- Location: Illinois
Applying for a New CDL in IllinoisGet Free Commercial Auto Insurance Quotes from Multiple Providers
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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 $60 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 $20.
- 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 two 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 three areas. Each must be passed before the next section may be attempted:
- 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.
The Illinois Commercial Driver's License Study Guide runs 161 pages. This should tell you it is well worth your time and effort to review the manual before attempting to pass the test(s).
The Illinois Commercial Driver's License Study Guide can be downloaded free, or a printed copy can be obtained at any Illinois driver's license office providing CDL services. It's be a good idea to call to see if they have the handbook on hand before you head down to pick one up.
You might be able to pass the written test just by studying the manual. But to pass the road test, you're going to need professional training from a commercial driving school.
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.
To schedule your Illinois CDL skills test at the South Holland, Elk Grove, or West Chicago facilities, call 217-785-3013, Tuesday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
For all other Illinois CDL facilities, call (217) 785-3013, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
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.
Information on the medical testing process and requirements for your specific license can be obtained by contacting:
- Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT)
- Commercial Vehicle Safety Section
- Motor Carrier Safety Unit
- 3215 Executive Park Drive
- Springfield, IL 62703
- (217) 785-1181
The federal guidelines below apply to all states. More Illinois-specific CDL information is available from the Illinois Secretary of State Driver Services department, which also publishes a list of CDL FAQs.
You must self-certify your type of vehicle operation with the Illinois SOS by January 2014. 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.
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. 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.
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. To operate a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce, you must be at least 21. Many states allow those as young as 18 to drive commercial vehicles within the state. 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 between one and five knowledge (written) tests, and two 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)
In the interest of public safety on the highways, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations require interstate commercial drivers to be medically fit to operate their vehicles safely and competently. You are required to have a physical exam and carry a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) medical certificate if:
- You operate a motor vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or gross combination weight rating (GCWR) or gross vehicle weight (GVW) or gross combination weight (GCW) of 4,536 kilograms (10,001 pounds) or more in interstate commerce.
- You operate a motor vehicle designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, in interstate commerce.
- You operate a motor vehicle designed or used to transport between nine and 15 passengers, for direct compensation, beyond 75 air miles from your regular work-reporting location, in interstate commerce.
- You transport hazardous materials in quantities requiring placards, in interstate commerce.
You must carry a current copy of your medical examination certificate with you when you drive. Residents of Mexico or Canada who drive in the United States can be certified by doctors in their countries, provided they meet the U.S. 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'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 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 train their employees, while other drivers take courses at private driving schools, vocational or technical schools, and community colleges. Individual states often 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 Federal Highway Administration (FHA) guidelines. Many employers require their drivers to take PTDI-approved training.
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. The requirement is a result of the USA PATRIOT Act (Public Law 107-56, Section 1012) and the Safe Explosives Act (Public Law 107-296, Section 1121-1123), ARS 28-3103(A)(2), and 49 CFR 1572.
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 pay:
- $38 for fingerprints.
- $34 for the TSA background check.
- $14.50 for the FBI background check.
The TSA attempts to finish background checks within 30 days. 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.
- Hazmat endorsements must be renewed at least every five years.
- Your state might require renewal more often.
- Get a new background check each time you renew your hazmat endorsement.
You must arrange for the background check no less than 30 days before the expiration of your current approval, or your CDL may be canceled.
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 Association.
- Getting Behind the Wheel of a Big Rig: How to Land a Trucking Job
- Want to Do Even More with Your CDL? CDL Classes and Endorsements
- CDL Holders: Completing the Medical Exam Report Requirement
- How to Apply for a Hazardous Materials Endorsement
- Commercial Driver’s License Requirements: Do You Have What It Takes?
- How to Prepare for the CDL Test