Applying for a New CDL in Washington
To obtain a commercial driver's license (CDL) or a commercial driver instruction permit (CDIP) in the state of Washington, you need to at least do the following:
- Be 18 years old (intrastate only). You must be 21 years old to drive interstate.
- Have a valid Washington driver's license.
- Provide proof of identity and your Social Security number.
- Pass a knowledge and skills test.
- Pay appropriate fees.
- Meet minimum medical standards.
Your employer might have additional standards or a higher minimum age requirement.
You may apply for a CDL or CDIP at any Washington state Department of Licensing Licensing Services Office. A CDIP allows you to practice driving a commercial vehicle as long as you are supervised by someone with the appropriate class of CDL sitting in the passenger seat.
According to Washington law, if you fall under one of the below categories, you might not have to obtain a CDL in order to operate commercial-type vehicles:
- Farmers transporting goods to and from your farm as long as you or your employee are driving the vehicle, and you're within 150 miles of your farm.
- Firefighters or law-enforcement officials operating emergency equipment, and only if you have completed the Emergency Vehicle Accident Prevention Program and carry a card certifying completion.
- Anyone driving a recreational vehicle (RV) for noncommercial purposes. This includes rental trucks and horse trailers with 2 axles.
- Those in the military and using a military license issued by your branch of service, and only when driving military vehicles.
In addition to a CDL, you might need a special endorsement if you're:
- P1 and P2: Driving vehicles carrying 16 passengers or more, including you as the driver.
- T: Pulling double or triple trailers.
- N: Driving tank vehicles carrying liquids or liquid gases in portable or fixed tanks. Not required for portable tanks with a rated capacity under 1,000 gallons.
- H: Carrying hazardous materials that require the vehicle to be marked with a placard.
- X: Carrying hazardous materials in tanks (this is a combination of the N and H endorsements).
- K: Driving vehicles with air brakes.
All of these will require specific tests, and more information on endorsements can be found in the Commercial Driver Guide.
Federal regulations require a background check and fingerprinting for an initial, renewed, or transferred hazmat endorsement.
- Air brakes: You must pass a written test and skills test (in a vehicle with air brakes) to obtain a CDL without an air brake restriction. This allows you to drive vehicles with air brakes.
- Age: You need only be 18 years old to drive a commercial vehicle within Washington. However, you have to be 21 years old or older before you can operate commercial vehicles between states.
- CDIP: You are not authorized to operate any commercial vehicle classified or placarded for hazardous materials if you hold a commercial driver instruction permit.
In order to obtain a CDL, you have to prove you know a little something about operating a commercial vehicle by taking both a written knowledge test and an on-road skills test. Call your local
Licensing Services Office to make sure they provide the tests, since some do not.
If you have a valid CDL from another state, you do not have to take the CDL tests except to maintain a hazmat endorsement, upgrade your license class, add additional endorsements, or remove restrictions from your CDL. You'll have to give up your prior state's CDL when you get a Washington commercial license.
The written knowledge tests are based on the information contained in the Commercial Driver Guide. You can test your preparedness by taking practice tests online. Once you pass this test, you may receive a CDIP so you can practice behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle.
During the on-road skills test, you'll be evaluated based on your pre-trip inspection of the vehicle, your road (driving) test, and your ability to execute basic maneuvers like backing up. You'll need to provide the vehicle, and it must be the same class as you are being licensed for. Test scores are valid for 1 year from the date of the test.
While you might be able to pass the knowledge test simply by studying the manual, you'll need professional driver training to do well on the skills test.
The following fees are in addition to what you paid to get your basic driver's license:
- Knowledge test: $10
- CDL learner's permit: $10
- Skills test: $100 per attempt.
- Commercial driver's license: (Varies depending on endorsements)
- Transferring an out-of-state CDL to WA: $191
NOTE: The following office locations DO NOT accept credit or debit cards: Coulee Dam, Davenport, Friday Harbor, Forks, Goldendale, Newport, Republic, or South Bend.
If you do not meet Washington's medical standards in accordance with state and federal regulations, you might be eligible for a waiver.
Medical waivers are issued only to CDL holders, so when applying for the waiver you are required to have an active CDL record already on file. You'll then need to submit the following forms and information:
- Complete a Department of Transportation (DOT) Commercial Driver Fitness Determination physical examination long form.
- Completed an Application for Intrastate Medical Waiver form.
- Obtain a qualified medical examiner's signature verifying the condition is likely to remain stable for the duration of the medical waiver.
You can mail the completed forms to the below address or fax them to (360) 570-4915:
- Department of Licensing
- CDL Medical Unit
- P.O. Box 9030
- Olympia, WA 98507-9030
If you are an interstate driver, then medical waivers are processed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Visit the website for more information.
For questions on medical waivers in WA, please call (360) 902-3900.
Medical Certificate Requirements
All CDL holders who operate for interstate commerce must keep a current medical examiner's certificate on file with the Department of Licensing (DOL). You are not held to this requirement if you operate only within Washington state (intrastate).
You must self-certify your type of commercial driving with the DOL in person. This means choosing from one of three driving categories:
- Non-excepted interstate commercial driver
- Excepted interstate commercial driver
- Intrastate driver
All non-excepted interstate commercial drivers must submit a medical examiner's certificate when completing the self-certification form.
Those carrying commercial driver's licenses are held to a higher standard than ordinary drivers. This is true even when you're off duty and driving in your own car. Be aware of the following regulations:
- Drugs and alcohol: If you test positive for drugs or alcohol while driving a commercial vehicle, you will be disqualified to drive such vehicles and your CDL will not be reinstated until you have proof that you've completed a drug or alcohol education or treatment program.
- Traffic violations: If you are convicted of two serious traffic violations within three years while operating either your personal vehicle or a commercial vehicle, you will lose your license.
- Other ways to lose your CDL:
- Leaving the scene of an accident
- Using a motor vehicle in the commission of a felony
- Refusing to take a blood alcohol test
- Driving a commercial motor vehicle when your CDL is revoked, suspended, canceled, or disqualified
- Causing a fatality through negligent operation of a commercial motor vehicle
For more information on CDL suspensions in Washington, please visit the DOL's CDL Suspension page.
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 3 years. To operate a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce, you must be at least 21 years old. Many states, including Washington, allow 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.
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)
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 CMV weighing more than 4,536 kgs. (10,001 lbs.) or more 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 Washington 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
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 Washington is a TSA Agent state, you will pay:
- $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.
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.