Applying for a New CDL in Wisconsin

If You Have an Out-of-State CDL

Before you may be licensed to drive a commercial vehicle in Wisconsin, there are a few things you'll need to do first. If you already a commercial license-holder from another state you will need to go in person to the local Wisconsin DMV service center to apply for a Wisconsin CDL transfer.

Basic CDL Requirements

In order to apply for a new CDL in Wisconsin, you must:

  • Be 21 years old if you wish to drive inside and outside of Wisconsin (interstate).
  • Be at least 18 years old to drive inside the state of Wisconsin.
  • Provide proof of US Citizenship or Legal Status.
  • Have a valid Wisconsin driver's license.
  • Give your Social Security number.
  • Successfully complete the driving, written knowledge tests, and the eye exam.
  • Have a current medical clearance.

Getting a New CDL

In order to qualify for a CDL in Wisconsin, you will first need to be trained in the operation of a commercial vehicle. There are a number of ways to accomplish this, including attending a driving school or training with a company for whom you will work once you receive your license.

There are a number of tests you will be required to pass.

Commercial Driver's Manual

Wisconsin has an excellent Commercial Driver's Manual, explaining all the laws, rules, procedures, and technical issues covered in the testing for CDL.


In order to be issued your CDL, you will be required to take and pass a series of testing, which includes both a written and a road test.

Written Test

The written knowledge test is the first section of the testing for a CDL. This test will determine your knowledge of the rules of driving a commercial vehicle, your knowledge of the laws as they apply to commercial vehicles, and your understanding of operating a commercial vehicle and the procedures required for safe operation.

Once you have successfully completed the general written knowledge test, you may take these additional written knowledge tests to if you plan to add any endorsements to your basic CDL:

  • School bus
  • Farm service
  • Hazardous materials
  • Tankers
  • Doubles/Triples
  • Passenger vehicle

These tests are only required if you plan to operate vehicles that will require the proper endorsement.

Note that if you wish to be licensed to drive a vehicle with air brakes, you must take the written knowledge test for air brakes and have air brakes on the vehicle you will use for your driving test.

Road Test

Next stop, a road test in a vehicle you will provide. The road test is completed in three separate sections:

  • Pre-Trip inspection
  • Basic skills test
  • Driving skills test

These are a few of the skills you will be required to demonstrate in the road test:

Pre-Trip Inspection

Take your time with this part of the test, going through the vehicle one area at a time. If you were taught a particular order for a pre-trip inspection, ask the examiner if s/he would like you to begin as usual. If the examiner has a different method for the inspection s/he will let you know. This is not a timed exam, so go slow and be sure you cover everything.

Basic Skills Driving Test

In this part of the driving test, you will be asked to demonstrate certain maneuvers for the examiner. Test skills include parallel parking, forward stop, backing, and alley dock.

A pointer: don't get out of the truck to check your parking or backing. You must remain in your seat during the entire road test unless the examiner asks you to exit the vehicle.

Driving Skills Test

This is the last section of the road test and will be given over a routine and pre-planned route. You will be asked to perform basic and complex driving maneuvers, including stopping and starting, right and left turns, intersections, urban and rural straight driving, urban and rural lane changes, freeway driving, driving on curves, up and down grades, railroad crossings, bridges, and under/overpasses.

Make a mental note of the height clearance when passing under a bridge or other overpass. The examiner may ask you for the number once you've exited the other side.

If there is no area to perform certain maneuvers, the examiner will ask you what you would do and how you would do it in those circumstances. You will be expected to verbally explain the procedure for that skill.

CDL Fees

Here are the fees involved in the licensing process for a CDL in Wisconsin:

  • Instruction permit for Class A, B, C: $30 for 6 months.
  • Original Class A, B, C: $74 with a prorated fee for any time remaining on your existing Wisconsin driver's license.
  • Renewal of your Class A, B, C for 8 years: $74.
  • Duplicate driver's license or CDL: $14.
  • School bus endorsement: $10.
  • "H" endorsement threat assessment: $44 payable to DMV and non-refundable, plus $22.50 payable to Fieldprint.
  • Driving Skills exam Class A, B, C: $20.
  • Skills exam for School Bus Class B, C, D: $15.
  • Written knowledge exams: free.

License and Endorsement Upgrade or Addition Fees

  • To upgrade the license by 1 class or more: $15.
  • To upgrade or add an endorsement: $5 each, plus $10 issuance fee.
  • To lift a "No CMV operation in interstate commerce" restriction: $14.
  • To lift a "No CMV operation with air brakes" restriction: $14 for upgrade, plus skills test fee.)

New Federal Requirement

You must now self-certify your type of vehicle operation with the Wisconsin DMV. This means you must self-certify one of the following driving tiers:

  • Tier 1―Non-Excepted Interstate
  • Tier 2―Excepted Interstate
  • Tier 3―Non-Excepted Intrastate
  • Tier 4―Excepted Intrastate

If you choose Tier 1, you must provide the DMV with a federal medical certificate.

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 3 years.

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)

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 drive a CMV that weighs more than 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.

maximum gross vehicle weight rating of over 10,000 pounds (4,536 kilograms) are required

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 Wisconsin 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

Federal law requires that all hazmat drivers undergo background checks and have fingerprints on file. Apply for these through your DOT office.

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