Applying for a New CDL in Virginia
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- An Overview of the CDL
- Applying for an Instruction Permit
- Written or Oral Exams
- Other Requirements
- The On-road Driving Test
- New Federal Requirements
- Federal Guidelines
- CDL Classes for Every State
- Requirements for Medical Certification
- Minimum Training Requirements
- Hazmat Background Checks
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you are 19 or older and you have not previously held a CDL, you must show proof that you passed a state-approved driver education course. If you're still 18, you must in addition either already hold a regular Virgina driver's license or show proof that you've satisfied all the requirements to do so.
A CDL costs $8 per year ($20 minimum) that it's valid, 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. Most CDLs are valid for eight years and expire on your birthday (drivers with a HAZMAT endorsement must renew every five years).
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.
You must self-certify your type of vehicle operation with the Virginia DMV by January 2014. This means you must self-certify one of the following driving categories:
- Non-Excepted Interstate
- Excepted Interstate
- Non-Excepted Intrastate
- Excepted Intrastate
If you choose Non-Excepted Interstate, you must, in addition to a completed self-certification application, provide the DMV with a federal medical certificate.
Fax your completed self-certification application to (804) 367-6692. Or mail to:
- Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles
- Driver Support
- P.O.Box 27412
- Richmond, VA 23269-0001
Or, submit online.
Questions? Visit Virginia's FAQ page for 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.
To be eligible for a CDL, you must have a clean driving record. Federal regulations require you to pass a physical exam every two years. To operate a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce, you must be at least 21. Many states allow those as young as 18 to drive commercial vehicles within the state. You must be able to read and speak English well enough to read road signs, prepare reports, and communicate with the public and with law enforcement.
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 pounds, provided the GVWR of the vehicle(s) being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
- Class B: Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle not in excess of 10,000 pounds 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 or more passengers, 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. 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 with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or gross combination weight rating (GCWR) or gross vehicle weight (GVW) or gross combination weight (GCW) of 4,536 kilograms (10,001 pounds) or more in interstate commerce.
- You operate a motor vehicle designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, in interstate commerce.
- You operate a motor vehicle designed or used to transport between nine and 15 passengers, for direct compensation, beyond 75 air miles from your regular work-reporting location, in interstate commerce.
- You transport hazardous materials in quantities requiring placards, 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.
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.
Your state'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, 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 Highway Administration (FHA) guidelines. Many employers require their drivers to 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.
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 45 days.
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 Association.
Other Topics in This Section
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- Getting Behind the Wheel of a Big Rig: How to Land a Trucking Job
- Want to Do Even More with Your CDL? CDL Classes and Endorsements
- CDL Holders: Completing the Medical Exam Report Requirement
- How to Apply for a Hazardous Materials Endorsement
- Commercial Driver’s License Requirements: Do You Have What It Takes?
- How to Prepare for the CDL Test
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