which affect their ability to safely operate CMVs, must obtain a "variance" from their State in order to be approved to drive commercially. The variance document must be carried with the commercial driver whenever they are operating a commercial motor vehicle. A Skill Performance Evaluation (SPE) is a special type of "variance" required for drivers with impaired or missing limbs (e.g., a hand or finger, an arm, foot, or leg). Drivers with missing limbs, if eligible, must obtain an SPE certificate. The commercial driver must always carry the SPE certificate at all times.
The Skill Performance Evaluation program is for CMV drivers who drive in interstate commerce. The SPE certification allows drivers with missing or impaired limbs to drive CMVs across state lines if they have been fitted with (and are wearing) the right prosthetic device, and the driver can demonstrate the ability to drive the truck safely by completing on-and off-road activities. If the driver passes the driving test, he or she will receive a SPE certificate. Over the years, FMCSA has granted more than 3,000 SPE certificates to truck drivers who have shown that they can drive safely on the nation's highways.
Any person who holds a CDL is considered to have consented to such testing as is required by any State or jurisdiction in the enforcement of being under the influence of a controlled substance or using alcohol, be under the influence of alcohol, or have any measured alcohol concentration or detected presence of alcohol, while on duty, or operating, or in physical control of a commercial motor vehicle. Consent is implied by driving a commercial motor vehicle.
Although the driver has a legal prescription, he/she may be disqualified if the medication could adversely affect the driver's ability to drive a CMV safely.
State Driver Licensing Agencies (SDLAs) have the authority to substitute two years of experience safely operating trucks or buses equivalent to civilian commercial vehicles for the skills test portion of the commercial driver license (CDL) test. U.S. Military drivers must apply within one year of leaving a military position requiring operation of a commercial vehicle. Currently every State offers the military skills test waiver. The latest information (February 2017) indicates that more than 19,000 current and former military have taken advantage of the Skills Test Waiver, making them immediately eligible for employment.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation 49 CFR 383.77, requires the applicant to certify to an SDLA:
Here you will find the Application for Military Skills Test Waiver form
FMCSA regulations specifically exempt only military personnel with comparable safe-driving experience from getting CDL's. States are authorized to provide exemptions for the rest of the following at their own discretion:
States must exempt individuals who operate vehicles for military purposes from the requirements for CDL drivers. This exemption includes active military, reserves and members of the National Guard. This exception does not apply to U.S. Reserve technicians.
Service members who are or were employed within the past year (12 months) in a military position requiring the operation of a military motor vehicle equivalent to a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) and who want to drive CMV's in civilian life can apply for a Skills Test Waiver to get their CDL.
See Also: Military Skills Test Waiver
Covering actual farm-to-market operations, not commercial grain haulers. Drivers must be 21 years old, and vehicle must have farm plates. Farm workers are not required to have a CDL to operate vehicles:
Those who operate CMV's necessary to preserving life or property, or performing emergency governmental functions, have signals that can be seen and heard, and are not subject to normal traffic laws. These include fire trucks, foam or water transport trucks, police SWAT team vehicles, ambulances and any other emergency vehicles.
Drivers operating recreational vehicles (RV's) for their own non-commercial use can be exempted from CDL requirements.
Many states will have specific CDL exemptions that apply to workers in smaller towns or to state and local government employees in general. You will have to check with your specific state regulations.
The FMCSA regulations specify certain circumstances that will disqualify a driver from legally operating a CMV, temporarily or permanently.
Issues resulting in disqualification apply only to CDL or CLP holders, or those required to have a CLP or CDL in the vehicle they are operating. Tickets, DUI or DWI, and other legal issues that happened before a driver was issued a CDL or CLP, or to non-CDL or CLP holders, who were not required to have one, will affect drivers only as far as company policy, with the exception of getting the Hazmat endorsement.
See Also: TSA Disqualifying Offenses & Factors
In extreme cases, the FMCSA may disqualify drivers deemed to be an "imminent hazard", and remove them from the road.
See Also: Disqualification of drivers determined to constitute an imminent hazard.
Some circumstances will result in a lifetime disqualification from operating CMV's, with some being eligible for reinstatement after 10 years. A driver who uses a CMV in the commission of a felony involving manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing a controlled substance is disqualified for life with no possibility of reinstatement.
An out-of-service order stipulates that a CDL or CLP holder not drive a commercial vehicle for a certain period of time, or until such time as they are re-instated to service.
In addition to disqualification, drivers who violate out-of-service orders will be fined a civil penalty of at least $2,500 for the first offense, and $5,000 for any additional offenses.
Follow this link to learn more about CDL Driver Disqualifications