Applying for a New CDL in Arizona
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Before you begin the process of applying for a commercial driver's license (CDL) from the Arizona Department of Transportation's Motor Vehicle Division (MVD), first confirm whether you need a CDL. You'll only need a CDL if you're driving a large vehicle in an official capacity, either on the job or as a volunteer for an organization. Many large vehicles, including most mobile homes and vehicles with boat trailers, do not require a CDL.
To determine whether your vehicle requires that you have a CDL to drive it, find out the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) and compare it with the descriptions below:
- If you will drive a combination vehicle (truck and trailer) whose trailer has a GVWR of 10,001 pounds or more and whose total GVWR with the truck is 26,001 pounds or more, you will need a Class A CDL.
- If you will drive a vehicle whose GVWR is 26,001 pounds or more, you will need a Class B CDL. With the Class B license, you can also tow a trailer whose weight does not exceed 10,000 pounds.
- If you will transport hazardous materials or more than 15 people (including the driver) in a vehicle whose GVWR is 26,000 pounds or less, you will need a Class C CDL.
Now that you have determined that you do need a CDL, you must acquire a CDL instruction permit.
To acquire a CDL instruction permit, first obtain a CDL manual from an MVD CDL office. Please note: Only the offices listed here can conduct CDL transactions, and you must always call first to make an appointment.
Second, have a licensed physician examine you according to the guidelines specified on the Department of Transportation (DOT) Physical Examination Form.
Once these two steps have been completed, take the following items to an MVD CDL office to take the written examinations for the CDL instruction permit:
- Your completed, signed DOT Physical Examination Form.
- Proof that you have held a regular driver's license for at least one year (this proof can take the form of a current driver's license or a motor vehicle report from another state).
- An Arizona driver's license (if you are coming from another state, the Arizona MVD will have to assign you a limited Arizona driver's license and cancel your out-of-state license before you take your written examinations).
- Your Social Security card.
Once you pass the written examinations, you will be issued an instructional permit that will allow you to practice driving a commercial vehicle for six months. If you do not receive your permanent CDL before the end of your six months, you will be required to reapply for the CDL instruction permit before taking the test to receive your permanent CDL.
When you are ready to take your test for a permanent Arizona CDL, make an appointment and bring the following to the MVD CDL office at the specified time:
- Your CDL instruction permit
- Your application fee (see below for details)
- The commercial motor vehicle you're taking the test in (see below for details)
- Class A CDL: $25
- Class B CDL: $25
- Class C CDL: $12.50
- Endorsements: $10 each
- Motorcycle endorsement: $7
Commercial Vehicle for the Test
You will need to do the behind-the-wheel portion of your CDL test in a vehicle whose class matches the one for which you are applying. If you are not able to provide the appropriate vehicle, you can contact the MVD's third-party vehicle program at (602) 712-7173 for a list of agencies that can test you in one of their vehicles. The MVD does not provide vehicles for drivers' tests.
If you are applying for an endorsement, you will have to take some extra steps. For new endorsements other than hazardous materials (hazmat), you must take written tests in addition to paying the nominal fees and submitting the DOT Physical Examination Form.
You must self-certify your type of vehicle operation with the Arizona MVD by January 2014. This means you must self-certify one of the following driving categories:
- Non-Excepted Interstate
- Excepted Interstate
- Non-Excepted Intrastate
- Excepted Intrastate
If you choose Non-Excepted Interstate, you must provide the MVD with a federal medical certificate and always maintain a current medical certificate with the MVD.
Under the USA PATRIOT Act, commercial drivers transporting hazardous materials (hazmat) must pass a background records check and be fingerprinted. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is responsible for conducting the background checks for all commercial drivers with hazmat endorsements or who want to add hazmat endorsements to their licenses. The TSA developed this program to carry out the USA PATRIOT Act mandate and protect citizens from the potential threat of terrorists using hazmat cargo. The requirement is a result of the USA PATRIOT Act (Public Law 107-56, Section 1012) and the Safe Explosives Act (Public Law 107-296, Section 1121-1123), ARS 28-3103(A)(2), and 49 CFR 1572.
If the TSA disqualifies you because of your background, you can appeal their finding or seek a waiver. However, if you are found guilty of a disqualifying crime, you must declare any disqualifying conditions and surrender your hazmat endorsement (if you already have it) to your state's department of motor vehicles or other licensing agency.
Applying for a Hazardous Materials Background Check
After you get a CDL, apply for a background check from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) if you'll be obtaining a hazardous materials endorsement. You may do this online or by contacting a TSA agent. They will ask for:
- Your CDL or CDL permit number.
- Proof of legal status.
- Proof of Identity.
Next, the TSA will ask you to go to a fingerprint office to give your fingerprints. The TSA and the FBI will conduct background investigations. You will pay:
- $38 for fingerprints.
- $34 for the TSA background check.
- $17.25 for the FBI background check.
The TSA attempts to finish background checks within 30 days. You will be notified by mail. If you are approved, you can then go to your state's licensing authority (wherever you got your CDL) to complete your hazmat application process. If you are denied, you can appeal or seek a waiver.
