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Applying for a New CDL in California

If you're considering driving a truck for hire, whether as a career or just for a short term, you will need a commercial driver's license (CDL). There are strict state and federal regulations for driving a commercial vehicle that require drivers to take specific steps in order to be eligible for a commercial driver's license in California.

CDLs and CMVs in California

Commercial driver's licenses, or CDLs, allow drivers to legally operate a commercial vehicle. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates CDLs for all states. Drivers seeking to obtain a commercial driver's license must pass a written as well as a behind the wheel skills test in order to qualify.

Commercial Vehicles

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) defines a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) as one that is hired for transportation of either people or products. Other specifics that identify a commercial vehicle include:

  • Weight: Must have a GVWR* of at least 26,001 lbs.
  • Size: Must have the capacity to safely hold more than 10 passengers, driver included.
  • Towing ability: Can either a trailer or another vehicle with a GVWR* of at least 10,001 lbs.
  • Materials hauled: Is legally certified through signage to carry hazardous materials.

*GVWR is gross vehicle weight rating.

CA CDL Eligibility Requirements

According to federal regulations, a driver must be at least 18 years old before they can apply for a commercial license. You'll need to be a minimum of 21 years old if you intend to:

Applying for a CDL in California

Step 1: Commercial Instruction Permit

Applying for a commercial driver's license starts by applying for a commercial instruction permit. There are multiple steps in this process.

To apply:

  • Submit:
    • An original California Commercial Driver License Application (Form DL 44C)—available at your local DMV office or by calling (800) 777-0133 to have one mailed to you.
    • A 10 Year History Check (Form DL 939), if required.
      • This is only applicable if you've had a driver's license in any other state within the past 10 years (whether under your current name or any other).
    • A Medical Examination Report (Form DL 51) that has been completed by a medical professional.
    • A Self-Certification Form (Form DL 694) declaring the type of commercial driving you intend to do (see Federal Self-Certification Requirements below).
    • Acceptable proof of:
      • Social Security number (ex. Social Security card, U.S. Armed Forces ID).
      • Birth date and legal presence.
  • Provide your thumbprint.
  • Have your photo taken.
  • Pass both a vision exam AND a written test applicable to the class of CDL you are applying for. You will be allowed 3 attempts.
  • Pay the appropriate fee for your license class.

Once all of the above has been completed, the DMV will issue a commercial instruction permit. With this permit, you can drive with another driver who possesses a valid California driver's license in the same class.

Step 2: Commercial Driver's License

Once you've got your commercial permit in hand, you'll need to apply for your full CDL by passing the skills and driving test.

To apply for a CDL, you'll need to:

  • Make an appointment by calling your local CDL office.
  • Bring the appropriate class of vehicle that you intend to drive.
    • The vehicle must pass a pre-trip inspection conducted by the DMV, with 3 attempts to pass.
  • EITHER:
    • Pass the driving skills test (you likewise have 3 attempts to pass).
      OR
    • Submit a Certificate of Driving Skill (Form DL170 ETP) signed by yourself and your employer. Only an employer that is authorized by the DMV to conduct a driving skills test may complete this form.

Once you've passed the skills test and submitted all the appropriate forms, you'll receive an interim commercial driver's license that expires after 90 days (or once your valid CDL arrives in the mail).

After you receive your photo CDL, you're free to start your adventures driving commercial vehicles.

Federal Self-Certification Requirements

You must self-certify your type of vehicle operation with the California DMV. This means you must self-certify one of the following driving categories:

  • Non-Excepted Interstate
  • Excepted Interstate
  • Non-Excepted Intrastate
  • Excepted Intrastate

Forms

DL 939

Include with CDL applications or renewals if you have had any driver's license in a different name OR a different state.

DL 44C

Apply for, renew, or replace a CDL. Available by calling or going to the DMV. Not available for download.

Contact your local DMV

DL 51

Medical form must be submitted when applying for a CDL or other special vehicle classes, such as school buses or farm vehicles.

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