Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

We asked 17,943 job seekers about their Commercial Driver's License (CDL). This is what they told us:
  • 51% of job seekers said "make more money" was the biggest reason for earning their Commercial Driver's License (CDL)
  • 91% said earning their Commercial Driver's License (CDL) helped them make more money
  • 92% said earning their Commercial Driver's License (CDL) helped them get a job
  • 95% said they would recommend a family member or friend earn their Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

Commercial Driver's License (CDL) Requirements, Reviews and More

Drivers looking for a career in the logistics industry need to obtain a commercial driver's license, commonly called CDL, to drive commercial motor vehicles (or CMVs) throughout the US. CDL certifies that the driver has undergone training and evaluation and gained adequate experience to maneuver commercial motor vehicles safely. As commercial vehicles are larger and heavier than their non-commercial counterparts, and often carry passengers, cargo or hazardous materials, it can be unsafe for everyone if they are driven by unqualified drivers. The US Department of Transportation (USDoT) requires that drivers get appropriate training for the license by their employers, or they can opt for a certification program.1

Each state mandates drivers to obtain a CDL after completing the training followed by a series of knowledge and skills tests. A driver can legally hold only one license, issued by the state of his/her domicile. When you permanently shift to a new state, you must apply for a transfer of your license, generally within 30-90 days. The State Driver Licensing Agencies (SDLAs) maintain a nationwide record of all the licenses issued through the Commercial Driver's License Information System (CDLIS).2

The minimum age to obtain an intrastate CDL is 18 years, while you can apply for an interstate CDL when you are 21 years of age or more. The driver must hold a basic driver's license for at least one year and then obtain a commercial learner's permit (CLP) to be eligible for a permanent CDL. Recent updates require all CDL applicants to provide a valid DoT medical certificate and self-certification along with other documents.

Types of CDL

The driver must apply for a specific class of license as determined by the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) and gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of the vehicle one intends to drive. GVWR refers to the total weight of the vehicle including the chassis, body, engine, fuel, accessories, driver, cargo, payload or passengers aboard.3 GCWR combines the gross weight of both the truck (power unit) and the trailer together with the cargo or passengers. The three basic classes of CDL based on the truck GVWR, trailer GVWR and GCWR of the truck-trailer combination are:

Class A – A Class A CDL is required for driving a combined vehicle with a total GVWR of over 26,000 pounds towing another vehicle with a GVWR of over 10,000 pounds. The GVWR of the power unit may be less than 26,001 pounds, but the combined weight of the two should be more than 26,000 pounds.

Class B – The class B CDL is required for driving either a single vehicle with GVWR of more than 26,000 pounds or such a vehicle towing another vehicle with GVWR of under 10,000 pounds. The combination of the power unit and the towed vehicle must together weigh more than 26,000 pounds.

Class C – A CDL of Class C is required for driving a single vehicle with GVWR under 26,001 pounds or such a vehicle towing another vehicle with GVWR less than 10,000 pounds. It includes vehicles either designed to carry 16 or more passengers (including the driver) or transporting any hazardous materials required to be placarded (under Federal Law). The combined weight of the truck and the towed vehicle should not exceed 26,000 pounds to be eligible to be driven with a Class C license.

The table below contains examples to understand the class of license required for different truck-trailer weight combinations:

Class of CDL

GVWR of Power Unit

GVWR of Trailer


Examples of power units

Class A

> 26,000

> 10,000

> 26,000

Tractor-trailers, semis, big rig or 18-wheelers, tanker vehicles, livestock carriers, flatbeds

< 26,000

> 10,000

> 26,000

Class B

> 26,000

< 10,000

> 26,000

School buses, dump trucks, straight trucks, limousine, transit buses, cement trucks, boom trucks, garbage trucks

Class C

(Vehicles not covered by Classes A or B)

< 26,001

< 10,000

< 26,001

Small truck towing a trailer

Class C

(vehicle transporting hazardous materials in a placard-able quantity)

HazMat vehicles Placarded for carrying hazardous material, double/triple trailers, tank trucks

Class C

(vehicle designed to transport 16 or more passengers including the driver)

Buses, compact school buses, passenger vehicles

One needs to understand that with proper endorsements, a driver who has qualified for a Class A license may also drive vehicles in Classes B and C and a driver who has a Class B license may also drive vehicles in Class C. These classes of CDL determine the kinds of vehicles you're permitted to drive in your state.

