Commercial Drivers License Requirements
Unlike regular driver’s licenses, which are primarily regulated by state DMV agencies, commercial driver’s licenses follow federal regulations set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration FMCSA)—with a few state-specific traffic safety laws and requirements sprinkled in.
Here are the federal CDL requirements you’ll need to know in order to start your career as a commercial driver. For the full run-down of the steps to take in order to earn your commercial driver’s license, jump over to our guide on how to get your CDL.
CDL Age & Eligibility Requirements
To get a commercial driver’s license in your state, you must first hold a regular driver’s license and also meet specific age thresholds depending on what kind of driving you’ll be doing. While a few states have higher minimum requirements for intrastate driving, most follow the federal guidelines—check your state’s CDL manual to ensure you’re fully aware of any variations your DMV agency may have.
Generally, though, to get a CDL you must:
- Already have a state-issued driver’s license.
- Be at least:
- 18 years old to drive intrastate (i.e., within state lines only).
- 21 years old to drive interstate (i.e., across state lines) or transport hazardous materials (HAZMAT).
- Earn a commercial learner’s permit and hold it for at least 14 days.
- Complete an entry-level commercial driver training program (see below for more details on this CDL requirement).
- Undergo a fingerprint background check, if you’re applying for a HAZMAT endorsement (more details on this process are below).
Entry-Level Driver Training CDL Requirements
As of February 7, 2022, most new CDL applicants (and some existing CDL holders) must successfully pass a CDL entry-level driver training program (ELDT). This program is required for anyone:
- 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.
If you earned any of these licenses or endorsements before February 7, 2022, you don’t need to complete an EDLT course retroactively.
The timing of your ELDT program completion depends on which of the above licenses/upgrades or endorsements you’re applying for. Some require you to complete your course after earning your commercial learner’s permit but before taking your behind-the-wheel skills exam; others require course completion before taking the written knowledge exam for your CLP.
You must take your ELDT course before testing for your learner’s permit if:
- You’re applying for a hazardous materials (H) endorsement
You may take your ELDT course after earning your CLP but before your skills tests if you are:
- Applying for a Class A or B CDL
- Upgrading your Class B CDL to a Class A license
- Applying for a passenger (P) or school bus (S) endorsement
Your CDL training course will consist of at least five knowledge areas that will include:
- Basic operation
- Safe operating procedures
- Advanced operation procedures
- Vehicle systems and reporting malfunctions
- Non-driving activities
You’ll also complete a behind-the-wheel skills practical portion of the course. You must pass your course exam with a score of at least 80%. There is no minimum required hours set by the FMCSA—as long as the training provider adequately covers each of the five knowledge areas, they are free to set their own specific course hours.
Too, your specific state DMV agency may apply higher training requirements than these federal minimums, so make sure to consult your CDL manual for specifics on the entry-level driver training hours required in your state.
You can find a federally approved EDLT provider through the FMCSA’s entry-level training website.
CDL Medical Requirements and Self-Certification
Commercial drivers must also show that they are physically qualified to safely drive a commercial vehicle. To do so, you must complete a two-part process that entails a physical exam as well as a self-certification process based on your driving type. We’ll explain more below.
DOT Medical Report and Certificate
Commercial drivers must first undergo a physical exam from a federally authorized medical provider listed on the FMCSA’s national registry. As part of your physical, the doctor will need to fill out the Medical Examination Report Form (MCSA-5875). Once they’ve determined you’re physically qualified to hold a CDL, they’ll complete and issue the Medical Examiner’s Certificate (form MCSA-5876) for you to bring to your licensing agency.
Before your Medical Examiner’s Certificate (also referred to as a “DOT medical card”) expires, you’ll need to undergo this process again to remain current; otherwise, your CDL will be suspended. Most DOT medical cards expire every 2 years.
CDL Medical Self-Certification Requirements
You’ll also need to tell your state what type of driving you’ll be doing with your commercial driver’s licenses. This self-certification falls into two categories: Intra/Interstate driving, and Excepted/Non-Excepted status.
