Applying for a California CDL - Class A License

by Joshua on September 08, 2014

The United States requires drivers to have a special kind of license, known as a Commercial Driver’s License, or CDL, in order to drive certain types of vehicles. Generally, this includes any vehicle of a large size —that is, over 26,001 pounds in Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). It is also required in order to drive specialty vehicles like tankers or large passenger vehicles. Additions to a CDL are called endorsements , and require further testing and qualification. For example, an “Endorsement N” allows for the driving of tanker vehicles. To further add to the confusion, there are three classes of CDL: Class A, Class B, and Class C.

A class A license allows the driver to drive any combination of vehicles with a GVWR over 26,001 pounds, and where the load being towed is greater than 10,000 pounds. A class B license is slightly more restrictive – allowing the holder to drive a single vehicle over 26,001 pounds GVWR, and to tow a load less than 10,000 pounds. A class C license allows the holder to drive vehicles smaller than 26,001 pounds which are large transport vehicles (15+ passengers), or hazardous material vehicles —assuming they have the required endorsements.

Eligibility For a Class A CDL in California

You must be 18 years of age to apply for a license that does not involve interstate commercial activity, and 21 years old to apply for an interstate license. If you are new to California, and have been issued a driver’s license in another state, you must complete a 10 year history record check form along with your application.

The applicant must submit a recent (within the current year) medical evaluation form filled out by a qualified examiner. In order to receive a CDL, the applicant must meet the federal medical requirements as defined by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Potentially disqualifying conditions include disabilities involving the extremities, insulin-dependent diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, high blood pressure, arthritic, orthopedic, or neuromuscular conditions that could impede with vehicle operation, and epileptic or other conditions that can cause a loss of consciousness. The driver must also meet requirements for vision (20/40 in each, and both eyes, with or without correction), and a hearing test.

Applying For a CDL Permit

Applying for and getting a permit is the first step towards getting a Class A Commercial Driver’s License in California. It will allow you to drive a commercial vehicle provided that a driver with the same class of license as the one you are applying for. This will allow you to gain the necessary experience to pass your driving test.
To apply for a CDL permit, you must go to a DMV station. It is recommended to either arrive very early, or make an appointment. A California Commercial Driver’s License Form (DL 44C) must be submitted along with the 10 year history record check (if applicable). You will have your thumbprint and picture taken, your social security information validated, and your birth date and proof of legal status within the United States confirmed. This requires a birth certificate, passport, or one of any number of accepted documents.
Finally, you must pay a $70 application fee for a 5-year class A license ($41 for a renewal), pass a vision test, submit a Medical Examination Report (form DL 51) , and pass the written examination. You have three chances to pass the written examination.

Obtaining a Class A CDL in California

Once you have received your permit, and are ready to take the skills test, you will need to call a California DMV office and schedule an appointment. This cannot be done online. You must also bring the type of vehicle, which is of the appropriate class — in this case, a class A commercial vehicle. You must then either pass the skills and driving test OR submit a Certificate of Driving Skill (form DL 170), if your employer is authorized by DMV to issue such certificates. After passing, you will receive a temporary printed license, valid for 90 days, while you wait for your plastic license to arrive in the mail.

Other Information and Tips for Obtaining a Class A CDL in California

Remember that your basic CDL does not allow you to drive any vehicle of commercial class. Specialty vehicles may require additional endorsements. These require more tests, fees, and government waiting times. Plan ahead if you may work in a job that requires endorsements.
Retests of the driving test cost an addition $30, so it is worth it to be prepared the first time. Count on possibly having to pay someone for driving lessons, in addition to the government fees. Take the time to prepare well for the written test, and make use of practice tests for extra assurance before testing. If you fail three times, you will have to resubmit an application, and go through the application process again, including the paying of fees.

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