2023 Wisconsin CDL Requirements Guide

In conjunction with some basic background requirements, you must pass an assortment of tests to apply for a CDL in Wisconsin.
Written by Drew Waterstreet
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Basic eligibility, a background check, a medical evaluation, and knowledge or skills tests are all part of the application process for obtaining a CDL in
But that's all easier said than done. There’s no shortage of studying and paperwork that must be completed before getting behind the wheel of a semi-truck, school bus, tanker, or another commercial vehicle.

What is required for a commercial driver’s license (CDL) in Wisconsin?

They don’t let just anyone drive a big rig down Wisconsin’s highways. The basic requirements for any Wisconsin CDL include a
full driver's license
, proof of U.S. citizenship, medical exams, successful knowledge and driving skills tests, and a background check of
CDL disqualifications
for serious traffic violations.

Wisconsin CDL classes

Before we break down the description of each CDL class, let’s define the acronym GVWR: Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. This is the system used to regulate the different CDL classes—see below:
  • Class A: Any combination of commercial vehicles with a GVWR over 26,000 pounds, given that the towed vehicle(s) is more than 10,000 pounds.
  • Examples: semi-trucks, tractor-trailers, triple trailers, livestock carriers
  • Class B: Any single commercial vehicle that has a GVWR of more than 26,000 pounds or any combination of vehicles where the towing vehicle has a GVWR under 10,000 pounds.
  • Examples: straight trucks, school busses
  • Class C: Any single commercial vehicle with a GVWR of 26,000 pounds or less (or such vehicle towing a vehicle less than 10,000 pounds) that is transporting hazardous materials requiring placarding or designed to carry 16 or more persons (including the driver).
  • Examples: Smaller busses, passenger vans, HAZMAT vehicles
  • Some occupations can receive a waiver from CDL Licensing—here's the exempt list:
    • Firefighters and rescue squad members
    • Recreational vehicle operators (e.g., mobile homes)
    • A farmer, the farmer’s family, and/or the farmer's employees
    • Back-up snowplow drivers
    • Military members with a military commercial vehicle license
    If you would like further information about eligibility and exemptions, you can fill out an
    inquiry form


    A driver with a valid CDL may also obtain one or more endorsements to gain the privilege of driving specialty vehicles:
    Each of these endorsements will require a
    special knowledge test
    ​ upon origination.

    Minimum age requirement

    The minimum age requirement for operating a commercial vehicle within Wisconsin state lines is 18 years old, but you will need to be 21 years or older if you want to cross borders.

    Medical requirements

    Wisconsin requires all CDL drivers to have a
    valid DOT (Department of Transportation) medical card
    unless their commercial license qualifies as exempt. 
    This card indicates that you are physically cable of the following:
    • Blood pressure of 160/100 or better
    • Blood sugar under 200 controlled without insulin injections
    • At least 20/40 vision 
    • Ability to distinguish colors
    • Ability to hear a forced whisper from at least five feet away
    • No use of Schedule 1 drugs, amphetamines, narcotics, or any habit-forming drugs
    A medical examiner’s certificate is required for validation. Cardiovascular disease or sleep apnea diagnosis may require further documentation to receive your DOT medical card. 

    New ELDT requirements

    ELDT stands for entry-level driver training. As of February 2022, all drivers applying for their first CDL must go through ELDT before taking their skills or knowledge test—see
    FMCSA's Training Provider Registry
    to locate a training facility or ask your employer. 

    How to apply for a CDL in Wisconsin

    First and foremost, you must ensure that your driving record doesn’t immediately disqualify you from applying for a CDL. The state offers a
    full list of CDL disqualifications
    , but some examples include
    reckless driving
    , and more.
    You can begin your journey as long as the coast is clear and you’ve met the other basic requirements stated earlier (proof of citizenship, age, medical, etc). 
    You’ll want to start by hitting the books! All Wisconsin CDL applicants must pass a general knowledge test before proceeding. This test covers basic information from the
    Commercial Driver's
    Manual​ on CDL classes, restrictions, and endorsements. 
    Then, you'll want to check if Entry Level Driver Training (ELDT) is required for your targetted CDL. This is sometimes completed as part of your pre-application work, but you will certainly need to complete it before taking the skills test. 
    Now it’s time to put your knowledge to the test. To qualify for a commercial learner’s permit (CLP), you will need to take and pass the appropriate knowledge test(s) for the vehicle you plan to drive. These tests can be taken at your local DMV. No appointment is necessary but make sure to allow yourself one to two hours for completion.
    Upon receiving a passing score of 80%, you can purchase a CLP, which costs $30 and is active for 180 days—you may renew it if needed.
    After holding your CLP for a minimum of 14 days and practicing with a qualified instructor or CDL driver, you can sign up for your skills test. Here are maneuvers you must be able to execute under the observation of a
    third-party tester
    • Starting the vehicle 
    • Parallel parking
    • Off-set backing
    • Straight-line backing
    • Lane change
    • Merge
    • Use of lanes
    • Right of way
    • Traffic signs and signals
    • Left and right turns
    • Intersections
    • Railroad crossings
    • Curves
    • Roadside stop/start
    • Upshifting and downshifting (if applicable) 
    If your tester gives you the thumbs up, you officially have the skills to drive a commercial vehicle! You can now legally purchase a CDL (class A, B, C) for a $74 fee. You must also present a valid driver’s license, proof of citizenship, a DOT medical card, skills test results, and a completed
    MV3001 application
    at the time of purchase.
    If you want more information about the CDL application process, visit the
    State of Wisconsin Department of Transportation website

    How long is a CDL valid in Wisconsin? 

    A CDL is valid in Wisconsin for eight years, pending you don’t get dinged with any traffic violations that result in suspension or revocation. Renewals for CDLs of all classes will cost you $74.
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