Interstate and intrastate certifications adhere to the following provisions:
- Intrastate: You and your cargo/passengers will be driving only within your state using your CDL.
- You will be driving your commercial vehicle across state lines or into a border country (Canada/Mexico), even if you only cross state lines briefly.
- The cargo or passengers within your commercial vehicle either originated or will end up in a different state/country, even if your specific trip stays within state lines.
- You must certify as an interstate driver even if most of your driving qualifies as intrastate.
Within your interstate or intrastate certification, you must also state whether you qualify as excepted or non-excepted status. For intrastate driving, these are based on your specific state’s medical eligibility/certification requirements. There may be reasons why you would be excepted from meeting your state’s medical requirements, in which case you would qualify as an Intrastate Excepted driver. If your medical card states that you are physically able and required to meet your state’s medical conditions for a CDL, you would be a Non-excepted Intrastate driver.
Interstate driving status is slightly different. You would qualify for an Interstate Excepted status if you ONLY drive a commercial vehicle for any of the following purposes:
- Taking children and/or staff to school and back home
- Driving a commercial vehicle as an employee of your local, state, or federal government
- Transporting sick or injured passengers, or carrying human remains
- Transporting migrant workers
- Seasonal transportation of bees
- Driving a fire truck or rescue vehicle
- Emergency propane delivery for winter heating fuel (such as in the event of damage to a gas system)
- Responding to an emergency pipeline leak or rupture
- Driving for custom farm harvesting operations
- Operating a non-combination vehicle to carry agricultural materials (but not hazardous materials) or farming equipment/products within 150 miles to and from a farm
- Driving passengers as a private motor carrier
If you qualify for Excepted status, you do not need to carry a federal DOT medical card with you.
If you operate across state lines for any other reason, even just occasionally, you must self-certify as Non-excepted Interstate status.
CDL HAZMAT Background Check Requirements
In addition to the above federal requirements for all CDL applicants, anyone looking to haul hazardous materials must also undergo a background check before being eligible to test for a HAZMAT endorsement. These background checks are conducted and regulated by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), rather than your state DMV agency.
To be eligible, you must:
- Be a U.S. citizen, naturalized citizen, permanent resident, nonimmigrant alien, refugee, or asylee.
- Already have a state-issued CDL.
You can complete your application online, after which most applicants must visit an authorized TSA fingerprinting center to complete the rest of the process. However, if you’re from any of the following states in the list below, you’ll need to contact or visit your state DMV agency for fingerprinting information:
- New York
All applicants will need to provide acceptable proof of identity, such as your U.S. passport or both your driver’s license along with your birth certificate. There’s a background check fee of $86.50 for all first-time applicants. Once you’ve submitted your application, fingerprints, identity documents, and payment, the TSA will contact you with your status within 30-45 days.
Required CDL Forms and Documents
You can save yourself a ton of time and frustration at your local DMV agency by having all of your paperwork in order before making your appointment. Be prepared to bring:
- A completed CDL/CLP application form. You can almost always download this from your state’s DMV agency website. Filling out your application before arrival can significantly expedite the process.
- Your required medical forms, to include:
- A 10-year driving history, or your certified driving record.
- Many state DMV agencies can check this electronically, and most CDL applications provide space to include your 10-year driving history; if not, your driving record will suffice.
- Proof of identity and residency as deemed acceptable by your state DMV agency.
Testing Requirements for CDLs
Regardless of which state CDL you’re applying for, you must pass a written knowledge exam as well as a practical behind-the-wheel skills test to earn your commercial driver’s license. If you’re applying for one or more endorsements at the same time, there will be written tests for each of those as well, and you’ll need to demonstrate those skills during your behind-the-wheel exam.
You can ensure you’re fully prepared by both studying your state’s CDL manual and taking an online practice test to get familiar with the structure of your exam. There are even practice tests for each type of endorsement you might apply for, so you’ll know what kind of questions to expect and where you might need a bit more studying.