It takes special skills, training, and aptitude to safely operate large vehicles. We issue commercial driver licenses (CDLs) to ensure that drivers meet our high standards for operating commercial motor vehicles.
In California, you may be hired to drive a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) carrying cargo that originates and terminates within state lines if you are at least 18 years old, and to drive for interstate commerce or transport hazardous materials/waste if you’re 21 or older. In either scenario, you need to hold a CDL in order to drive a CMV. What classifies as a CMV?
If you have never had a commercial driver license (CDL), or you want to make a classification, endorsement, or restriction change that requires a skills test, you first need to get a CLP and hold it for at least 14 days. Here’s how you apply for a CLP:
- Get a standard California noncommercial Class C driver license (DL) (a temporary/interim DL is acceptable).
- Complete an online CDL Application.
- Visit a DMV office, where you will:
- Submit a completed 10 Year History Record Check (DL 939) (if you have been issued a DL of any kind in another state or jurisdiction in the last 10 years).
- Submit a completed Medical Examination Report (MER) Form (MCSA 5875) and Medical Examiner’s Certificate (MEC) (MCSA 5876) (see the “Medical examination report” section below for more information).
- 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 with an acceptable identity document. Your current name needs to match the name on the identity document (see the FAQs for more information).
- Present acceptable residency documents (if you have never had a California driver license or identification (DL/ID) card).
- Pay the nonrefundable application fee (application and fee valid for 12 months).
- Have your thumbprint scanned.
- Pass a vision exam.
- Have your photo taken.
- Pass the knowledge test(s). You have three attempts to pass each of the required knowledge tests. If you fail the same test three times, your application is no longer valid and you need to reapply. To allow for sufficient testing time, we do not administer knowledge tests within 30 minutes of closing.
- If you want to apply for a REAL ID, you must also provide proof of your identity, social security number (SSN), and two proofs of residency from the list of acceptable REAL ID documents.
We will issue you a CLP after you pass the knowledge test(s).
If you do not meet all the requirements to get a CDL within 12 months of applying (including passing the knowledge test and skills test), the application will no longer be valid and you must reapply.
Rules and Restrictions
Here are the rules and restrictions for operating a CMV with a CLP:
- You must also obtain and carry a valid California DL.
- The CLP is valid for a maximum of 180 days from the date issued. It can be renewed for an additional 180 days if the expiration date is not more than one year from the initial application date.
- If you present limited term legal presence documents, your CLP may expire on the same date as your legal presence documents.
- A CLP is limited to these endorsements:
- Tank (N)
- Passenger (P)
- School Bus (S)
- You must be accompanied by a California CDL holder while operating a CMV. The license holder must possess the appropriate class of CDL and endorsements to operate the CMV.
- If you have an “N” endorsement, the tanks must be empty when you are driving the CMV. The tank must be purged if it previously contained a hazardous material.
- If you have a “P” or “S” endorsement, you cannot operate a CMV with passengers (other than federal/state auditors and inspectors, test examiners, other trainees, and the accompanying CDL holder).
After you hold a commercial learner permit (CLP) for 14 days, you can apply to take the skills test to earn your CDL. This 14 day waiting period also applies to classification upgrades and endorsement/restriction changes that require a skills test.
To apply for a CDL:
- Schedule a skills test appointment (skills tests are not given without an appointment). You may also call 1-800-777-0133 during the regular business hours (8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon., Tues., Thurs., and Fri., and between 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed., excluding holidays) to make an appointment.
- Bring the type of vehicle(s) for the class you want to drive.
- Pass the skills test, which includes a vehicle inspection, basic control skills test, and road test. If you fail any part of the skills test, all other testing will be postponed. You have three tries to pass the skills test. You must pay a retest fee each time you retake the skills test.
Certain applicants may qualify to have the skills test requirement waived:
- If you have a valid CDL from another state that is current or has been expired for less than two years, you can surrender that license (or proof thereof). The license must have equivalent classification, endorsements, and restrictions to the one you are applying for in California.
- You can submit a Certificate of Driving Skill (DL 170 ETP) if your employer is authorized to issue them. Both you and your employer must sign the form.
- If you have military driving experience, you can submit a completed CDL Certification of Military Waiver of CDL Driver Test (DL 963) and a Commanding Officer’s Certification of Driving Experience (DL 964). Learn more about the Troops to Trucks military waiver program.
- If you have a California CLP, and completed CDL training and passed the skills test in another state, you are not required to take the skills test in California. The skills test results will be sent to California DMV from the state where you were tested. You will need to go to a DMV Commercial Driving Test Office to finalize your application. Failing to return to a commercial DMV office may result in your application expiring.
After you pass your skills test, surrender your out-of-state CDL, or submit your certificate, we will issue an interim CDL that’s valid for 60 days. If you have not received your official CDL after 45 days, call us at 1-800-777-0133 to check the status.
Commercial Driver License Renewal
If your commercial driver license expires in less than 120 days and is not suspended or lost, you may qualify to renew using the Virtual Field office.
In this Section
CDL Classes & Certifications
There are three commercial driver license classes and four self-certification types.
Learn more about CDL classes and certifications
Medical Examinations & Eligibility
Commercial drivers, firefighters, and non-commercial drivers with Class A and Class B licenses are required to meet federal medical standards.
Learn more about CDL medical requirements
TSA Background Check for HAZMAT Endorsement
In order to get a hazardous materials (HazMat) endorsement on your CDL, you need to undergo a Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) security threat assessment.
Learn more about the TSA background check
Employer Testing Program
The Employer Testing Program (ETP) authorizes qualified commercial employers to administer the drive test to employees needing a CDL. Learn more about the program, the requirements, and how to apply.
Learn more about the ETP
Sample CDL Knowledge Tests
Before you can get a CDL, you need to pass applicable knowledge tests demonstrating you understand the rules of the road and how to safely operate a commercial motor vehicle. These sample tests can help you prepare for your knowledge test.
Practice with the sample tests
What Classifies as a CMV?
A CMV is defined as a motor vehicle or combination of vehicles and trailers used for hire to transport passengers or property.
- A single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more.
- A combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 pounds or more.
- A vehicle designed, used, or maintained for carrying more than ten passengers (including the driver).
- A vehicle towing another vehicle or trailer with a GVWR of 10,001 pounds or more.
- A vehicle transporting hazardous materials (requires placards).
- A vehicle transporting hazardous waste as defined in California Health and Safety Code §25115 and §25117.
- A vehicle towing a combination of two trailers or vehicle and trailer.
- A 3-axle vehicle weighing more than 6,000 pounds.
Need something else?
Employer Pull Notice (EPN) Program
The EPN program allows companies to monitor the driving records of their drivers.
Update Info on Your Driver License (DL) or ID Card
Learn how to change your name, address, or gender on your driver license or ID card.
REAL ID cards
Beginning October 2021, you’ll need a federal compliant card such as a passport, military ID, or REAL ID to board a domestic flight or access some federal facilities.