California CDL Requirements

How to Apply for a California Commercial Driver License

A commercial driver license (CDL) is a license issued in accordance with Federal Regulations that allows an individual to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV). Federal regulations require that an applicant be:

  • 18 years or older to apply for a CDL to drive within California
  • 21 years or older to apply for a CDL to drive outside California
  • Issued a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP)

California requires a 10-year history record check: The Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999, and applicable Federal Regulations require all commercial driver license (CDL) applicants including renewal applications to disclose whether they have been issued a driver license in the same or different name to operate any type of motor vehicle in another state or other jurisdiction within the previous 10 years. If the answer is “Yes” to the 10-year-history record question, a 10 Year History Record Check form (DL 939) should be completed and submitted with the Commercial Driver License Application.

TSA’s Process: Federal regulations require a person who is applying for a California commercial driver license (CDL) with an original or renewal Hazardous Materials (HazMat) endorsement to undergo a security threat assessment. The USA Patriot Act requires the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to complete a security threat assessment (background records check) before the DMV issues a HazMat endorsement.

Start the TSA background records check after you apply for your CDL at DMV and successfully complete all appropriate knowledge tests. You must submit the applicable federal fee(s) and any additional required information to the designated TSA agent. The TSA agent will advise you of the fingerprint requirements. You must also provide the TSA agent with a DMV issued Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) and one of the following identification documents (ID):

  • A California driver license
  • And/or California ID card
  • An out-of-state DL or ID card

Applicants also need to:

  • Hold a CLP for a minimum of 14 days. The 14 day waiting period applies to classification upgrades and endorsement/restriction changes that require a skills test.
  • Bring the type of vehicle(s) for the class you want to drive.
  • Pass the skills test (vehicle inspection, basic control skills, and the road test). If you fail any segment of the skills test, all other testing will be postponed and it will count as one (1) failure towards the maximum three (3) attempts you are allowed. A retest fee of $35 is due upon your return to take the subsequent test(s).
  • OR — Surrender to DMV a valid CDL expired for less than two (2) years, or proof of, which has been issued from another state and is equivalent in classification, endorsements, and restrictions, to the CDL you are applying for in California.
  • OR — Submit to DMV a Certificate of Driving Skill (DL 170 ETP) if your employer is authorized by DMV to issue such certificates. Both you and your employer are required to sign this form.
  • OR — Submit to DMV a completed CDL Certification of Military Waiver of CDL Driver Test (DL 963) and a Commanding Officer’s Certification of Driving Experience (DL 964).

What Class of Vehicles Does the California CDL Program Pertain To?

California recognizes the following federal classes:

  • CDL Class A: Allows you to drive any combination of vehicles that have a GWVR (gross vehicle weight rating) of 26,001 pounds or more.
  • CDL Class B: Enables you to drive a single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more, or any vehicle towing another that does not exceed the 10,000-pound GVWR limit.
  • CDL Class C: Allows you to operate a vehicle that has hazardous materials. With an endorsement, you can drive a 16-passenger vehicle, which includes the driver.

Start With the Conditional Learner's Permit (CLP)

To apply for a CLP, you will need to:

  • Be at least 18 years of age.
  • Obtain a California Noncommercial Class C DL (a temporary/interim DL is acceptable).
  • Complete a Commercial Driver License Application.
  • Visit a DMV office (appointments are recommended).
  • Complete a 10 Year History Record Check form (DL 939) if you have been issued a DL in the same or different name to operate any type of motor vehicle in another state or other jurisdiction within the previous ten (10) years.
  • Submit a completed Medical Examination Report (MER) Form (MCSA 5875) and Medical Examiner’s Certification (MEC) Form (MCSA 5876) as described in the following Medical Examination Report for Commercial Driver License section. A DL 51 is no longer acceptable.
  • Provide proof of your social security number (SSN). It will be verified with the Social Security Administration while you are in the office.
  • Verify your Identity. If your current name no longer matches the name on your Identity document, see “True Full Name” and “How to Change Your Name” for more information.
  • Present your acceptable residency document.
  • Pay a nonrefundable application fee.
  • Give a fingerprint scan.
  • Pass a vision exam.
  • Have your photograph taken.
  • Pass the applicable knowledge test (s).
  • If applying for a REAL ID CDL, you must provide proof of your Identity, SSN, and residency from the list of acceptable REAL ID document options.

