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  • Applying for a New CDL in Virginia

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    An Overview of the CDL

    To apply for a new commercial driver's license (CDL) from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, you must be at least 18 years old and satisfy all the requirements for a regular Virginia driver's license. To drive a commercial vehicle across state lines, transport hazardous materials, or haul interstate freight within the state, you must be at least 21 years old.

    First we'll give you step-by-step instructions for applying for a CDL in Virginia. For complete details about obtaining the required DOT Medical Examiner's Certificate, applying for a hazardous materials endorsement, and the various license classes and endorsements available, please refer to the "Federal Guidelines" section, below.

    Applying for an Instruction Permit

    Your first step is to fill out an application for your CDL instruction permit. You can't get this application form online, but the DMV will mail it to you if you submit a written request.

    You must apply for your permit and license in person at a DMV Customer Service Center. The permit allows you to operate a commercial vehicle under supervision while you learn to drive. If this is your first CDL, you'll need to have this permit for 30 days before you can take the on-road driving test, or you can take a CDL-specific driver's education course and hold your permit for a minimum of 14 days.

    To apply for your permit, you will need to show two proofs of identity, one proof of legal presence in this country, and one proof of residency in Virginia, as well as proof of your Social Security number. The DMV publishes a list of acceptable documents in PDF format. The DMV will not accept photocopies, documents that have been altered or forged, or documents that the DMV has reason to believe are fake.

    Written or Oral Exams

    Next, you must pay a $3 fee for your permit. Then you must pass one or more knowledge tests (written or verbal), plus a vision screening test.

    Before taking your commercial driver's tests, you should study the Commercial Driver's Manual. In addition to supplying the knowledge you'll need in order to pass your written test, it also contains further information about the requirements and steps to take when applying for your CDL.

    Once you pass the knowledge tests, you will receive your instruction permit. To learn how to drive a commercial vehicle, you should take a state-approved commercial driving course. Many trucking companies offer this training to their employees, or you may take it at a commercial driving school.

     
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    Other Requirements

    Legally, you can only have one license, so you must turn in any other driver's licenses you have―including a regular Virginia driver's license. Out-of-state licenses should be returned to the state that issued them. Your Virginia CDL will serve as your only driver's license, for both commercial vehicles and your personal vehicle.

    Another requirement for getting your CDL is knowledge of English. You must be able to speak and read English enough to converse with the public, understand highway traffic signs and signals, make entries on reports, and respond to official inquiries.

    The On-road Driving Test

    Once you have had enough practice driving, you are ready to make an appointment for your on-road driving test. When you take your road test, you must furnish a properly registered vehicle of the class of license for which you are applying.

    The CDL road skills test is in three parts: pretrip inspection, basic vehicle control, and on-road driving. In order to take the tests, you must have held a CDL instruction permit for at least 30 days or show proof that you have previously held a CDL or completed a CDL driver's education program.

    Fees

    Most CDLs are valid for 8 years and cost $8 per year, plus $1 per year for each endorsement. Your license fee will be calculated based on how many years it will be before you need to renew it.

    Finally, when you have passed your road test, you will receive your license. Pay your fees for your license and any endorsements, have your photograph taken, and you can usually receive your license while you wait.

    New Federal Requirements

    You must now self-certify your type of vehicle operation with the Virginia 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 complete the Commercial Driver's License (CDL) Self-Certification form (Form DL-8). If you choose Non-Excepted Interstate, you must, in addition to a completed self-certification application, provide the DMV with a federal medical certificate.

    Questions? Visit Virginia's FAQ page for detailed information.

    Federal Guidelines

    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 2 years. To operate a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce, you must be at least 21 years old. Virginia, like many states, allows those as young as 18 years old to drive commercial vehicles within the state.

    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 lbs., 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 or more lbs., 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.

    Endorsements

    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 physical exam and carry a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) medical certificate if you operate a commercial motor vehicle above 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 Virginia 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.

    Hazmat Background Checks

    Under the USA PATRIOT Act, commercial drivers transporting hazardous materials (hazmat) must pass a background records check and be fingerprinted. Virginia does its own background check and fingerprinting at participating DMV locations for $83, then sends the information to a federal database.

    This process takes around 45 days.

    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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