Applying for a New CDL in New York
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New York's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) may issue a commercial driver license (CDL) to applicants who are New York residents and already have a Class D, Class E, or Non-CDL Class C license. A valid CDL from another state also makes you eligible to apply for a CDL in New York, though federal law will require you to surrender your out-of-state license. If you don't already have any of the above licenses, you will need to obtain a regular Class D driver license before you may apply for a commercial license.
To apply for your first commercial license, take the following steps:
Read the portions of the New York State Commercial Driver's Manual that apply to the type and class of vehicle you want to drive. This comprehensive resource, available online in PDF format, will help you prepare for the written test, which you must pass to receive a learner's permit.
If you wish, also read our discussion about the benefits of commercial driver training. You might decide to integrate this into your CDL application plans.
Then appear at your local DMV office to take the written test and be issued a commercial learner's permit for the class and type of vehicle you wish to drive. Bring with you the following:
- A $10 fee for the permit
- Your existing New York driver license
- Your Social Security card
- An application form that will ask you to:
- List the states in which you have been issued a license over the past 10 years.
- Certify whether you comply with federal medical requirements for a CDL (and provide the medical examiner's licensing number). More information is available on Form MV-44.5. If you don't have a medical certificate, you may be limited to driving school buses or municipal vehicles.
- Pledge that your license has not been suspended or revoked in New York or any other state.
If you are applying for any endorsements to the standard CDL, there will be additional fees for those tests. You will also have the opportunity to prepay the $40 required for the road skills test that you will take later, or you may do so HAZMAT online or by calling (518) 402-2100.
You can only schedule the road skills test after you have paid the fee, and if you miss your appointment without cancelling at least 72 hours in advance, you'll forfeit your payment.
The learner's permit allows you to practice driving the type of commercial vehicle listed on the permit under the following conditions:
- You are accompanied at all times by another driver who holds a commercial license for the same or higher class of vehicle, with the appropriate endorsements.
- Neither the other driver's CDL nor your permit may contain any restrictions that prohibit driving the practice vehicle.
- The practice vehicle is not transporting any material that requires hazardous materials (hazmat) placards, even if you or the supervising driver carries hazmat endorsements.
Practice and prepare for your road test with a supervising driver. Your best bet for learning all the skills you need to pass the tests and drive a commercial vehicle safely is to enroll in a commercial driving course.
When you're about ready to take the road test, contact the DMV to schedule an appointment. It may take several weeks to get an appointment, so plan ahead.
You will need the Client ID number from your learner's permit and, if you prepaid for the test at a local DMV office, the receipt number. You won't need a driver education certificate because you already have a driver license in another class.
Before you arrive, be sure to review the Commercial Driver's Manual―particularly section 13, which explains what you will be expected to know for the on-road driving test.
Check out the list of road test locations; look for site names that include "CDL" in bold.
The DMV will calculate the fee for your license, which will depend on the class and expiration date of your current license, and the date you receive your CDL (the DMV won't speculate in advance how much this might be other than to say it will be "more" than the $75 to $90 fee for a standard license). Once everything checks out, the DMV will issue you temporary CDL―this one valid for 90 days―that allows you to drive for the three or four weeks it will take for your permanent photo CDL to arrive in the mail.
If you have a CDL from another state and have moved to New York, in most cases you can trade your out-of-state license for a New York CDL without getting a learner's permit and taking all the tests.
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 (GVWR) 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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