What are the steps to earn a Commercial Driver's License?

Step 1. Determine the class of CDL you will need

Whether you are looking for a career in transportation and logistics or you have been hired to operate a particular type of vehicle, it is important to determine the right type of CDL that you will be requiring to operate a CMV. The class of certification and endorsements needed depend on the type of vehicle and the category of the cargo or passengers you will be carrying. In addition to this, individual states may have additional requirements that you should adhere to.

Step 2. Undergo a CDL course of training and education

Once you know which CMV you would be likely to operate, formal training is required. Privately owned, as well as state-owned and operated training centers and driving schools provide classroom and practical training to applicants seeking a CDL. Certain employer-affiliated or owned centers provide free-of-charge training to prospective employees.

Step 3. Complete and sign an application for the CDL

Applicants should submit a completed and signed CDL application form providing correct personal information with accurate driving history. By signing such an application, you give your consent to submitting yourself to tests for controlled substances like prescription medications or illicit drugs

Step 4. Pay the applicable fee and pass a knowledge test

With the submission of satisfactory documents and licensing fees, candidates are eligible to sit for applicable knowledge tests. The written exams are based on the vehicle you intend to drive and the endorsements you seek to add.

Step 5. Obtain a learner's permit and practice driving under supervision

Before applying for a permanent CDL, applicants must pass the written tests and hold a commercial learner's permit (CLP) for a period not less than 14 days. CLP is a form of authorization for drivers to practice driving a CMV on the road under the direct supervision of a CDL holder.13 This on-road training helps the driver understand how to operate and maintain the vehicle and safely maneuver it in different situations.

Step 6. Pass a road test and vision test

After completion of the practical training, you have to operate the truck on the road in the presence of an examiner. This third-party skills test helps in evaluating if the driver is ready to operate the truck as per the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), USDoT safety standards or needs further training and assistance.5 The applicant should also pass a vision test to confirm normal visual acuity.

Applicants need to pass an additional series of tests to add one or more endorsements to their CLP or CDL.

Generally, applicants must:

  • Be domiciled in the state
  • Present proof of principal residence address in the state and mailing address (if different)
  • Present proof of legal presence in the US
  • Fill out an application for the license/permit
  • Pass a knowledge test for the class of vehicle one intends to drive, plus any endorsements
  • Pass a vision test
  • Present proof of name and date of birth
  • Present a Social Security number
  • Present proof of a regular driver's license
  • Provide previous state's license information, held in the previous ten years
  • Pass the skills test for the class of vehicle one intends to drive, plus any endorsements
  • Present a valid CDL medical certificate and self-certification
  • Present proof of insurance
  • Have no outstanding traffic violations

CDL course overview and prerequisites


Operating a CMV is a job that requires specific skills, knowledge and ability. Drivers undergo training to cover the different aspects of CMV driving including, but not limited to, the class of vehicles, industry, truck-modifications and type of cargo or passengers they intend to transport. The CDL training imparts awareness and the expertise needed to drive a truck or passenger bus or a combination vehicle. The training covers vehicle-related and environment-related topics that involve safe operation of the automobile to reduce potential accidents. The training can be taken through employer-sponsored, private or state programs offered in truck driver training schools, post-secondary educational institutions, vocational-technical schools, accredited public or private colleges, universities, associations, state and local governments consistent with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) standards.6


Besides knowing the maximum operating weight of the vehicles as specified by the manufacturers, drivers should also know about the passengers or cargo they will haul. Accordingly, they should add single or multiple endorsements to their CDL. Endorsements signify that drivers have met the specific training and knowledge requirements to drive passenger buses or tank trucks or vehicles carrying hazardous material.7 Adding an endorsement costs between $5 and $20 depending on the state you live in.

The endorsements available are given below:

H – Hazardous Material: The “H” endorsement should be added to carry any hazardous materials, often called HAZMAT, that pose a threat to health, safety and property during transportation. HAZMAT is subject to the Hazardous Materials Regulations under 49 USC 5103, required to be placarded under subpart F of 49 CFR part 172 or any quantity of a material listed as a select agent or toxin (42 CFR Part 73) needs this endorsement in the CDL.

Applicants need to clear Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Background Check and provide fingerprints for new issuance as well as renewal of HAZMAT endorsement in all the states.8

N – Liquid Bulk/Tank Cargo: Hauling liquids or gaseous substances in bulk quantities needs this endorsement.

