Applying for a New CDL in California

If you're considering driving a truck for hire, whether as a career or just for a short term, you will need a commercial driver's license (CDL). There are strict state and federal regulations for driving a commercial vehicle that require drivers to take specific steps in order to be eligible for a commercial driver's license in California.


Per new federal entry-level driver training requirements effective February 7, 2022, the CA Department of Motor Vehicles now mandates new CDL applicants complete an entry-level driver training course through an authorized provider. You’ll need to complete this training prior to applying for your first commercial driver’s license, upgrading your existing CDL class, or applying for a HAZMAT, school bus, or passenger endorsement.

CDLs and CMVs in California

Commercial driver's licenses, or CDLs, allow drivers to legally operate a commercial vehicle. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates CDLs for all states. Drivers seeking to obtain a commercial driver's license must pass a written as well as a behind the wheel skills test in order to qualify.

Commercial Vehicles

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) defines a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) as one that is hired for transportation of either people or products. Other specifics that identify a commercial vehicle include:

  • Weight: Must have a GVWR* of at least 26,001 lbs.
  • Size: Must have the capacity to safely hold more than 10 passengers, driver included.
  • Towing ability: Can either a trailer or another vehicle with a GVWR* of at least 10,001 lbs.
  • Materials hauled: Is legally certified through signage to carry hazardous materials.

*GVWR is gross vehicle weight rating.

CA CDL Eligibility Requirements

According to federal regulations, a driver must be at least 18 years old before they can apply for a commercial license. You'll need to be a minimum of 21 years old if you intend to:

Applying for a CDL in California

Step 1: Commercial Instruction Permit

Applying for a commercial driver's license starts by applying for a commercial instruction permit. There are multiple steps in this process.

To apply:

Once all of the above has been completed, the DMV will issue a commercial instruction permit. With this permit, you can drive with another driver who possesses a valid California driver's license in the same class.

Step 2: Commercial Driver's License

Once you've got your commercial permit in hand, you'll need to apply for your full CDL by passing the skills and driving test.

To apply for a CDL, you'll need to:

  • Make an appointment at your local CDL office.
  • Bring the appropriate class of vehicle that you intend to drive.
    • The vehicle must pass a pre-trip inspection conducted by the DMV, with 3 attempts to pass.
    • Pass the driving skills test (you likewise have 3 attempts to pass).
    • Submit a Certificate of Driving Skill (Form DL 170 ETP) signed by yourself and your employer. Only an employer that is authorized by the DMV to conduct a driving skills test may complete this form.

Once you've passed the skills test and submitted all the appropriate forms, you'll receive an interim commercial driver's license that expires after 60 days (or once your valid CDL arrives in the mail).

After you receive your photo CDL, you're free to start your adventures driving commercial vehicles.

Federal Self-Certification Requirements

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

  • Non-Excepted Interstate
  • Excepted Interstate
  • Non-Excepted Intrastate
  • Excepted Intrastate


DL 939
10 Year History Record Check
Include with California CDL applications and renewals if you%u2019ve held any driver's license in a different name OR a different state.
DL 170 ETP
Certificate of Driving Skill
Form is filed with the DMV to certify your commercial vehicle driving skills as evaluated by an examiner. Only for those in ETP.
Medical Examination Report
You must submit this medical form when applying for a CDL OR other special vehicle classes (e.g. school buses or farm vehicles) in CA.
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