Applying for a New CDL in Montana
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Before applying for a commercial driver's license (CDL) familiarize yourself with the Montana Commercial Driver License Manual. It is chock-full of Montana's driving rules and regulations and towers as your best source for license preparation. To qualify for a Montana CDL you must:
- Be 21 years old to drive interstate, or 18 years old if all driving is done in state, you aren't operating double or triple trailer rigs, and you aren't transporting hazardous materials requiring placards.
- Obtain a Department of Transportation (DOT) medical examiner's card.
- Hold a valid Montana driver license.
To apply for a Montana CDL you must:
- Bring validated proof that you hold a Montana driver license.
- Provide a Social Security card.
- Provide proof of United States citizenship or proof that you are legally authorized to be in the country if you do not own a regular, Class D Montana driver license.
- Pass written (knowledge), driving (skills), and visual tests.
- Obtain special endorsements that apply to your license which include: hazardous materials, school bus, tank, passenger, and double/triple trailer endorsements.
- Pay testing and CDL fees.
You'll first be given a CDL learner permit after passing your knowledge test, giving you time to practice before taking on your pre-trip and driving skills tests.
The fee for a Montana CDL depends largely on your age, if it is an interstate or intrastate CDL, and whether or not you have any endorsements. For information on fees specific to you see the Montana CDL fees chart.
Most CDLs are valid for 5 years (21 to 70 years old). CDL drivers of other ages will have shorter validity times.
- A Type 1 Certification grants a driver permission to drive a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce.
- A Type 2 Certification lets a driver operate a commercial vehicle in intrastate commerce only in Montana.
Once you feel you are license-ready, call the MVD Customer Service Center at (866) 450-8034 to schedule a driving test (skills test). You can also use the online appointment scheduler for exam stations that allow online scheduling.
Not every exam station provides testing for Class A, B, and C licenses so be sure to call ahead. And also ask if you'll need to bring a pre-paid licensing receipt from the county treasurer. This requirement varies with each exam station.
Which knowledge test you take depends on which type of license and endorsement you will need to operate your vehicle:
- A General Knowledge test must be taken by all CDL applicants regardless of vehicle type.
- An Air Brakes test is required if your vehicle has air brakes.
- Applicants driving combination vehicles that require a Class A CDL must take a Combination Vehicle test.
- A Hazardous Materials (H) test is mandatory if you will be transporting hazardous materials that require placards.
- If you will be pulling double or triple trailers, an appropriately named Doubles & Triples (T) test will be required.
- A Tank Vehicles (N) test must be taken if you will be driving a tank with a hauling capacity that exceeds 1,000 gallons.
- If you will be driving a bus you must take the Passenger Transport (P) test.
The skills test will be divided into three segments:
- A Pre-Trip Vehicle Inspection test involves testing your understanding of when and when not your vehicle is safe to drive. In some ways, this exam resembles a vehicle inspection only that you'll be asked to do the explaining.
- During the Basic Vehicle Control test, you will be asked to maneuver your vehicle forward, backward, and to turn it within a defined radius.
- The On-Road test will require you to display your driving skills in a wide range of road situations.
Federal CDL Regulations
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 multiple driver's licenses. You can hold a regular or commercial driver's license, but not both. You can have a 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.
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 3 years. To operate a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce, you must be at least 21 years old. Many states allow those as young as 18 years old 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 lbs. or more, provided the GVWR of the vehicle(s) being towed is in excess of 10,000 lbs.
- Class B: Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 lbs. or more, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle not in excess of 10,000 lbs. 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 passengers or more (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 endorsements that you can apply for. Each requires separate written and 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)
Requirements for Medical Certification
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. All drivers who operate a motor vehicle with a gross vehicle weight or weight rating (GVW or GVWR) of more than 4,536 kgs. (10,000 lbs.) in interstate commerce MUST have a medical certification.
You must carry a current copy of your medical examination certificate with you when you drive. The state will keep it on hand for 3 years, after which time you must re-certify.
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'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 Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) guidelines. Many employers require their drivers to take PTDI-approved training.
Some states may specify minimum training guidelines. Check with your Montana motor vehicles office to see if there are minimum training requirements to get your CDL.
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 pay:
- $38 for fingerprints.
- $34 for the TSA background check.
- $14.50 for the FBI background check.
If you live in a non-TSA agent state, your fees may be higher.
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 5 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 Safety Association.