P – Passenger/Transportation: Driving a vehicle that is designed to carry 16 or more passengers (including the driver) needs this endorsement. The actual number of passengers that are carried at any point in time does not matter.

S – School Bus: If you transport school-going kids to and from school, you have to obtain this endorsement.

T – Double/Triple trailers: Drivers may sometimes mount more than a single trailer to their vehicle to haul to different destinations. This endorsement must be added to the CDL for such operations.

X – Hazardous Material and Tank, Combined: Drivers who carry hazardous materials like flammable and combustible liquids, gases or other explosives in tanks need to add this endorsement to their CDL. It shows that the driver is trained to operate tanks with hazardous materials.

Air Brake Endorsement: To drive any vehicle with an air brake system, this endorsement is required.

Endorsements are added to your CDL after specific training and additional evaluation. They provide proof that you possess adequate knowledge and skills to drive the particular kind of CMV safely. They act as “extra permission or allowance”. Your state's CDL manual or online practice tests can help you prepare for your endorsement related tests.

The following table shows the endorsements that can be added to a particular class of license:


Class of License

Test required for endorsement

Hazardous materials (H) 


Knowledge test

Tank vehicles (N)


Knowledge test

Passenger (P)


Knowledge + Skills test

School bus (S)


Knowledge + Skills test

Double or Triple trailers (T)


Knowledge test

Hazardous materials and Tank (X)


Knowledge test

Air Brake Endorsement


Knowledge + Skills test

Knowledge test

You are required to undergo different knowledge tests depending on the class of license and the type of endorsement you seek to add to your CDL. The general knowledge practice tests include questions about the state of domicile and the basics of commercial driving to check your theoretical understanding. Applicants must score 80 percent or more to pass a knowledge test. A few knowledge tests that CMV drivers undergo are:

  • The general knowledge test
  • The passenger transport test
  • The air brakes test
  • The combination vehicles test
  • The hazardous materials test
  • The tanker test
  • The doubles/triples test
  • The school bus test

Skills test

The class of CDL and endorsements that you will be awarded are based on your performance in the road test. After you successfully pass the applicable knowledge tests and have a steady hand on the vehicle, you need to schedule a driving test with your State Licensing Agency. These tests are conducted on the same class of vehicles for which you seek the license. In most cases, the applicants are required to bring their own vehicle to the test site, to take the following tests:

  • Pre-trip vehicle inspection
  • Basic vehicle control
  • On-road driving tests

If one is unable to operate the vehicle satisfactorily, restrictions are added to the license.


Based on the knowledge and performance evaluation, the examiner can impose a few restrictions on the CDL, highlighting the inadequacy of a particular operation. Restriction code is placed on the CDL prohibiting the operation of certain types of commercial vehicles. States are allowed to customize the codes for each restriction. For instance, Alabama uses “Z” to denote “No full air brake equipped CMV restriction” while Louisiana denotes “Air brakes restriction” with the letter “L”.910 Applicants are encouraged to go through their state's website or CDL manual to know more about the state-specific restrictions.

Military Waiver

Military professionals with two or more years of experience in safely operating heavy military vehicles can obtain a CDL without taking the knowledge and driving tests. The FMCSA military test waiver allows service members and veterans with military driving experience to exchange their military license for a CDL and transition their careers to civilian transportation. 11

Driver’s Manual

Each state's Department of Motor Vehicles provides a CDL manual and handbook to help one become a safe CMV driver.12 In addition to providing information about the specific state requirements to obtain the license, these manuals help you to understand the knowledge and skills testing curriculum.

Basic driver's license

Applicants need to hold a valid standard driver's license for at least a year before they are eligible for a commercial driver’s license in any state. Driving and maneuvering a CMV is expected to require more strength and practice than a standard vehicle. Gaining enough experience with a routine vehicle can help in understanding the basics of operating a CMV in a better way.

Commercial Learner's Permit

The State Driver Licensing Agency (SDLA) awards a Commercial Learner's Permit to authorize a driver to practice driving a CMV on the road. A driver with a CLP should practice under the direct supervision of a CDL holder. Drivers are authorized to only drive the type of vehicle for which they have tested and only with a CDL driver qualified in the same type CMV. A minimum 14 days gap is required between obtaining the CLP and applying for your commercial driver's license skills test. A CLP is generally valid for six months or one year and drivers are required to take their skills test before the CLP expires.

