Applying for a New CDL in South Dakota

Commercial Driver's Instruction Permit

You'll need to be at least 16 years old to get a CDL permit, and have a valid Class 1 or Class 2 operator's license. (Meaning that if you have motorcycle-only license, you won't qualify.)

If you haven't already done so, you should pick up a copy of the Commercial Driver License Manual, available at exam stations, and also by download. You will need to thoroughly know the material contained in the manual in order to take the next step.

The next step, of course, is obtaining your permit. This means having to pass at least one knowledge test, and possibly more.

Knowledge Tests

The number of tests you'll need to take―and pass― depends on the license class and endorsements you're after. We've provided the list of tests available, along with who needs to take the test.

By the way, you'll need to pass each test by answering at least 80% of the answers correctly.

  • General Knowledge―all applicants must take this test.
  • Passenger Transport―all bus driver applicants.
  • Passenger School Bus―all school bus applicants.
  • Air Brakes―all applicants intending to drive vehicles equipped with air brakes.
  • Combination Vehicles―all combination vehicle applicants.
  • Hazardous Materials―all applicants who want to drive placarded hazardous materials or hazardous waste vehicles.
  • Tanker―all applicants wanting to haul liquids in bulk.
  • Double/Triples―double- or triple-trailer applicants.

Once you feel ready for your knowledge testing, head to an exam station. Bring your current license with you. You don't need to make an appointment to take the tests.

If you pass all of the necessary tests and pay the required permit fee, you will be issued a CDL permit, which will expire in 6 months. You may renew it, but only once within 2 years.

The permit allows you to drive a commercial vehicle, but only when accompanied by a CDL holder who is at least 21 years old. Also, the accompanying CDL-holder must have a valid CDL for the type of vehicle that you are driving.

Once you feel confident enough with your driving skills, you may move on to the next step ... applying for your commercial driver's license.

Commercial Driver's License Testing

To obtain your license, you'll need to pass the skills test.

Skills Test

These tests are conducted only at third-party sites. You should contact the testing facility in your area for information about testing times, appointments, costs, and other matters. You may also call Driver Licensing at (800) 952-3696 or (605) 773-6883 for more information.

The skills test is actually composed of three tests: the pre-trip inspection, basic vehicle control, and road tests.

Pre-trip Vehicle Inspection

For this test, you will go around the vehicle, explaining the significance of various parts, and how to correctly inspect them for safety. (The manual contains this information.)

Basic Vehicle Control

This will test how skilled you are at controlling your vehicle. You'll be asked to drive through an assortment of maneuvers using traffic cones or lines as boundaries.
Your score will depend on how many times you stay within the boundaries while performing the maneuvers, and the number of pull-ups you do.

Road Test

This will test you on how well you perform in a variety of situations that you'd normally come across as a driver. The route you'll take and the actions you'll perform will be determined by your examiner. Expect, however, to make both left and right turns, to travel through intersections, tackle curves, go up and down grades, and to drive on city roads, rural roads, and expressways,

You'll be judged on how well you do in these situations, including how well you merge into traffic, change lanes, handle lane positioning, and control your speed.

You'll need to take the test in the type of vehicle you'll be driving if you get your license. The fee for a road test is $90not including tax. You will need to schedule your road test 2 business days in advance.

Your New License

If you pass all the necessary tests, you will be given your commercial driver license at a cost of $25, plus $15 for any extra endorsements you have. The license is valid for 5 years and will expire on your birthday.

New Federal Requirements

You must now self-certify your type of vehicle operation with South Dakota's DPS. This means you must self-certify one of the following driving categories:

  • Non-Excepted Interstate
  • Excepted Interstate
  • Non-Excepted Intrastate
  • Excepted Intrastate

Complete and submit a Commercial Driver Licensee Medical Self-Certification Affidavit. If you choose Non-Excepted Interstate, you must, in addition to your affidavit, provide the DPS with a federal medical certificate.

Questions? The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's website provides detailed information.

Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act

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 with a weight 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. 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.

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.

South Dakota'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, how to couple and uncouple tractors and trailers, and you must 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.

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. Since South Dakota is a TSA Agent state, your fees will be:

  • $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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