Applying for a New CDL in Michigan
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If you plan to drive a commercial vehicle in Michigan, you'll first need to acquire your commercial driver license (CDL).
The requirements for obtaining a CDL in Michigan mirror federal requirements (see below).
To apply for a CDL in Michigan, you'll need to first produce proof of your Social Security number to the Secretary of State. You can present your Social Security card, a W-2 income tax form, an employee paycheck stub showing your name and Social Security number, or a military identification card.
You also need to prove your Michigan residency. If you already have a Michigan-issued driver license, that proof will be adequate.
You'll need to meet the federal commercial driver qualification requirements, including the medical qualifications. When applying for your CDL, you'll need to sign form BFS 103 that says you meet these requirements before receiving your CDL. You'll also need to provide a valid Medical Examiner's Certificate per the Department of Transportation (a DOT card) or a medical waiver to your examiner before you can take a CDL road test.
For information on medical and physical requirements to drive commercial vehicles in Michigan, contact:
- 1131 Centennial Way
- Lansing, MI 48917
- (517) 321-1951
For information on medical and physical requirements to drive commercial vehicles across state lines, contact:
- 315 W. Allegan St., Room 219
- Lansing, MI 48933
- (517) 853-5990
For information on the medical and physical requirements to drive school buses in Michigan, contact:
- Office of School Support Services
- P.O. Box 30008
- Lansing, MI 48909
- (517) 373-6388
Your driving record will be checked before you can even apply for a CDL. You can be denied a CDL for:
- Having a license from more than one state.
- An active Michigan or out-state suspension, revocation, denial, or cancellation of your driving privilege.
- A suspension or revocation in the three years preceding application.
- Conviction of any six-point violation in the 24 months immediately preceding application.
- Conviction for operating a commercial motor vehicle while impaired in the 24 months immediately preceding application.
Everything you need to know to earn your CDL is in the Secretary of State's Commercial Driver License Manual. In it, you'll find information on written and skills tests.
What written tests you take will depend upon what level of CDL you desire, and what specific endorsements you need.
- Group A―Requires you to take a written test of 70 questions as well as a driving skills test. The Group A license will allow you to operate Group B and C vehicles without further testing. The state defines a Group A vehicle as "any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 pounds or more, provided the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle(s) being towed is 10,001 pounds or more."
- Group B―Requires you to take a written test of 50 questions as well as a driving skills test. With a Group B license, you also can operate a Group C vehicle. The state defines Group B vehicles as "any single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,000 pounds or less."
- Group C―Requires you to take a written test of 50 questions as well as a driving skills test. The state defines Group C vehicles as "any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or less, or combination of vehicles and the GVWR of the vehicle being towed is 10,000 pounds or less, designed to: (A) transport 16 or more persons (including the driver); or (B) transport hazardous materials in amounts requiring placards."
To earn additional endorsements, you'll also need to take a written test. The same is true if you'll be driving a vehicle with air brakes. The list of endorsements follows:
- H―Hazardous Material
- X―Combined H and N
- S―School Bus
- T―Double Trailers
Depending on which endorsement you're trying to attain, you may be asked questions relating to a wide variety of subjects, including:
- Vehicle inspection
- Night driving
- Vehicle control
- Winter driving
- Shifting gears
- Staying alert
- Inspecting cargo
- Cargo weight and balance
- Air brake system parts
- Driving combinations
- Inspecting tank vehicles
- Pulling double/triple trailers
When you pass your written test, you will be issued a temporary instruction permit, or TIP. You must be issued a TIP before you will be eligible to take a road test. With your TIP, you may enroll in a commercial driver training course to get behind-the-wheel driving instruction.
Once you've passed the written knowledge test, gotten your temporary instruction permit, and practiced your driving skills in a commercial vehicle, you'll move on to the driver skills tests. All skills testing in Michigan is administered by third-party organizations.
You can use the Road Skills Testing Organization Locator to help find a testing center near you.
Not all counties have approved third-party driver skills test sites. Michigan doesn't regulate the fees charged by testing organizations, so you'd be wise to shop around a bit.
What you'll be tested on will vary with the type of CDL license and endorsements (if any) you're seeking. You'll be expected to:
- Do an inspection of your vehicle and be able to explain why you look at individual components.
- Understand basic vehicle controls. That includes being able to move your rig without problems.
- Be able to drive your vehicle safely in traffic, around obstacles, and on hills.
The fees for a commercial driver's license, as with everything else, vary based on the type of license you are getting and the number of endorsements:
- Base Operator: $25
- Base Chauffeur: $35
- CDL Vehicle Group Designation: $25
- CDL Endorsements (if any): $5 each ($10 for "X" endorsement}
- Correction fee (if applicable): $18
You must self-certify your type of vehicle operation with the Michigan 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.
- Fax to (517) 636-4359
- Drop off at any SOS office
- Mail to:
- Michigan Department of State
- CDL Help Desk
- 7064 Crowner Drive
- Lansing, MI 48918
Questions? Call (517) 322-5555.
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.
- $17.25 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.
Other Topics in This Section
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- 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
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