Proof of Social Security number, residency and identity

Applicants should possess a valid Social Security number and birth certificate or any government-issued ID before applying for a CDL. Proof of residency is required as CDL is issued by the licensing agency in the state of domicile. If you permanently shift to another state, you must apply for a transfer of your CDL to the new state DMV office generally within 60 days of establishing residency.

Self-certification and Medical Examiner's certificate

Besides knowing the type of commercial vehicle you would operate, it is also required that you should know the territory of operating the vehicle. Applicants must self-certify for interstate and intrastate operations of excepted and non-excepted status.14 Drivers are required to meet the State's medical certification requirements for licensing or provide a current Federal medical examiner's certificate, commonly referred to as a medical certificate or DOT card.

Drivers must provide the current State Medical Examiner's Certificate or Federal DoT Physical Card to their SDLA via mail, fax or email.15 The certificate confirms the physical fitness of the driver and contains information regarding the vision, diabetic waivers, skills performance or other exemptions which is then updated on the CDLIS record. All drivers must obtain a “certified” medical status as part of their driving record and keep it current.

The applicants must meet the medical requirements for either their state or federal laws and are required to obtain a medical examiner's certificate for the below-mentioned categories of operations:16

  • For excepted interstate (EI) status, drivers do not have to meet the Federal DOT medical card requirements
  • For non-excepted interstate (NI) status, drivers are required to meet the Federal DOT medical card requirements plus any waivers indicated on the certificate
  • For excepted intrastate (EA) status, drivers do not have to meet the medical requirements for their state
  • For non-excepted intrastate (NA) status, drivers must meet the FMCSA driver medical / qualification requirements for their state

Intrastate and interstate commerce activities

When you drive a CMV within the boundaries of a single state, it is termed as intrastate. Whereas, when you drive a CMV from one state to another or happen to pass through another state during transport within a state, it is called interstate operation.

The FMCSA outlines the difference as:

  • “Interstate commerce is when you drive a CMV:
  • from one State to another State or a foreign country
  • between two places within a State, but during part of the trip, the CMV crosses into another State or foreign country
  • between two places within a State, but the cargo or passengers are part of a trip that began or will end in another State or foreign country
  • Intrastate commerce is when you drive a CMV within a State and you do not meet any of the descriptions above for interstate commerce”


Excepted and non-excepted activities

The below-mentioned activities fall into the excepted list:

  • “Driving as Federal, State or local government employee
  • Driving as a private motor carrier of passengers for nonbusiness purposes
  • Driving a fire truck or rescue vehicle during emergencies and other related activities
  • Transporting school children and/or school staff between home and school
  • Transporting migrant workers
  • Transporting human corpses or sick or injured persons
  • Transporting propane winter heating fuel when responding to an emergency condition requiring immediate response such as damage to a propane gas system after a storm or flooding
  • Responding to a pipeline emergency condition requiring immediate response such as a pipeline leak or rupture
  • Working as a beekeeper in the seasonal transportation of bees
  • Working in custom harvesting on a farm or to transport farm machinery and supplies used in the custom harvesting operation to and from a farm or to transport custom harvested crops to storage or market
  • Operating and controlling a vehicle as a farmer, but not a combination vehicle (power unit and towed unit) which is used to transport agricultural products, farm machinery or farm supplies (no placard-able hazardous materials) to and from a farm and within 150 air-miles of the farm”

All other activities that are not in the state’s list of excepted activities are non-excepted and require state medical certification or DoT card.

Real ID-compliant license

REAL ID is a federally accepted form of identification issued to verify the identity of a person residing in the US and complies with federal identification guidelines and standards. A REAL ID-compliant license makes it more convenient for holders to board a commercial airplane for domestic travel or visit a military base or access other federal facilities.

The optional state REAL ID is similar to a traditional license but has a gold star endorsement at the top. From October 1, 2020, licenses with REAL ID-compliant star marking will be accepted, besides other federally accepted documents like a valid US passport, to enter secured facilities, while the regular licenses or CDLs will not be permitted by the TSA.17 The DHS is working in close collaboration with the states to standardize the security regulations.18

It will be useful for you to visit your state’s driver’s licensing agency and obtain a REAL ID-compliant card. The process for getting a REAL ID driver license or ID card is similar to that of a regular DL.

