Applying for a New CDL in Pennsylvania
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- Read the Manual
- How to Apply: Pennsylvania License Holders
- How to Apply: Out-of-state License Holders
- Required Exams
- New Federal Requirements
- Federal Guidelines
- CDL Classes for Every State
- Requirements for Medical Certification
- Minimum Training Requirements
- Hazmat Background Checks
If you've made the decision to earn a commercial driver's license (CDL), do yourself a favor and read the Pennsylvania Commercial Driver's Manual. It is chock-full of important information, including the application process, rules of the road, and what to expect on the written and road exams.
You can download the individual sections of the Commercial Driver's Manual in PDF format if you have the free Adobe Reader software. You can also snare a hard copy of the manual at any Driver and Vehicle Service Center throughout the state.
- You must already have a regular Pennsylvania driver's license.
- Complete a learner's permit application.
- Pay the permit and licensing fees listed on the application, including the "increase fee" for upgrading your regular license to a CDL.
- Once your information is processed, you'll receive in the mail a Knowledge Test Authorization (KTA). This will serve as proof that you are qualified by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) to take the knowledge exams.
- After you pass the required knowledge tests (the number of exams depends on what endorsements and license class you're pursuing), you will then be issued a permit that will allow you to operate the type of truck for which you are trying to get a license. You must be accompanied while driving by a holder of the appropriate-class CDL who's at least 21 years old.
- Hold your learner's permit and practice driving for at least 30 days. Then schedule a road skills test.
- Pass the road skills test.
- After passing your knowledge and skills tests, you'll be issued a camera card that you must take to any PennDOT Photo License Center. There you'll have your picture snapped and be issued your CDL after paying all appropriate licensing fees.
The lone difference to the above information is that you also must:
- Visit any PennDOT Driver and Vehicle Service Center.
- Surrender your out-of-state driver's license, regardless of type.
- Show your Social Security card.
If you surrender an out-of-state CDL, you will not be required to go through the full start-to-finish CDL testing process. You will, however, be asked to take a vision test (and some additional tests if you're a school bus driver or licensed to haul hazardous materials).
Knowledge (Written) Tests
The number of tests you are required to pass depends on the license class and the type of endorsements you are pursuing. All of the test questions are based on information contained in the Commercial Driver's Manual.
When you arrive to take your test, be sure to have your Pennsylvania driver's license and your Social Security card.
- Types of knowledge tests:
- Class A: 70 questions
- Class B: 50 questions
- Class C: 50 questions
- Passenger endorsement: 20 questions
- School bus endorsement: 25 questions
- Doubles/triples endorsement: 20 questions
- Tank vehicle endorsement: 20 questions
- Hazardous materials endorsement: 30 questions
- Air-brake restriction removal: 25 questions
Skills (Road) Tests
You can schedule a road test date either online or by calling (800) 423-5542. You won't be able to take the test before you've had your learner's permit for 30 days.
When you arrive for your road exam, you will need your learner's permit, the registration of the vehicle you're driving, proof of insurance, and the license of the driver accompanying you (who must be at least 21 years old and possess a license for the class of vehicle you're driving).
The exam will consist of three parts: pre-trip inspection, off-the-road maneuvering, and on-road driving.
If you have questions about the exams, call 1-800-932-4600 or mail your concerns to:
- CDL Unit
- P.O. Box 68679
- Harrisburg, PA 17106-8679
You must self-certify your type of vehicle operation with PennDOT 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, in addition to a completed self-certification application, provide PennDOT with a federal medical certificate.
Visit PennDOT's Fact Sheet page for full information.
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 curricula 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.
Pennsylvania, unlike most states, does not use the TSA for background checks. It does forward background checks to the Department of Homeland Security, as required by federal law.
First, you will have to get a CDL or CDL permit, at which time you need to request the hazmat endorsement test. Once you pass the test, apply at a Driver License center for the background check. You'll have to:
- Show proof of legal status and your CDL or CDL permit.
- Fill out a Hazardous Materials Background check form.
- Pay $60 for the background check and fingerprinting. The office will give you a list of fingerprinting locations.
Once the background check and fingerprints are approved, you'll receive a CDL in the mail with your photo and the Hazmat Endorsement on it.
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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