2024 California CDL Requirements Guide

Requirements for getting a CDL in California include a high school diploma or GED, a clean driving record, and a class D license in good standing.
Written by Mary Cahill
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
background
In order to get a commercial driver’s license in
California
, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED, a clean driving record, and a class D license that’s in good standing.
  • To get your commercial driver’s license (CDL) in California, you must have a high school diploma or GED, a clean driving record, and a class D driver’s license in good standing.
  • All California CDL holders must be at least 18 years old to drive intrastate or at least 21 years old to drive across state lines.
  • Obtaining a CDL is more involved than getting a regular driver’s license, and you must obtain a certified learner’s permit (CLP) before you can apply for a CDL. 
  • The CDL licensing fee is $89. 
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What is required for a California commercial driver’s license (CDL)?

California commercial driving license requirements include a certain age, education status, driving history, and medical status. You will also be required to complete entry level driver training before the Department of Motor Vehicles will issue a CDL.

Minimum age requirement

You must be at least 18 years of age to get your California CDL. However, getting commercially licensed at this age means you cannot drive across state lines.
You must be at least 21 years old if you want to use your CDL to travel from state to state or if you plan to drive a HazMat vehicle.

Education requirement

All CDL holders in California are required to have a high school diploma or GED.

Driving record requirements

It is extremely important to have a
clean driving record
if you want to apply for a CDL. If you’re a convicted felon or someone with a poor driving record, you could have a hard time getting a CDL in California—or any state for that matter. Serious offenses like a DUI, a hit-and-run charge, or reckless driving could make it especially difficult—or even impossible—to obtain a CDL. 

Medical requirements

The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires CDL holders to pass specific medical exams designed to determine each driver’s ability to safely operate commercial vehicles. 
Here are some of the
medical requirements
expected of California’s CDL drivers:
  • Must have 70-degree peripheral vision, 20/40 acuity in each eye, and ability to differentiate the colors of traffic signals (corrective lenses can be worn during testing)
  • Must have ability to hear a “forced whisper” from a minimum distance of five feet (hearing aids can be worn during testing)
  • Must not have a lessened ability ability to perform normal operation of the vehicle due to loss or impairment of a limb or extremity
  • Must not have an established diagnosis of insulin-dependent diabetes
  • Must not have a clinical diagnosis of cardiovascular disease, respiratory condition, high blood pressure, or a musculoskeletal impairment that would impair the driver’s ability to perform normal operation of the vehicle
  • Must not have a clinical diagnosis of a mental, nervous, or functional condition that would impair the driver’s ability to perform normal operation of the vehicle, such as narcolepsy or chronic pain
  • Must not use any drug identified as a Schedule 1 substance according to the FMCSR Appendix D, such as marijuana, or have a physical dependence on alcohol that could result in withdrawal symptoms such as seizures
CDL holders in California must submit a completed
Medical Examination Report (MER) Form
and a
Medical Examiner’s Certificate (MEC)
in order to prove their physical capability. 

ELDT requirements

As of 2022, the California DMV enacted Entry Level Driver Training (ELDT) requirements for CDL applicants. Drivers must complete the training if any of the following apply:
  • Driver is obtaining a Class A or Class B CDL
  • Driver is upgrading a Class B CDL to a Class A CDL
  • Driver is seeking an S, P, or H Endorsement
Drivers in these categories must undergo ELDT courtesy of a registered training provider as indicated on the
Federal Training Provider Registry (TPR)
California also requires all Class A or B CDL applicants to complete a minimum of 15 hours of behind-the-wheel training. Confirmation of these real-time driving hours must be documented via a
California Commercial Driver Behind the Wheel Training Certification
, and drivers will be expected to present this certificate at the DMV prior to receiving a CDL. 
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How to apply for a CDL in California

In order to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in California, you must hold a commercial learner’s permit (CLP) for at least 14 days, take your CDL test, and pay an $89 licensing fee. 

Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP)

Before you can get a CDL, you’ll first need to apply for a commercial learner's permit (CLP)
To apply for a CLP:
  • Step 1: Obtain a standard noncommercial Class C driver’s license.
  • Step 2: Complete the online commercial driver’s license application. 
  • Step 3: Visit your local DMV office and submit the required documentation.
At the DMV, the required documentation will include:
  • A completed MER and MEC
  • Proof of your social security number (SSN)
  • Proof of identity
  • Proof of current California residency 
You’ll then be required to submit a thumbprint scan and pass the vision and knowledge tests. If all goes according to plan, you’ll have your CDL photo taken right there.
You must hold a CLP for a minimum of 14 days and a maximum of 180 days before you can get your CDL. You are allowed to renew your CLP for another 180 days as long as it has not been more than one year since its expiration. 
Keep in mind: If you have not obtained your CDL or renewed your CLP within 12 months of applying, your application will expire and you must start the process over. 

Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)

Once you have held your CLP for at least 14 days, you can then apply to take your skills test to obtain your California CDL. In addition to making sure the DMV has the paperwork we mentioned earlier, this is what you’ll need to do to make that happen:
  • Step 1:
    Schedule an appointment online
    or by phone by calling 1-800-777-0133 during regular business hours.
  • Step 2: Bring the vehicle for which you want to obtain a license. (Make sure your truck is unloaded!)
  • Step 3: Pass the skills test, which consists of a vehicle inspection, basic control skills, and a driving test.
Keep in mind: Some drivers may be able to waive the skills test requirement if any of the following apply:
  • You have a CDL from another state that is valid or expired less than two years.
  • You have military driving experience and qualify for the
    Troops to Trucks military waiver program
    .
  • You hold a current California CLP, have completed CDL training, and have passed the skills test in a different state.
  • Your employer is authorized to issue a
    Certificate of Driving Skill
    to provide proof of a previous successful driving test.
Once you pass—or waive—the skills test, you will need to pay a licensing fee of $89 for a Class A or Class B CDL or $53 for a Class C CDL.
Your CDL in California is valid for five years, and once it’s time for renewal, you can expect to pay a $53 fee. 
MORE: How to get cheap commercial truck insurance

What are the different types of CDLs?

Classes

Commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) have three tiers, each of which permits you to operate a slightly different type of commercial vehicle. Let’s look at how each class of CDL differs:
Class A
  • Required to operate a vehicle or combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 pounds or more, with consideration that the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is over 10,000 pounds 
  • Typically includes tractor-trailers or tanker vehicles
Class B
  • Required to operate a single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or a combination of vehicles provided that the towed vehicle is less than 10,000 pounds
  • Typically includes farm vehicles and buses
Class C
  • Required to operate a vehicle that carries hazardous materials or a vehicle that transports 16 or more passengers, so long as it does not meet the criteria for a Class A or Class B CDL
  • Typically includes commercial passenger vans or buses or transporters of HazMat materials

Endorsements

In addition to the CDL classes, there are also six separate endorsements for CDLs in California that pertain to what kinds of vehicles commercially licensed drivers are allowed to operate. Each endorsement comes with different requirements—either a written knowledge test taken alone or combined with a road test and background check. 
The table below provides more details about CDL endorsements:
Endorsement
Purpose
Requirements
H
Operating a vehicle carrying hazardous materials 
Written knowledge test and TSA background check
N
Operating tanker vehicles
Written knowledge test
P
Driving passenger vehicles
Written knowledge test, road test, and criminal background check
S
Driving school buses
Written knowledge test, road test, and criminal background check
T
Driving a double or triple tractor-trailer
Written knowledge test
X
Transporting hazardous materials within a tanker vehicle
Written knowledge test
When you apply for a CDL in California, you must specify which endorsement(s) you’d like to obtain.
MORE: Driving to California: tips, tricks, and laws
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FAQs

Your CDL in California is valid for five years, the same length of time as a California standard driver’s license. The renewal fee for your California CDL will cost $53. If your CDL is lost or stolen, the replacement fee is $39. 
CDLs are required for vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 pounds or more, vehicles that carry hazardous materials, or vehicles that transport 16 or more passengers.
Before you can get a CDL, you’ll first need to apply for a commercial learner's permit (CLP). After holding the CLP for at least 14 days, you can take a skills test and pay an $89 application fee to obtain your California CDL. Be prepared to provide residency documents, proof of identity, and your Social Security card. 
CDL applicants must undergo ELDT courtesy of a registered training provider and complete 15 hours of behind-the-wheel training in order to get their CDL and become a truck driver. 
You will need to pay a licensing fee of $89 for a Class A or Class B CDL or $53 for a Class C CDL, and the renewal fee for your California CDL will cost $53. If your CDL is lost or stolen, the replacement fee is $39. 
You don’t need a CDL for a vehicle under 26,000 pounds as long as the trailer weight stays below 10,000 pounds.
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