The State of California administers the Commercial Driver's License program through the Department of Motor Vehicles. Specific details about a California CDL can be found on the Commercial Driver License Information page.
A commercial driver license (CDL) is a license issued in accordance with Federal Regulations that allows an individual to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV). Federal regulations require that an applicant be:
California requires a 10-year history record check: The Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999, and applicable Federal Regulations require all commercial driver license (CDL) applicants including renewal applications to disclose whether they have been issued a driver license in the same or different name to operate any type of motor vehicle in another state or other jurisdiction within the previous 10 years. If the answer is "Yes" to the 10-year-history record question, a 10 Year History Record Check form (DL 939) should be completed and submitted with the Commercial Driver License Application.
TSA's Process: Federal regulations require a person who is applying for a California commercial driver license (CDL) with an original or renewal Hazardous Materials (HazMat) endorsement to undergo a security threat assessment. The USA Patriot Act requires the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to complete a security threat assessment (background records check) before the DMV issues a HazMat endorsement.
Start the TSA background records check after you apply for your CDL at DMV and successfully complete all appropriate knowledge tests. Go online to https://universalenroll.dhs.gov/ or call 1-855-347-8371 to make an appointment with a TSA agent. You must submit the applicable federal fee(s) and any additional required information to the designated TSA agent. The TSA agent will advise you of the fingerprint requirements. You must also provide the TSA agent with a DMV issued Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) and one of the following identification documents (ID):
Applicants also need to:
California recognizes the following federal classes:
To apply for a CLP, you will need to:
The State of California, in order to make it easier for military personnel trained by the military in the operation of heavy vehicles to obtain a civilian commercial driver license.
The Troops to Trucks program allows the DMV to waive the CDL driving test for qualified military service members who are, or were employed within the last year, in a military position requiring the operation of a military motor vehicle equivalent to a commercial motor vehicle on public roads and highways. Waiving the driving test requirement streamlines the CDL application process for service men and women and eliminates the need to provide a commercial motor vehicle. The driving test will not be waived for a school bus and/or passenger endorsement.
To qualify for the Troops to Trucks program, applicants must meet the requirements as detailed in federal regulation an applicant must certify that, during the two-year period immediately prior to applying for a CDL, he/she:
Also, an applicant must provide evidence and certify that he/she:
Commercial Class A or B:
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In order to obtain a California CDL there are a list of requirements that must be met, and getting your California CDL involves several steps. There are medical requirements and residency requirements, along with knowledge and skills requirements. The basic requirements for getting your cdl in California include:
Below we will list more general requirements, qualifications, disqualifications, and restrictions for getting a CDL in California.
You will need a CDL to operate any of the following vehicles:
Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight of 26,001 pounds or more, with trailer(s) weighing 10,000 pounds or more.
Any single vehicle having a gross weight of 26,001 pounds or more, or any such vehicle towing another weighing 10,000 pounds or less.
Any vehicle or combination of vehicles not meeting the definition of Class A or Class B, designed to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver), or any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded to carry hazardous material:
Many states issue a "Class D" license, which is not part of the FMCSA standards. Some use it to classify regular, passenger car drivers licenses, while some use it to classify specific weights or types of vehicles. This varies from state-to-state.
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 in California 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 California CDL 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 the state of California 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 California CDL when a driver takes the Skills Test in a vehicle which lacks critical equipment present in particular types of CMVs. Therefore, to avoid restrictions, drivers should take the Skills Test in the same type of vehicle for which they are seeking a California CDL to operate.
Drivers are required to obtain and hold a CDL in California 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.
The state of California has 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 California 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. 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
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 in California must provide their SDLA with a copy of their ME Certificate.
All California 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 the state of California 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 California commercial vehicle 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 California CDL is considered to have consented to such testing as is required by the state of California or 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.
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:
The state of California 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.
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
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