Applying for a New CDL in North Carolina


Obtaining your commercial driver license (CDL) can be a serious undertaking. The federal government has a large number of laws and regulations that pertain to all CDL applicants throughout the U.S. Those guidelines are listed below, but first we'll lay out the basic North Carolina procedure for applying.

In order to apply for a CDL in North Carolina, you will first have to apply for a learner's permit and learn to drive commercial vehicles. When applying, you will need to gather documents from the categories listed below. To avoid inconvenience, gather the necessary paperwork before visiting any driver license office to apply.

You need to be at least 18 years old to apply for a CDL. However, until you're 21 years old, your license will restrict you to in-state driving only. Once you're 21 years old, you're no longer restricted.

Depending on the kind of vehicle you'll be driving, you'll need to apply for various endorsements, or special qualifications for necessary skills, such as managing double and triple trailers, driving school buses, or transporting hazardous materials (hazmat).

School Bus Driver Requirements

To drive a school bus in North Carolina, you must be at least 18 years old, have at least 6 months of driving experience, and hold a class B or class C CDL (see classes in "Federal Guidelines" below). The CDL requires S and P endorsements as well as a School Bus Driver's Certificate. You receive the certificate upon completion of a special training program and passing an exam.

To drive a school activity bus, the same requirements must be met, with the exception of the School Bus Driver's Certificate. You do not need the certificate to drive a school activity bus.

New Federal Requirements

You must self-certify your type of vehicle operation with the North Carolina DOT. 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, in addition to a completed Medical Certification for Commercial Driver License (Form CDL-MED-1), provide the DOT with a federal medical certificate.

Questions? The NC DOT has answers.

Necessary Documentation to Apply for a CDL

  • Proof of residency―You must be a North Carolina resident to have a NC CDL. Examples include military orders, passports, INS documents, or bank statements. For a complete listing of acceptable documents, see the CDL Manual.
  • Proof of age and identity. For a complete listing of documents that satisfy the requirement for proof of age and identity, please see Chapter One of the Driver's Handbook.
  • Proof of Social Security number―For a North Carolina CDL, you must show your original Social Security card. If you do not have one or are ineligible for a Social Security number, see the CDL Manual for a list of acceptable substitutes.
  • Proof of liability insurance.
  • Proof of clear driving record―When you apply for an original or renewal CDL, you must provide proof of a clear driving record for personal and commercial vehicles. You must certify that your privilege to drive any motor vehicle is not suspended, revoked, or disqualified anywhere. You must also surrender any and all driver licenses upon obtaining your CDL, which will function for both commercial and personal vehicles. For details, visit the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles website.
  • Medical and physical requirements―If you are required to have a medical card, bring it with you when you apply for a new CDL or renew one. See more details in "Federal Guidelines" below.

Note: The printed version of the Commercial Driver's Manual contains complete details about state laws regarding physical qualifications and medical card exemptions. You can get a copy at any driver license office.

CDL Fees

A learner's permit will cost $15, and if you need a duplicate, the charge is $13. General CDL application fees start at $30, with an extra charge of $3 per endorsement each year.

The CDL fee is $15 per year, plus $3 per endorsement; but a CDL expires every 5 years, so you pay in advance.

Duplicate CDLs cost $13.

Requirements for Renewal

You will receive a reminder card in the mail before your license is up for renewal.

To renew your CDL, the vision and sign recognition tests are always required. In addition, you may have to retake your road test, at the discretion of the DMV examiner.

Federal Guidelines

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.

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.

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.

  • 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. You are required to have a Medical Examination Report (Form 649-F) and carry a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) medical certificate if you operate a motor vehicle weighing over 4,536 kgs. (10,000 lbs.) in interstate commerce.

You must carry a current copy of your medical examination certificate with you when you drive.

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.

The North Carolina 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 state's motor vehicles department 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 the following fees if your state is a TSA-agency state:

  • $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 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.

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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