Applying for a New CDL in Hawaii

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.

Applying for a CDL in Hawaii

Age Restriction

If you are ready to apply for a commercial driver's license in Hawaii, you should know there is one major requirement that sets Hawaii apart from other states. That is, you must be 21 years old to apply―period.


Other than these quirks, the rest of the process, coupled with the information discussed above in the federal CDL overview, is essentially the same as in other states:

  1. Have a passport-type photo taken. The photo must be in color.
  2. Fill out the CDL application.
  3. Present the examiner with your current driver's license, your Social Security card, and a certified birth certificate to verify your age.
  4. Supply a DOT medical report proving that you are fit to apply for a CDL.
  5. Take and pass an eye exam.
  6. Take and pass the written general knowledge test and any of the written endorsement exams. All of the information on the test is gleaned from the CDL Handbook.

If you make it this far with flying colors, you will be the proud owner of a CDL instruction permit. This document allows you to practice driving in the class of vehicle you intend to take the actual road test in. Of course, you must always be under the supervision of a licensed commercial driver while you are practicing.

Once you have undergone the necessary training or otherwise feel ready to take the next step, you can schedule an appointment to take the skills test. The skills test, or on-road driving test, is administered only at select offices. If you meet with success on the skills test, you simply pay the final fees (see below) and you are ready for the road.


  • CDL general knowledge test: $15
  • CDL endorsement tests: $5 each
  • CDL instruction permit: $30
  • Complete skills test (including vehicle inspection, basic control, and road skills): $50
  • CDL operator license fee varies by county.

Restriction Codes

Depending on the type of commercial license you receive and the endorsements you earn for it, your CDL may come with restrictions:

  • Code K: CDL operator cannot drive a commercial vehicle with air brakes.
  • Code O: The CDL applicant is restricted from driving commercial vehicles with automatic transmissions.
  • Code X: If you have a "P" (passenger) endorsement , this restriction limits you to only driving B or C class commercial vehicles.
  • Code Y: Applies to those with a "P" endorsement who can only drive Class C vehicles.
  • Code Z: CDL holder cannot operate a Class A commercial vehicle with combination trailers.

New Federal Requirements

You must self-certify your type of vehicle operation with your county's licensing office.. 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 your county's licensing office with a federal medical certificate.

CDL Classes for Every State

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. 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 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 Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) only requires that you take and pass your CDL knowledge (written) and skills (driving) tests along with passing fitness, medical and other required tests. Longer-combination-vehicle (LCV) drivers must receive training in driver wellness, driver qualifications, hours of service, and whistleblower protection.

Hazmat Background Checks

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 fees.

Disqualifying Crimes

Conviction of any of the following crimes will disqualify you from being eligible for a hazmat endorsement:

  • Terrorism
  • Murder
  • Assault with intent to murder
  • Espionage
  • Sedition
  • Kidnapping or hostage-taking
  • Treason
  • Rape or aggravated sexual abuse
  • Extortion
  • Robbery
  • Arson
  • Bribery
  • Smuggling
  • 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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