- Hazmat endorsements must be renewed at least every five years.
- Your state might require renewal more often.
- Get a new background check each time you renew your hazmat endorsement.
You must arrange for the background check no less than 30 days before the expiration of your current approval, or your CDL may be canceled.
Conviction of any of the following crimes will disqualify you from being eligible for a hazmat endorsement:
- Assault with intent to murder
- Kidnapping or hostage-taking
- Rape or aggravated sexual abuse
- Immigration violations
- RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) violations
- Unlawful possession, use, sale, distribution, or manufacture of an explosive device, firearm, or other weapon
- Distribution of, intent to distribute, possession, or importation of a controlled substance
- Dishonesty, fraud, or misrepresentation, including identity fraud
- Crimes involving a severe transportation security incident
- Improper transportation of a hazardous material
- Conspiracy or attempt to commit any of these crimes
Remember that your state also has its own guidelines that may be stricter than the federal ones. For more information, consult your employer, the DMV, or the Federal Motor Carrier Association.
The Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 was designed to improve highway safety. Its purpose was to ensure that drivers of commercial vehicles are qualified to drive them, and to remove unsafe drivers from the highways. The Act didn't require federal driver licensing―states still license commercial drivers―but it established minimum standards that states must meet when issuing commercial driver's licenses (CDLs). It required states to upgrade their existing programs to follow the new federal standards.
Before the Act was passed, many commercial vehicle drivers operated vehicles they were not properly trained on or qualified to drive. Even in states that had separate license classes, drivers were not necessarily tested in the types of vehicles they would be driving. States must now test commercial drivers according to federal standards, to ensure that drivers know how to operate the trucks or buses they intend to drive.
The Act also made it illegal to have more than one driver's license. You can hold a regular or commercial driver's license, but not both. You can have one license from the state you reside in, but not from any other states. In the past, bad drivers could more easily hide their driving histories by getting several licenses. Today, all the states are connected to a national database to check driver histories.
To be eligible for a CDL, you must have a clean driving record. Federal regulations require you to pass a physical exam every two years. To operate a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce, you must be at least 21. Many states allow those as young as 18 to drive commercial vehicles within the state. You must be able to read and speak English well enough to read road signs, prepare reports, and communicate with the public and with law enforcement.
The Act established three separate classes of commercial driver's licenses. Every state issues Class A, B, and C licenses in the categories listed above.
Many states make exceptions for farm vehicles, snow removal vehicles, fire and emergency vehicles, and some military vehicles.
To be licensed for certain types of commercial vehicles, extra testing is required. If you pass, you will receive an endorsement on your CDL. These are the five endorsements that you can apply for. Each requires between one and five knowledge (written) tests, and two require driving (skills) tests.
- T―Double/Triple Trailers (knowledge test only)
- P―Passenger (knowledge and skills tests)
- N―Tank Vehicle (knowledge test only)
- H―Hazardous Materials (knowledge test only)
- S―School Buses (knowledge and skills tests)
In the interest of public safety on the highways, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations require interstate commercial drivers to be medically fit to operate their vehicles safely and competently. You are required to have a physical exam and carry a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) medical certificate if:
- You operate a motor vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or gross combination weight rating (GCWR) or gross vehicle weight (GVW) or gross combination weight (GCW) of 4,536 kilograms (10,001 pounds) or more in interstate commerce.
- You operate a motor vehicle designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, in interstate commerce.
- You operate a motor vehicle designed or used to transport between nine and 15 passengers, for direct compensation, beyond 75 air miles from your regular work-reporting location, in interstate commerce.
- You transport hazardous materials in quantities requiring placards, in interstate commerce.
You must carry a current copy of your medical examination certificate with you when you drive. Residents of Mexico or Canada who drive in the United States can be certified by doctors in their countries, provided they meet the U.S. requirements.
There are no federal standards in place for on-the-road commercial driver training. The government only requires that you take and pass your CDL knowledge (written) and skills (driving) tests. Longer-combination-vehicle (LCV) drivers must receive training in driver wellness, driver qualifications, hours of service, and whistleblower protection.
Your state's commercial driver's manual is a good place to learn basic information, but you will need to be professionally trained to drive a commercial motor vehicle.
In order to pass your driving skills tests, you will need to learn how to inspect vehicles before driving, learn how to couple and uncouple tractors and trailers, and have plenty of practice driving. This includes driving in different conditions and on different road surfaces, turning, parking, backing up, and braking.
Many motor carriers train their employees, while other drivers take courses at private driving schools, vocational or technical schools, and community colleges. Individual states often approve or certify training courses. The Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) has set minimum standards for training curriculums and certifies driver training courses that meet industry and Federal Highway Administration (FHA) guidelines. Many employers require their drivers to take PTDI-approved training.
Other Topics in This Section
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- Getting Behind the Wheel of a Big Rig: How to Land a Trucking Job
- Want to Do Even More with Your CDL? CDL Classes and Endorsements
- CDL Holders: Completing the Medical Exam Report Requirement
- How to Apply for a Hazardous Materials Endorsement
- Commercial Driver’s License Requirements: Do You Have What It Takes?
- How to Prepare for the CDL Test
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