Troops to Trucks -- Military Waiver Program for CDL Driving Test

The State of California, in order to make it easier for military personnel trained by the military in the operation of heavy vehicles to obtain a civilian commercial driver license.

The Troops to Trucks program allows the DMV to waive the CDL driving test for qualified military service members who are, or were employed within the last year, in a military position requiring the operation of a military motor vehicle equivalent to a commercial motor vehicle on public roads and highways. Waiving the driving test requirement streamlines the CDL application process for service men and women and eliminates the need to provide a commercial motor vehicle. The driving test will not be waived for a school bus and/or passenger endorsement.

To qualify for the Troops to Trucks program, applicants must meet the requirements as detailed in federal regulation an applicant must certify that, during the two-year period immediately prior to applying for a CDL, he/she:

  • Has not had more than one license (except for a military license);
  • Has not had any license suspended, revoked, or cancelled;
  • Has not had any or one of the convictions for any type of motor vehicle disqualifying offenses.

Also, an applicant must provide evidence and certify that he/she:

  • Is regularly employed or was regularly employed within the last year in a military position requiring operation of a CMV;
  • Was exempted from the CDL requirements in §383.3(c); and
  • While serving in the military, was operating a CMV equivalent to a civilian commercial vehicle, for at least 2 years immediately preceding discharge from the military.

What are the fees for obtaining a California CDL license?

Commercial Class A or B:

  • Original license $76
  • Renewal $45
  • Commercial driving or skill retest $35
  • Duplicate $33
  • Name change $28
  • Removing an air brake or automatic transmission restriction (requires a driving test) $76
  • Adding a passenger endorsement $76
  • Adding tank, double-triples and hazmat endorsements $45

In order to obtain a California CDL there are a list of requirements that must be met, and getting your California CDL involves several steps. There are medical requirements and residency requirements, along with knowledge and skills requirements. The basic requirements for getting your cdl in California include:

  • You must be at least 18 years old to hold a California CDL and drive a commercial vehicle within the state of California.
  • You must be at least age 21 to drive a commercial motor vehicle across California state lines, carry hazardous materials, or transport any passengers.
  • You must not have more than one driver’s license, and your driving privileges must not be suspended, revoked, canceled or disqualified in California or any other state.
  • You must meet the medical requirements of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.
  • You must pass a set of written exams to obtain your California Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP). You can study for these exams using our Online tests.
  • You must prove citizenship in the state of California and have permission to work in the United States, showing legitimate personal identification which may include a Social Security Card, a Birth Certificate, or a Green Card
  • You must certify that you are not subject to any of the CDL disqualifications for drivers (listed below)
  • You must be able to speak and read the English language

Below we will list more general requirements, qualifications, disqualifications, and restrictions for getting a CDL in California.

What are the fees for obtaining a California CDL license?

You will need a CDL to operate any of the following vehicles:

  • A single vehicle with a GVWR over 26,000 lbs.
  • A combination vehicle with a GVWR over 26,000 lbs, towing a unit over 10,000 lbs GVWR.
  • A passenger vehicle designed to carry 16 or more people, including the driver.
  • Any size vehicle requiring hazardous material (Hazmat) placards, or carrying a select agent or toxin listed in 42 CFR Part 73.

What Are The Different Classes Of CDL In California?

  • Class A:

    Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight of 26,001 pounds or more, with trailer(s) weighing 10,000 pounds or more.

  • Class B:

    Any single vehicle having a gross weight of 26,001 pounds or more, or any such vehicle towing another weighing 10,000 pounds or less.

  • Class C:

    Any vehicle or combination of vehicles not meeting the definition of Class A or Class B, designed to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver), or any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded to carry hazardous material:

  • Class D:

    Many states issue a “Class D” license, which is not part of the FMCSA standards. Some use it to classify regular, passenger car drivers licenses, while some use it to classify specific weights or types of vehicles. This varies from state-to-state.

