Applying for a New CDL in South Carolina
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The first step to getting your Commercial Driver's License (CDL) should be studying the Commercial Driver's Manual. You can pick one up at your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), or request to have one mailed to you.
Before you head to the DMV to apply for your CDL, make sure you're familiar with South Carolina's requirements:
- You must be at least 18 years old to drive within the state; 21 years old to drive nationwide or to obtain the hazmat endorsement.
- You must pass a medical exam according to federal guidelines.
- You must pass a vision test.
- You must pass all knowledge (written) and skills (road) tests required for the type of license or permit you wish to receive. The road tests include a pre-trip inspection of your rig, obstacle course driving, and on-road driving.
Begin the application process by completing a CDL application, found at any DMV location.
To obtain your South Carolina CDL, you'll need to pay the following fees:
- $15 application fee
- $2 fee for each knowledge test you take
- $12.50 license fee.
Your CDL driving tests are free the first time you take them; however, there is a $25 fee if you must retake them. The fee includes all portions of the skills test: pre-trip inspection, obstacle course, and road test.
South Carolina CDLs are valid for 5 years and must be renewed in person.
New Federal Requirements
You must self-certify your type of vehicle operation with South Carolina's DMV. This means you must self-certify one of the following driving categories:
- Non-Excepted Interstate
- Excepted Interstate
- Non-Excepted Intrastate
- Excepted Intrastate
You'll need to submit a Commercial Driver's License (CDL) Holders Medical Certification Requirements (Form DL-405A) document.
If you choose Non-Excepted Interstate, you must also provide the DMV with a federal medical certificate.
Questions? The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's website provides detailed 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.
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 drive a CMV that weighs more than 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 South 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 own employees to meet the proper standards. Some drivers, such as independent contractors, have courses at vocational schools or technical schools,private driving schools and community colleges offering courses. The Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) sets the minimum standards for training and will give certification to driver training courses that meet industry and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) guidelines. Some employers will often require that their drivers 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
The South Carolina DMV no longer conducts TSA background checks and fingerprinting for HAZMAT endorsements. Instead, you will need to go to a TSA Universal Enrollment Center (you can view a list of centers here). The fee for these services is $86.50, paid to the TSA, and is in addition to all other fees paid to the DMV.
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.