Applying for a New CDL in Illinois
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A commercial driver's license (CDL) is a bit trickier to get than a regular driver's license. To drive any kind of commercial vehicle, including those that carry passengers or hazardous materials, you'll need to receive special training, supply additional paperwork such as a medical certificate, take tests specific to the type of vehicle you wish to operate, and pay fees for each type of endorsement you seek for your CDL.
Commercial drivers must abide by a number of federal guidelines that apply across all states. The license classes and endorsements are the same across the country, and medical and background checks are also mandated at the federal level. For detailed information about these requirements, see "Federal Guidelines," below.
An applicant for an Illinois CDL should be ready to pay a number of fees. There are basic costs, and then any additional endorsements will require an additional fee (and more tests).
Most driver services facilities do not accept credit or debit cards. Bring your checkbook or cash to pay your Illinois CDL fees.
- A brand-new applicant without any existing Illinois driver license will pay $50 for their first Illinois CDL.
- Applicants who already have an ordinary Illinois driver license will pay $50.
- Applicants for a limited School Bus CDL pay just $9.
- Additional endorsements are $5 each.
Keep your wallet handy―most of these fees are payable again each time you renew your license.
You'll need to take different kinds of tests to get your CDL―written and behind the wheel. The basic written test for the Illinois CDL consists of a multiple-choice general knowledge quiz.
The vehicle-based testing includes:
- A pre-trip inspection of the vehicle conducted by the applicant while the examiner watches.
- A basic controls-skills test showing that the applicant knows where all of the controls are and can safely operate the vehicle and maneuver it through a marked path.
- The actual driving test itself along a predetermined route, with the inspector in the vehicle with the applicant. This test must be conducted using a vehicle that has a seat and seatbelt for the examiner, even if the applicant will normally be driving a vehicle with no second seat. The vehicle must also be properly registered.
You might be able to pass the written test just by studying the manual. But to pass the road test, you're may need professional training from a commercial driving school.
To help ensure that you pass your written test, we suggest learning with an online CDL practice test Illinois approved.
Scheduling Your Road Skills Test
Once you've passed your written exams, you will have to demonstrate your skills on the road. These tests need to be scheduled beforehand, and you need to provide the appropriate vehicle along with proof of current insurance for it.
If You Fail Your Written or Road Test
Illinois is lenient with those who fail the CDL testing, even repeatedly, but each test failure requires a waiting period before you are allowed to retest. These mandatory waiting periods grow longer the more times you fail to pass the test. This is designed to allow the applicant time to master the necessary materials and skills before marking up another test booklet or taking up the examiner's time for another road test.
Most CDLs require an official medical certificate showing that the driver is in good health and unlikely to have problems driving or controlling the vehicle. This certificate is not processed by the Secretary of State Driver Services Department, but rather by the Department of Transportation.
You must self-certify your type of vehicle operation with the Illinois SOS. 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 SOS 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'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.
To be eligible for a CDL, you must have a clean driving record. 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 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. So if you were asking yourself, what is a Class C license?, now you know.
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 endorsements that you can apply for.
- 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)
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.
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. The TSA background check takes about 30 to 45 days to complete and has a fee of $86.50 for the threat assessment.
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 in addition to the ones listed above.
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.