Knowledge And Skills Test Requirements For Getting A CDL In California

Each basic knowledge test covers the 20 general areas outlined in 49 CFR 383.111(a). The knowledge test shall contain at least 30 items. A separate test for drivers seeking to operate CMV’s with air brakes in California must cover the 7 areas outlined in 49 CFR 383.111(b).

To pass the knowledge tests (general and endorsement); applicants must correctly answer at least 80 percent of the questions.

To pass the California CDL skills test, applicants must successfully perform all the required skills (listed in 49 CFR 383.113 through 49 CFR 383.123). The skills test must be taken in a vehicle representative of the type of vehicle that the applicant operates or expects to operate.

Federal standards require the state of California to issue CDLs to certain commercial motor vehicle drivers only after the driver passes the knowledge and skills tests administered by the State. The vehicle you take the CDL test in must also relate to the type of vehicle the driver expects to operate.

Restrictions are placed on a California CDL when a driver takes the Skills Test in a vehicle which lacks critical equipment present in particular types of CMVs. Therefore, to avoid restrictions, drivers should take the Skills Test in the same type of vehicle for which they are seeking a California CDL to operate.

Drivers are required to obtain and hold a CDL in California if they operate in interstate, intrastate, or foreign commerce and drive a vehicle that meets one or more of the classifications of a CMV are also described below.

Military Skills Test Waiver Program

The state of California has the authority to substitute two years of experience safely operating trucks or buses equivalent to civilian commercial vehicles for the skills test portion of the California commercial driver license (CDL) test. U.S. Military drivers must apply within one year of leaving a military position requiring operation of a commercial vehicle. The latest information (February 2017) indicates that more than 19,000 current and former military have taken advantage of the Skills Test Waiver, making them immediately eligible for employment.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation 49 CFR 383.77, requires the applicant to certify to an SDLA:

  • His/her safe driving experience;
  • That he or she has not held more than one license (except a U.S. Military driver’s license) in the past two years;
  • Has not had his/her California driver license suspended, revoked or cancelled; and,
  • Has not had convictions in any type of motor vehicle for the disqualifying CDL offenses listed elsewhere in the regulations.

Medical Requirements For Obtaining A California CDL License

All commercial drivers of vehicles in interstate commerce with a maximum gross vehicle weight rating of over 10,000 pounds are required to obtain and maintain a valid Medical Examiner’s Certificate (ME Certificate). CDL holders in California must provide their SDLA with a copy of their ME Certificate.

Self Certification

All California CDL holders must declare to their State Driver Licensing Agency (SDLA) that they only operate or expect to operate commercially in 1 of 4 possible categories with their CDL. This process is called self-certification. The four categories are:

  • Interstate non-excepted: You are an Interstate non-excepted driver and must meet the Federal DOT medical card requirements (e.g. – you are “not excepted”).
  • Interstate excepted: You are an Interstate excepted driver and do not have to meet the Federal DOT medical card requirements.
  • Intrastate non-excepted: You are an Intrastate non-excepted driver and are required to meet the medical requirements for the state of California.
  • Intrastate excepted: You are an Intrastate excepted driver and do not have to meet the medical requirements for the state of California.
Hearing Requirements

A person is physically qualified to drive a CMV if that person: First perceives a forced whispered voice in the better ear at not less than five feet with or without the use of a hearing aid or if tested by use of an audiometric device, does not have an average hearing loss in the better ear greater than 40 decibels at 500Hz, 1000HZ and 2,000 Hz with or without a hearing aid when the audiometric device is calibrated to the American National Standard Z24.5-1951.

