Motorists need a California CDL, or commercial drivers license, to legally operate certain categories of vehicles. These include single or combination vehicles with high gross weight ratings (GVWR), vehicles intended to carry 10 or more persons or vehicles transporting hazardous materials. A CDL license is not universal, however. Applicants must select from a variety of CDL types, classes and categories based on their driving needs. For example, a motorist seeking employment to drive tanker trucks would need a truck driver license with tanker and/or hazardous materials endorsements, while a motorist seeking to drive school buses would need an entirely different class of license and endorsements.

Awareness that commercial drivers play a crucial role in the safety of America’s roads has led to the development of state and federal regulations about licensing. As a result, CDL license applicants must be able to document legal and physical fitness and eligibility to qualify for commercial learning permits and permission to sit for the required tests.

CDL Requirements in California

California CDL license requirements include restrictions on who may apply for credentials, and lay out a clear path by which eligible motorists must apply for licensing. Applicants must:

  • Be at least 18 years of age.
  • Submit to 10-year driving history checks and, where applicable, TSA background checks.
  • Have – and – supply to the DMV proof of age, residency and identity.
  • Pay all applicable fees.
  • Apply using the correct application forms and processes.
  • Pass physical, written and on-road certification tests.

Under state and federal CDL requirements, motorists may be denied CDL licenses or have their licenses revoked if they:

  • Cannot document legal residency, their identities, ages or other prerequisite criteria.
  • Commit felonies, serious traffic violations or drug or alcohol offenses.
  • Fail to pass necessary testing.
  • Hold CDLs from more than one state at the same time.

How to Apply for a CDL Permit in California

Just as motorists must get learners’ permits before they can receive regular California drivers licenses, they must also apply for the CDL learners permit before they can test for commercial licensure. Motorists can request the CDL permit at any California DMV service center.

CDL permit rules restrict holders to driving solely the types of commercial vehicles for which they are applying, and only under the supervision of licensed, authorized commercial drivers. Permits are valid for a maximum of 180 days, but may be extended for one, additional 180-day period, upon request.

To apply, applicants must meet certain California CDL permit requirements. These include the following:

  • Be no less than 18 years of age
  • Hold a California noncommercial drivers license
  • Properly complete and submit a Commercial Driver License Application form
  • Apply in person, at a DMV office
  • Pass a driving history check and vision exam
  • Bring a completed Medical Examination Report form
  • Document identity, residency, citizenship and Social Security Number
  • Pay application fees
  • Get fingerprinted and photographed

CDL Written Test in California

All licensees must take the CDL general knowledge test. Tests for commercial drivers are available at any DMV office, and no appointment is necessary. Note that no online CDL test is available at this time; all tests must be taken in person. Those seeking certain endorsements may need to take addition CDL written test sections.

CDL permit test questions are taken directly from the state CDL book. Applicants must answer 80 percent or more of the test questions correctly to pass. Several practice tests are available free-of-charge, online, from the California DMV that residents can use to prepare or test their readiness before sitting for their exams.

Motorists must hold their CDLs for at least 14 days before testing for their licenses, but may not wait more than 180 days – unless they apply for permit extensions.

California CDL Training Schools & Practice Tests

Numerous forms of CDL prep are available to applicants in California. CDL school is not required, but all prospective license holders must obtain and review copies of the state’s CDL handbook. The CDL book covers everything applicants will need to know for their written and skills tests, as well as essential general knowledge for ensuring their safety and the safety of others on the road.

Online CDL practice test materials are available from the DMV for all portions of commercial license testing.

How to Get a CDL License in California

How to get a CDL in California begins with obtaining a DOT medical review from an authorized provider. Once applicants have their medical results, they can pick up or print a CDL application form. To apply for CDL licenses, applicants must take their medical results and completed applications to the DMV, along with:

  • Proof of age, citizenship, Social Security Number and residency.
  • Their California drivers licenses.
  • Payment for fees.