Applicants must visit the nearest State Division of Motor Vehicles driver license office with documentation that proves:20

  • The identity and date of birth
  • Social Security number
  • Residency
  • Legal presence (lawful status)

Non-domiciled CDL and CLP

Applicants who reside in states that are forbidden by the FMCSA from issuing a CDL or a CLP, can get their license from other states which are in compliance with the normal licensing standards. Such licenses are referred to as non-domiciled CDL.21

Drivers domiciled in a foreign country (except Canada or Mexico) can also apply for a non-domiciled license and permit, if their country does not have a reciprocity agreement with the US and does not meet the licensing standards required by the US states.


1. “USDoT: Commercial Driver's License Program | FMCSA”. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Retrieved on February 5, 2020.
2. “AAMVA - Commercial Driver's License Information System (CDLIS)”. American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. Retrieved on February 5, 2020.
3. "What Is GVWR or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating?”. Weigh Safe. January 22, 2019. Retrieved on February 5, 2020.
4. “Regulations”. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Retrieved on February 5, 2020.
5. “FHWA | US Department of Transportation”. Federal Highway Administration. Retrieved on February 5, 2020.
6. “States | FMCSA”. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Retrieved on February 5, 2020.
7. “Drivers | FMCSA”. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Retrieved on February 5, 2020.
8. “HAZMAT Endorsement”. Transportation Security Administration. Retrieved on February 5, 2020.
9. “Driver Licenses - Classes, Endorsements, and Restrictions”. Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. Retrieved on February 5, 2020.
10. “Restrictions and Endorsements”. Louisiana Department of Public Safety (DPS). Retrieved on February 5, 2020.
11. “Military Driver Programs”. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Retrieved on February 5, 2020.
12. “DMV Near Me: Find your nearest DMV office locations”. Retrieved on February 5, 2020.
13. “How do I get a Commercial Driver's License?”. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Retrieved on February 5, 2020.
14. “Categories of Self-certification with my State Driver Licensing Agency”. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Retrieved on February 5, 2020.
15. “State Instructions Submitting Med certificate”. (PDF). Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) Program. Retrieved on February 5, 2020.
16. “Medical | FMCSA”. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Retrieved on February 5, 2020.
17. “Real ID Factsheet”. (PDF). Retrieved 5 February 2020..
18. “REAL ID Frequently Asked Questions”. January 7, 2016. Retrieved on February 5, 2020.
19. "REAL ID”. Department of Homeland Security. 2014-07-25. Retrieved on February 5, 2020.
20. “REAL ID Requirements Checklist”. (PDF). New Jersey Department of State. Retrieved on February 5, 2020.
21. “Non-Domiciled CDLs”. (PDF). Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles. Retrieved on February 5, 2020.

Editorial content last updated: April 2020

What are people saying about getting a Commercial Driver's License (CDL)?

Did this certification help you make more money?


Did this certification help you make more money?

91% said earning their Commercial Driver's License (CDL) helped them make more money.Based on 17,923 responses

Did this certification help you get a job?


Did this certification help you get a job?

92% said earning their Commercial Driver's License (CDL) helped them get a job.Based on 17,923 responses

Would you recommend this certification?


Would you recommend this certification?

95% said they would recommend a family member of friend to earn their Commercial Driver's License (CDL).Based on 17,922 responses

Why did you decide to earn your Commercial Driver's License (CDL)?

Based on 17,943 responses
Required for my current job
Make more money
Changing careers
Get an edge over other candidates
Help my career progression

What was your job title after earning this certification?

Based on 14,343 responses
Truck DriverView jobs
Bus DriverView jobs
DriverView jobs
Delivery DriverView jobs
Owner Operator DriverView jobs
Other job titles: 623

What do people wish they knew before earning their Commercial Driver's License (CDL)?

12,719 people answered
I wish I was more knowledgeable about senior truck. But now I am and things are working out
May 3, 2021
May 3, 2021
How many doors it opens up for job opportunities.
May 3, 2021
Cdl license valid,medical card valid
May 1, 2021
I wish I would have got it, when I Turned 21.
Apr 29, 2021
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What advice would you give to someone interested in earning their Commercial Driver's License (CDL)?

13,626 people answered
Study alot. And always pre trip. Get ready to always learn new thing EVERYDAY
May 3, 2021
Treat this with th respect that it deserves.
May 3, 2021
May 3, 2021
Go for it. It is a good thing to have for job opportunities.
May 3, 2021
Do it, there are more opportunities, when you have a CDL.
Apr 29, 2021
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