How do I get a CDL in California?
What CDL class do I need?
What are the CDL requirements in the state?
We’re here to answer all of these questions and more.
That’s right, we’re taking you through a complete 2023 guide on California CDL requirements.
We won’t miss out on any detail. This way, you’ll know exactly what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.
Then let’s get started!
CDL Classes in California
First things first…
…choosing a CDL class.
This will determine what kind of commercial vehicle you can operate.
Now, there are 3 classes, namely:
- Class A CDL
- Class B CDL
- Class C CDL
Let’s look at each one.
Class A CDL
The Class A CDL allows individuals to drive any combination vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 pounds and more. The gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the load being towed should be greater than 10,000 pounds.
Class B CDL
The Class B CDL, on the other hand, can operate a single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001, while its towed weight should not exceed 10,000 pounds.
Class C CDL
Finally, the Class C CDL is for drivers with vehicles less than 26,001 pounds. These are often used to transport hazardous materials or 16 passengers. It should also come with necessary endorsements.
CDL Requirements in California
Are you even eligible to get a CDL in California?
Well, if you can check these boxes, then yes, you are:
- You’re at least 18 years old. If driving interstate, at least 21 years old.
- You hold a regular driver’s license
- You have a high school diploma or GED
- You have a clean driving record
- You are a resident of California
- You are a US citizen or legal alien
- You have a Social Security card
These are the basic requirements.
As for what documents you need, here is a list:
- Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) certificate
- California Commercial Driver Behind the Wheel Training certificate (for Class A and B CDL)
- Medical Examination Report Form (click here for the form)
- Medical Examiner’s Certificate (click here for the form)
- 10-year history record check – applicable if you have a CDL from another state/jurisdiction. (Click here for the form)
- Proof of Social Security Number
- Residency Documents (Rental or Lease Agreements, Home Utility Bills, etc.)
- Proof of Identity (Passports, Birth Certificates, etc.)
How to Get a CDL in California
Now that you know the basic requirements and the documents you’ll need, let’s get to the actual steps.
First, you’ll need to get a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP), then you can move on to an actual CDL.
Don’t worry, we’ll go through the steps one by one.
Getting Your CLP in California
Here are the steps to getting a CLP in California:
- Take and complete an ELDT program
New CLP applicants in California need to complete an ELDT program approved by the FMCSA. This is a theory study focusing on basic operation, safe operating procedures, advanced operating procedures, etc.
Click here for a list of approved ELDT programs in California.
- Complete 15 hours of behind-the-wheel training, 10 of which should be done on a public road
This is only applicable if you’re getting a Class A or B CDL. Once you complete 15 hours at a truck driving school, you can fill up the completion form DL1236 (click here for the form).
- Apply for a CDL (click here to apply online)
- Go to your local DMV office and submit the required documents
This includes your ELDT certificate of completion, behind-the-wheel training completion form (if applicable), completed Medical Examination Report form and Medical Examiner’s Certificate, 10-year history record check (if applicable), and proof of SSN, identity, and residency.
- Pay the $85 fee. $50 for Class C CDL
- Have your thumbprint scanned
- Pass a vision test
- Have your photo taken
- Pass the knowledge test
You will have to answer 50 questions, of which 40 must be right to pass. You are given 3 attempts to pass the knowledge test. If you fail all 3, you’ll have to reapply.
Since the test is based on the California CDL Handbook, you can prepare by studying it thoroughly.
- Get your CLP
Note: if you don’t accomplish these requirements within 12 months of your application, the application will expire and you will need to reapply.
Now that you have your CLP, you’ll be able to practice your driving skills with a CDL holder on board.
And once you’ve held your CLP for at least 14 days, you can then proceed to getting your CDL.
Getting Your CDL in California
Here are the steps to getting your CDL in California:
- Book a skills test appointment (click here to do it online)
- Bring the vehicle for your intended license class to the site
- Take and pass the skills test
The skills test will include vehicle inspection, basic control skills test, and a road test. You must pass all 3 to get your CDL.
If you fail one part, the test will be postponed. Don’t worry, you’re given 3 attempts to complete everything.
There are some applicants that can waive the skills test. See if you are eligible for a waiver here.
- Get your interm CDL valid for 60 days
- Get your CDL after 45 days
And there you have it!
You are now the holder of a California commercial driver’s license.
Got some questions? Then let’s answer the most frequently asked ones.
What can disqualify me from getting a CDL in California?
You cannot get a California CDL if you don’t fulfill the basic requirements mentioned above. I.e. not 18 years old, don’t have a regular driver’s license, not a California resident, etc.
Not only that, but you’ll be disqualified if you have a criminal offense, such as DUI, fleeing from the scene of an accident, committing a felony, etc.
Plus, certain medical conditions can also disqualify you, such as:
- Insulin-dependent diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- Respiratory disease
- High blood pressure
- Arthritic, orthopedic, or neuromuscular conditions that affect driving
- Epileptic and other health conditions that cause loss of consciousness
- History of habitual drug use
- Clinical diagnosis of alcoholism
How much does a CDL in California cost?
If you’re just calculating the CDL cost, then it’s $85 for new Class A and B CDLs, while Class C CDL only costs $50.
However, if you’re counting the total spending, then it could go up a couple of thousands. This is because you’ll need to consider the price of your ELDT program and truck driving school training.
A rough estimate will be around $2,000.
What can I expect from the CDL road test in California?
The CDL road test in California requires drivers to operate through a test route with different traffic situations. Throughout the test, you’ll be expected to drive safely and responsibly, committing no more than 30 errors and no critical driving mistakes.
You will be scored according to specific driving maneuvers and general driving behavior.
Your examiner will provide you with directions to follow. They will give you an ample amount of time to execute instructions.
Some test routes may not have traffic. In these cases, drivers will have to simulate the situation. Examiners will ask you what you would do during a specific traffic situation to which you will have to answer accordingly.
So those were the California CDL requirements.
Sure, there are a lot of steps to complete.
But this is to ensure that only safe, responsible, and capable commercial drivers are on the road.
So if you want to get a CDL in California, make sure to follow all the steps one by one.