To get your CDL, you will also need to consent to driver history checks, and possibly, a TSA background check.

CDL Driving Test in California

To take a California CDL driving test, Applicants must make appointments in advance. The basic tests consist of three, distinct sections, with possible additional sections added for applicants pursuing certain endorsements. Applicants are required to demonstrate that they can perform vehicle inspections, handle basic vehicle controls and drive safely on the road.

Applicants must supply the type or class of vehicle for which they are seeking licensure in order to take the test. By law, all portions of the driving skills CDL test must be conducted in English. No other languages may be spoken.

How to Get a CDL as a Military Member in California

The Troops to Trucks military CDL waiver program facilitates the transition from driving military vehicles to driving commercial civilian vehicles for current and recently separated United States military servicemembers. Under the Troops to Trucks CDL for veterans program, qualified servicemembers may be exempt from the driving skills portion of the CDL testing process. This reduces the time and expense necessary to obtain a commercial drivers license. To participate, applicants must:

  • Be serving in Active Duty positions, or have served in such positions within a year prior to application.
  • Have driven military vehicles with appropriate authorizations for at least two years.
  • Not have illegally held multiple drivers licenses.
  • Not have had their licenses suspended, revoked or otherwise lost.
  • Not have been convicted of disqualifying crimes, violations or offenses.
  • Submit the necessary and appropriately completed forms.

Military CDL waivers exempt applicants only from the driving skills portion of the licensing process. All other tests, fees and documentation requirements still apply. Servicemembers desiring certain endorsements, such as a passenger endorsement, may still be required to take the driving skills test, as endorsements are not covered by the waiver program.

CDL Medical Exams in California

Federal CDL medical exam requirements state that all California CDL license applicants must be examined by approved practitioners prior to applying. These new DOT physical requirements recognize that commercial drivers license holders play a key role in the safety of the nation’s roadways, and that certain medical conditions can compromise their ability to do so effectively.

Applicants must have a CDL physical conducted by a DOT medical examiner, and provide their results to the DMV at the time of application.

Types of CDL Classes in California

California offers three classes of commercial drivers licenses: the Class A license, Class B license and Class C license. The types are further outlined as follows:

  • Motorists with a Class A CDL can operate combination vehicles with gross weight ratings of 26,001 or more pounds
  • Motorists with a Class B CDL can drive single or combination commercial vehicles within certain gross weight ratings
  • Motorists with a Class C CDL and the appropriate endorsements can operate large passenger vehicles, or vehicles transporting hazardous materials

Types of CDL Endorsements in California

CDL endorsements are supplemental certifications commercial motorists may need that authorize them to operate specialty commercial vehicles. California endorsements include the below:

  • Tanker Endorsement (N)
  • Hazmat Endorsement (H)
  • Double/Triple Trailer Endorsement (T)
  • Passenger endorsement (P)
  • Combination Tank and Hazmat Endorsement (X)
  • School Bus Endorsement (S)
  • Firefighter Endorsement (F)

Interstate vs. Intrastate Commercial Drivers Licenses in California

California intrastate CDL licenses authorize motorists to operate commercial vehicles within the state, only. Intrastate CDLs are available to motorists who will not cross state lines, and who will only transport cargo and passengers travelling between points within the state.

Motorists intending to cross state lines or to transport cargo or passengers coming into – or leaving – the state at any point must hold interstate CDL licenses. While some states issue “excepted” licenses in either category with less-stringent application criteria, California does not.

Commercial Driving License Fees in California

The CDL license cost can vary, depending on how motorists choose to prepare for testing, and which types and classes of licenses and endorsements they select. Standard CDL permit costs are as follows:

  • Class A or B license: $76
  • Class C license application: $45
  • Class C license driving exam retest: $7
  • CDL driving retest: $35
  • Passenger endorsement: $76
  • Tank, doubles or hazmat endorsements: $45
  • Firefighter endorsement: $28
Last updated on Thursday, March 5 2020.