Vision Requirements

You must meet the following vision requirements:

  • A distant visual acuity of at least 20/40 (Snellen) in each eye without corrective lenses or visual acuity separately corrected to 20/40 (Snellen) or better with corrective lenses;
  • A distant binocular acuity of at least 20/40 (Snellen) in both eyes with or without corrective lenses;
  • A field of vision of at least 70 degrees in the horizontal Meridian in each eye;
  • The ability to recognize the colors of traffic signals and devices showing standard red, green, and amber.
Blood Pressure Requirements
  1. Your blood pressure needs to be under 140/90.
  2. Stage 1 hypertension, blood pressure between 140/90 – 159/99: 1-year medical certificate, must be renewed every 12 months.
  3. Stage 2 hypertension, blood pressure between 160/100 – 179/109: 3 month medical certification. Full disqualification if not under control after 3 months, until controlled. Will be required to renew every 12 months.
  4. Stage 3 hypertension, blood pressure at or over 180/110: Automatic disqualification, 6 month certification once blood pressure is under control, must be renewed every 6 months.
  5. Blood pressure can be controlled with or without medication.
Urinalysis Testing

Your urine sample will be tested in a lab for blood, sugar, and protein, which might indicate hidden health problems.

Physical Impairments

Drivers with physical impairments, which affect their ability to safely operate CMVs, must obtain a “variance” from the state of California in order to be approved to drive commercially. The variance document must be carried with the commercial driver whenever they are operating a commercial motor vehicle. A Skill Performance Evaluation (SPE) is a special type of “variance” required for drivers with impaired or missing limbs (e.g., a hand or finger, an arm, foot, or leg). Drivers with missing limbs, if eligible, must obtain an SPE certificate. The commercial driver must always carry the SPE certificate at all times.

About The Skill Performance Evaluation (SPE) Program

The Skill Performance Evaluation program is for CMV drivers who drive in interstate commerce. The SPE certification allows drivers with missing or impaired limbs to drive CMVs across state lines if they have been fitted with (and are wearing) the right prosthetic device, and the driver can demonstrate the ability to drive the truck safely by completing on-and off-road activities. If the driver passes the California commercial vehicle driving test, he or she will receive a SPE certificate. Over the years, FMCSA has granted more than 3,000 SPE certificates to truck drivers who have shown that they can drive safely on the nation’s highways.

Implied Consent to Alcohol Testing

Any person who holds a California CDL is considered to have consented to such testing as is required by the state of California or any State or jurisdiction in the enforcement of being under the influence of a controlled substance or using alcohol, be under the influence of alcohol, or have any measured alcohol concentration or detected presence of alcohol, while on duty, or operating, or in physical control of a commercial motor vehicle. Consent is implied by driving a commercial motor vehicle.

Prescription Drugs

Although the driver has a legal prescription, he/she may be disqualified if the medication could adversely affect the driver’s ability to drive a CMV safely.

Who Is Exempt From Getting A California CDL?

FMCSA regulations specifically exempt only military personnel with comparable safe-driving experience from getting CDL’s. States are authorized to provide exemptions for the rest of the following at their own discretion:

  • California Military Vehicle Operators:

    The state of California must exempt individuals who operate vehicles for military purposes from the requirements for CDL drivers. This exemption includes active military, reserves and members of the National Guard. This exception does not apply to U.S. Reserve technicians.

    Service members who are or were employed within the past year (12 months) in a military position requiring the operation of a military motor vehicle equivalent to a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) and who want to drive CMV’s in civilian life can apply for a Skills Test Waiver to get their CDL.

  • California Farm Equipment Operators:

    Covering actual farm-to-market operations, not commercial grain haulers. Drivers must be 21 years old, and vehicle must have farm plates. Farm workers are not required to have a CDL to operate vehicles:

    • Controlled and operated by a farmer, a member of his family, or an employee.
    • Used to transport farm products, equipment or supplies to or from a farm.
    • Used within 150 air miles of the farm.
    • Used in a nursery or agricultural operations.
    • Not used in the operations of a contract motor carrier.
  • California Firefighting Equipment Operators:

    Those who operate CMV’s necessary to preserving life or property, or performing emergency governmental functions, have signals that can be seen and heard, and are not subject to normal traffic laws. These include fire trucks, foam or water transport trucks, police SWAT team vehicles, ambulances and any other emergency vehicles.

  • California Recreational Vehicle Operators:

    Drivers operating recreational vehicles (RV’s) for their own non-commercial use can be exempted from CDL requirements.

  • California Township or Government Workers Exemptions:

    Many states will have specific CDL exemptions that apply to workers in smaller towns or to state and local government employees in general. You will have to check with your specific state regulations.