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Applying for a New CDL in Tennessee

If you want to drive a semi-truck, bus, or other commercial vehicle, you'll first have to get your commercial driver's license (CDL). The process is more involved than applying for a regular license, since the vehicles it allows you to drive are much bigger and more difficult to drive than typical cars and trucks.

Nationally, the CDL process is regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and in Tennessee, it's overseen by the Department of Safety (DOS)—specifically, through the Driver Services Division.

Who Can Get a TN CDL?

To be eligible for a Tennessee commercial driver's license, you will need:

  • A valid, non-CDL license.
  • Proof that you are a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident (see below).

Drivers under 21 years old will be restricted to driving within TN, per FMCSA regulations.

Tennessee Commercial Learner's Permits

In order to get your TN commercial driver license, you must first get a commercial learner's permit (CLP).

Before applying, you might want to look into a CDL training course. It's not required by either the DOS or the FMCSA, but it is recommended to help you prepare for all exams involved in the process.

When you're ready, schedule an appointment with your local Driver Services Division office. You will need:

  • The proper medical paperwork—see below.
  • The appropriate fee for the type of permit you're getting (see below for details).
  • Your valid driver's license or a Tennessee state ID.
  • 2 proofs of TN residency.* Documents must not be photocopies. Examples include:
    • Current utility bills.
    • Current vehicle registration or car titles.
    • Lease agreement/mortgage papers.
      • For more examples, see the full list compiled by the DOS.
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship/lawful permanent resident status. You may bring:
    • A valid, non-expired U.S. passport.
    • A certified birth certificate.
    • A certificate of naturalization.

You may have to submit to a driving record check, where your record in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. over the past 10 years.

Finally, you'll have to take the proper written exams for the type of CDL you want. Once you pass, you will be issued your Tennessee commercial learner's permit.

*NOTE: The TN Department of Safety will also accept proof of a relationship with a Tennessee resident as proof of TN residency. Acceptable relationships include your:

  • Spouse.
  • Sibling.
  • Parent.
  • Child.
  • Grandparent.

For more information on how to establish proof of relationship, see the DOS page on applying for a commercial driver's license.

CLP Restrictions in TN

You will be required to hold your CLP for a specific period of time before you're able to take your road test for your full Tennessee commercial driver's license. While federal laws mandate a holding period of at least 14 days, this could be different for your state. Check with your local Driver Services Division office to confirm what the holding period is in your state.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration also requires you to drive on public roads only while you have your commercial learner's permit, and only while accompanied by a full CDL holder.

TN Commercial Driver's Licenses

To turn your CLP into a CDL, you'll have to wait for the appropriate amount of time and then take your skills tests. In Tennessee, the DOS requires the skills testing to include:

  • Pre-trip vehicle inspection.
  • Basic vehicle control.
  • On-road driving test.

Arrange to take your skills tests with the same type of vehicle you intend on driving with your commercial driver license. If you can not, you may have a restriction placed on your CDL.

Schedule your test by calling the Department of Safety at (615) 251-5217 any time between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

After passing your skills tests and paying the appropriate fee, you will be issued your full TN commercial driver's license.

Tennessee Commercial Driver's License Fees

The Tennessee Department of Safety currently charges the following fees for CDLs and services related to commercial driver's licenses:

  • Commercial learner's permits (CLPs):
    • Class A CLP: $14.
    • Class B or C CLP: $13.
  • Commercial driver's licenses (CDLs):
    • Class A CDL: $70.
    • Class B or C CDL: $62.
  • Endorsements: $2.50 each.
  • Replacement CDLs:
    • 1st replacement: $12.
    • 2nd or subsequent replacement: $16.

The DOS accepts cash, check, money order, or credit card for payment.

Tennessee CDL Military Waivers

Some service members in Tennessee are eligible to have their CDL skills tests waived, through the TN program Highways for Heroes.

To qualify, you must:

  • Be a Tennessee resident.
  • Have or be eligible for a TN driver's license.
  • Show proof of active duty in the military or discharge papers dated within 1 year of applying for the waiver.
  • Have your commanding officer certify that you:
    • Possess a military operator's permit.
    • Have at least 2 years' experience driving the same type of vehicle for the military that you're applying to drive with your CDL.

Applicants must also complete a CDL Skills Test Waiver (Form SF-1507).

NOTE: Qualifying service members will still be required to complete all written exams and pay all applicable fees.

For more information, see our guide to the military skills test waiver.

Medical Requirements for a TN CDL

All Tennessee CDL applicants are required to:

  • Have a valid, current Department of Transportation (DOT) medical card.
  • Self-certify with the DOS

To receive your DOT medical card, you must visit a FMCSA-certified physician and have them complete a Medical Examiner's Certificate (Form MCSA-5876).

The DOT medical cards are valid for up to 24 months, and your card must remain up-to-date while you're operating commercial motor vehicles.

To self-certify, you will need to acquire and complete a TN self-certification form SF-1438 using these instructions.

For more information, see the Tennessee Department of Safety page on TN CDL medical requirements.

Classes of TN Commercial Driver Licenses

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has established several different types of CDL, which allow you to drive different types of vehicles. The classifications include:

  • Class A CDL—Allows you to drive a combination of vehicles over a certain weight, such as a tractor-trailer.
  • Class B CDL—Permits you to drive a single vehicle over a certain weight, like a box truck.
  • Class C CDL—Applies to all other types of vehicles over a certain weight not covered by Class A or Class B CDLs.

The written and skills tests you're asked to complete may vary, depending on the class of CDL you're applying for. Different types of commercial driver's license may also require different fees.

For more information, see our guide to CDL classifications.

Tennessee CDL Endorsements & Restrictions

You can add endorsements to your CDL to make you eligible to drive a greater number of commercial motor vehicles. Obtaining an endorsement requires you to take additional written and/or skills tests and pay an extra fee from the DOS.

You can receive endorsements to drive:

A restriction is the opposite of an endorsement, and is placed on your commercial driver's license to limit the number of vehicles you will be permitted to operate. You may receive a restriction if:

  • You take your skills test in the wrong type of vehicle.
  • You can not operate an air brake system.
  • You can not operate a manual transmission.

Restrictions can typically be taken off your CDL with additional testing, paperwork, or fees.

Check out our guide to endorsements and restrictions for additional details.

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