Applying for a New CDL in CaliforniaPage Overview
The State of California defines a commercial vehicle as one that transports for hire either people or products. Commercial vehicles include any vehicle that transports hazardous materials; vehicles designed to tow other vehicles; and vehicles of a certain weight or axle construction.
In California, you must be at least 18 years old to hold a driving job, including driving a school bus. Only those 21 years old or older may drive a commercial vehicle across state lines (interstate) or carry hazardous materials. Those applying for a CDL to transport hazardous materials must undergo a security check.
The first thing you must do is get a practice permit by passing a written test. Study the California Commercial Driver Handbook.
When you know this backward and forward, go on down to the local DMV, where you'll:
- Fill out an Commercial Driver License Application (form DL 44C). Not available online.
- Provide proof of age and name.
- Get your picture taken and provide a thumbprint.
- Pass a vision test.
- Turn in a medical certificate.
- Verify your Social Security Number.
- Pay the application fee ($71 for Commercial Class A or B, $42for Commercial Class C); endorsements are extra.
To get a hazmat endorsement , finish applying for your CDL permit. Then contact the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for a background check, which includes having your fingerprints taken. Initiate the process by visiting the Hazardous Materials Endorsement (HME) site, or calling (877) 429-7746. This costs around $94.
See our Hazmat Background Checks section below for more information on the process.
Once you've gotten a permit, you'll need to become properly trained to drive a commercial vehicle. Technically, only school bus drivers are required to attend courses; but you will need access to the type of vehicle you'll be driving and you'll need to practice with someone who's got the same class of license. So unless you know someone with your type of vehicle, you'll be going to school. Luckily, employers usually offer this training if they require you to get a CDL.
When you're ready to take the wheel in front of an examiner, make an appointment at a Commercial Driving Test office.
- Bring the vehicle you'll be tested in. It must be the same class of vehicle you are being licensed for.
- Pass a vehicle inspection.
- Pass a skills and driving test in that vehicle. Alternatively, you may submit a Certificate of Driving Skill (DL 170ETP) signed by both you and your employer to have this portion of the test waived.
Upon completion of these steps, you will be issued an interim CDL that is valid for 90 days; your regular CDL will be mailed to you.
For more information about getting your CDL, consult the official site of the California DMV.
Even if you have a current, valid CDL from another state, if you move to California you will likely have to begin the commercial licensing process from the start to obtain your California CDL. Call (800) 777-0133 for details on how to proceed in your particular situation.
NOTE: If you hold an out-of-state CDL learner's permit, you can use it to take the California CDL driving skills test at a CA DMV office. The California DMV will transfer your results to the DMV office in your state.
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
If you choose Non-Excepted Interstate, you must provide the DMV with a federal medical certificate.
The Federal Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 ensures that drivers of commercial vehicles are qualified, and removes unsafe drivers from the highways. The Act didn't require federal driver licensing―states still license commercial drivers―but it required states to upgrade their programs.
Before the Act was passed, many commercial vehicle drivers operated vehicles they were not qualified to drive. 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 (though a commercial license covers noncommercial driving, too). 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.
The testing, licensing, and safety regulations for people who hold a commercial driver's license (CDL) from the State of California meet or exceed the standards set by the federal government.
You must have a clean driving record. Federal regulations require you to pass a physical exam every two years. 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 aforementioned Act established three separate classes of commercial driver's licenses. Every state issues licenses in these categories:
- Class A: Any combination of vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GWVR) of 26,001 lbs or more, provided the GVWR of the vehicle(s) being towed is in excess of 10,000 lbs, including any under Class B and C.
- Class B: Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 lbs or more, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle not in excess of 10,000 lbs GVWR, including any under Class C.
- Class C: A Class C vehicle that carries hazardous materials; or, with endorsements, a 16 passengers or more capacity. This includes the driver.
There are the five endorsements that you can apply for. Each requires knowledge (written) tests, and 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)
Learn more about the various CDL Endorsements.
How to Apply for an Endorsement
Call (800) 777-0133 to make an appointment for an endorsement test. When you arrive at the Commercial Driving Test site, you must have:
- Your permit.
- The appropriate type of vehicle for your particular endorsement and, if required, an accompanying licensed driver.
- Proof of insurance.
California's Commercial Driver Handbook serves as your best study source.
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.
The 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 must learn how to inspect vehicles before driving; how to couple and uncouple tractors and trailers; and have had the time to practice driving. This includes driving in different weather conditions and on road surfaces, turning, parking, backing up, and braking.
Many motor carriers train their own employees. Independent drivers or those wanting more education, take courses at private driving schools, vocational or technical schools, and community colleges. The Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) sets minimum standards for training curricula and driver training courses are certified that meet industry and Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration(FMCSA) guidelines. Employers may require their drivers to take PTDI-approved training.
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. Meeting these requirements is sometimes mistakenly referred to as passing a California hazmat test.
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 be responsible for various fees.
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 Safety Association.
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