Applying for a New CDL in Tennessee
The first step to obtaining your CDL is getting your CDL learner permit (Class PA, Class PB, or Class PC). You'll be subject to the same requirements and knowledge tests as required of a regular CDL.
In order to obtain your CDL in Tennessee, you must be at least 21 years old, unless you're operating intrastate and within 100 miles of your job, in which case you can obtain a Class B CDL at 18 years old. If you are 19 years old you can have an intrastate Class A or Class B without endorsement (see below for class specifications).
You must obtain a valid DOT medical card (see below), and you can't currently have a suspended or revoked driver's license.
The following operators are exempt from obtaining a CDL:
- Military personnel
- Recreational vehicle operators
- Emergency vehicle operators
- Farmers and nurserymen who drive only within 150 miles of the farm or nursery
- Those who operate vehicles only to transport personal property
Get prepared before you head out to apply.
- Study for all tests, and schedule an appointment to take your tests.
- Have a vehicle ready to use for testing, and make sure it's the same class of vehicle for which you're applying.
- Obtain your DOT medical card (see below).
- Make sure you have all necessary documents (all driver's licenses and IDs, verification of your Social Security Number, proof of lawful residency or U.S. citizenship, your DOT medical card, and school bus drivers must have a 2-C form).
Note that you can apply for your CDL learner permit and CDL at any driver license station, but you can only take your skills test at an authorized Commercial Driver License Road Skills Test location. Call (615) 251-5217 for locations and scheduling.
CDL fees are as follows, and include both the licensing fee and the application fee:
- Class PA: $14 (permit valid 1 year )
- Class PB or PC: $13 (permit valid 1 year )
- Class A: $46 (valid 5 years)
- Class B or C: $41 (valid 5 years)
- Endorsements: $2.50 each.
You must self-certify your type of vehicle operation with Tennessee's Department of Safety and Homeland Security (TDOSHS). This means you must self-certify one of the following driving categories:
- Non-Excepted Interstate
- Excepted Interstate
- Non-Excepted Intrastate
- Excepted Intrastate
Make sure to submit a Supplemental Application for Commercial Driver License. If you choose Non-Excepted Interstate, you must also provide the TDOSHS with a federal medical certificate.
Questions? Visit Tennessee's FAQ 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 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 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.
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 Tennessee 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.
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
Tennessee no longer conducts background checks and fingerprinting at driver license centers; rather, they now utilize the Hazardous Material Endorsement Enrollment website. You can also apply by calling HazPrint at (877) 429-7746. The HazPrint website or telephone operator can help you find your nearest fingerprinting location.
You'll need to pay an $86.50 application and screening fee. If you don't pay while you apply online, you'll need to pay at the fingerprinting office.
You must apply either online or over the phone BEFORE you have your fingerprints taken.
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.