Applying for a New CDL in Colorado
Unless you already possess a valid commercial driver license (CDL) from another state, which is easily transferable into a Colorado CDL, obtaining one from scratch is quite a process.
The first step in the route is applying for a CDL instruction permit.
Of course, before you head down to a local driver license office, you will need to collect a few things first, including a slew of legal documentation to prove you are who you are.
- You must be 18 years old.
- Provide documentation with your name and address.
- Show proof of US citizenship.
- Verification of your Social Security number, although it is not required to be listed on either the temporary permit or the actual CDL.
- Certificate showing the passing Department of Transportation (DOT) medical examination not more than 24 months old.
- Taking and passing the basic CDL written test, which will reflect the class and endorsements that you will cover in the CDL driving test. There are various independent companies that offer practice programs for the test, but you can also hunker down and study the CDL Driver Manual (DR 2251). The test is multiple choice and every question is lifted directly from the handbook, so there are no surprises. Be sure to check to make sure that the driver license office you choose administers written tests.
- Pay $9 permit fee.
Armed with a temporary permit you are now ready for the final stages of training toward gleaning an actual license. Depending on the class level and endorsements you are trying to achieve, the process could be a snap―or continue to drag out just a bit longer.
The last major hurdle, and the most important, is to train for and pass the CDL driving test. The driver license offices do not administer the test, instead choosing to outsource it to numerous private, third-party companies. The online list is updated on a monthly basis.
The actual test contains three parts:
- Pre-trip vehicle inspection
- Basic skills
- On-road Test
- Go to a full-service driver license office. There are plenty of limited service offices so make sure you head to the right place.
- Have all the proper identification, including a document with your Social Security number.
- Possess a current DOT medical certificate.
- Pass all the required written tests for the class and endorsements for which you are applying (see Federal Guidelines below for classes and endorsements).
- Pass the CDL driver tests.
- Be ready to relinquish your regular Colorado driver license along with the CDL temporary permit.
- Pay the $15.50 license fee.
- Finally, have your photo taken, and sign and fingerprint the license.
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 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 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.
CDL Classes for Every State
To be eligible for a CDL, you must have a clean driving record and 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 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 or more pounds, provided the GVWR of the vehicle(s) being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
- Class B: Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle not in excess of 10,000 pounds GVWR.
- Class C: Any single vehicle, or combination of vehicles, that does not meet the definition of Class A or Class B, but is either designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver, or is placarded for hazardous materials.
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 knowledge (written) tests, and 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)
Minimum Training 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 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 will train their employees to meet set standards, while other drivers have courses available at private commercial driving schools, technical or vocational schools, and some community colleges. Individual states may 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 FMCSA guidelines.
Some states may specify minimum training guidelines. Check with your state's motor vehicles department to see if there are minimum training requirements to get your CDL.
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.
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 costs and fees. For details, please visit TSA.gov.
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.
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.