CDL Federal Requirements

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates the rules and requirements for commercial drivers across the country. Though each state has its own application process, all states must adhere to federal requirements set forth by the FMCSA.

Below you'll find the basic federal requirements needed to obtain a CDL license. If you're looking for state-specific information, find your state's commercial driver license guide.

CDL Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible to apply for a commercial driver license, federal rules state that you must:

  • Must be 21 years old to:
    • Drive across state lines.
    • Operate a vehicle containing hazardous materials.
  • Have no prior disqualifying criminal offenses.
    • Certain criminal felonies may disqualify you from CDL eligibility.
  • Complete an entry-level commercial driver training program (see below for more details on this CDL requirement).

CDL Training Requirements

As of February 7, 2022, most new CDL applicants must pass a CDL entry-level driver training program (ELDT). You must complete this program if you are:

  • Applying for a new Class A or B commercial driver’s license.
  • Upgrading an existing Class B CDL to a Class A license.
  • Applying for a first-time passenger (P), school bus (S), or HAZMAT (H) endorsement.

Some CDLs and endorsements require you to complete your ELDT after earning your learner's permit but before taking your CDL skills exam, while for others,  you must complete your ELDT before taking the written knowledge exam for your CLP.

If you are:

  • Applying for a hazardous materials (H) endorsement: You must complete your CLDT before your written HAZMAT test for your commercial learner's permit.
  • Applying for a Class A or B CDL (or upgrading a Class B to a Class A): You may take your CLDT after you earn your CLP.
  • Applying for a passenger (P) or school bus (S) endorsement: You may take your CLDT after you earn your CLP.

You can find a federally approved EDLT provider through the FMCSA’s entry-level training website.

Federal CDL Application Requirements

The basic steps required by every state in accordance with FMCSA regulations to receive a commercial learner's permit and a commercial driver's license are as follows:

  1. Complete an entry-level training course.
  2. Test for and obtain a commercial learner's permit (CLP).
  3. Hold your CLP for a minimum of 14 days.
  4. Take the road skills test for your commercial driver's license (CDL).

If you are applying for any endorsements on your CDL, you may have additional knowledge and road skills exams.

Commercial Learner's Permit

In addition to any state-specific forms, tests, and identity/citizenship documents, the FMCSA requires all CLP applicants to provide:

  • Your current driver's license.
  • A 10 Year Driver History.
    • Your state may check this electronically in their system, or require you to bring in a copy of your driving record. Contact your licensing office for details.
  • A Medical Examination self-certification form.
    • This documentation is needed to certify from a qualifying medical examiner that you will be physically able to operate a commercial vehicle.
    • For details on how to self-certify, visit the FMCSA's Self-Certification FAQs.

In addition, you will need to:

  • Pass a knowledge and skills test.
    • Tests may vary slightly according to state. However, minimum federal requirements require:
      • A minimum of 30 questions.
      • A passing score of at least 80%.
  • Pay the associated fees.
    • These will vary according to your state.

Again, the application process, additional forms, fees, identity documents, and other requirements are at the discretion of your state. Please contact your local commercial driver licensing office for specifics on what your state requires, or visit our state-specific CDL guides.

You're required to hold your CLP for at least 14 days before applying for your full commercial driver's license, as per federal guidelines. Your state may require you to hold it for longer.

Commercial Driver's License

Once you've satisfied the requirements above and practiced on the road with a driver possessing a CDL license, you may then apply for a CDL.

Federal regulations states that you must:

  • Hold your commercial learner's permit for at least 14 days.
  • Provide a vehicle for your skills test of the same type that you plan to test for and drive once licensed.
  • Pass the CDL skills test, which consists of 3 parts:
    • Vehicle inspection.
    • Basic controls exam.
    • Road test.

Some states may require additional steps, such as the completion of a CDL training course.

CDL Endorsements & Waivers

If you plan to add an endorsement to your CDL, additional testing, applications, and security checks may be needed. Examples of endorsements include:

  • Tank vehicles.
  • Passenger vehicles or school buses.
  • Carrying hazardous materials.

If you are a military veteran with experience driving military vehicles, you may be eligible to have your CDL skills test waived. For more information, visit our Veterans CDL Skills Test Waiver page.

Other industries that states have the right to waive some of the CDL requirements for include:

  • Farming.
  • Emergency medical.
  • Firefighters.
  • Workers removing snow and ice.

Contact your local commercial driver licensing office for details if you work in any of these industries.

DMV.ORG BBB Business Review