Many factors will determine the time, costs, and steps necessary to get back your CDL, but, except in rare cases, you can get it back after expiration, downgrading, suspension, or other reason.
A commercial driver’s license (CDL) allows drivers to operate a vehicle that requires a higher level of experience and skill than a personal vehicle. These specialized vehicles may include:
- Semi trucks
- Trucks with two or three trailers
- Trucks carrying hazardous materials
- Tanker trucks
- Passenger vehicles
The additional tests and requirements to obtain a CDL ensure that the driver has the knowledge and skills necessary to safely operate these vehicles, which are usually larger and heavier than non-commercial vehicles.
Under the CDL, there are multiple classifications, each with its own specific tests and restrictions.
A Class C CDL allows a driver to operate a single vehicle with a gross combination weight rating (GVWR) under 26,001 pounds or a vehicle towing another vehicle weighing less than 10,000 pounds. Class C also allows transporting 16 or more passengers, including the driver.
A driver with a Class C CDL may operate buses, tank trucks, hazardous material vehicles, and double or triple trailers.
A Class B CDL is required to operate any single vehicle not hitched to a trailer as well as trucks pulling a trailer weighing less than 10,000 pounds. These types of vehicles may include large city or tourist buses and school buses, box trucks, dump trucks with small trailers, and straight trucks.
A Class A CDL is required to operate any combination with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more when the towed vehicle weighs more than 10,000 pounds. These vehicles include semi trucks or tractor-trailers, tanker vehicles, flatbeds, and livestock carriers. Additionally, a Class A driver can drive most Class B and C vehicles, depending on specific endorsement requirements.
How Do You Know If Your CDL Is Valid?
To determine whether your CDL is valid, first, take a look at it. Pay special attention to the expiration date. Depending on which state you live in, your CDL may be valid anywhere from 5 to 8 years. If your expiration date has passed, your CDL is not valid.
Keep in mind, though, that simply having a current license doesn’t automatically mean that your CDL is still valid. Maintaining your CDL also requires an annual medical exam. If it has been more than a year since your last exam, your CDL is no longer valid.
If your CDL is suspended or downgraded for any reason, you will be notified, but if for any reason, you want to be sure of the status of your CDL, check with your state’s license issuing agency. They keep records of the status of each driver’s license.
How To Get Your CDL Back?
It is almost always possible to get your CDL back, but several factors will determine the process you must take to reinstate it as well as how much time and money it will cost.
After CDL Suspension
A CDL can be suspended for several reasons, including:
- Negligent homicide involving a vehicle
- A hit and run accident
- Using a vehicle in the commission of a felony
- DUI/DWI convictions
- Refusing or failing a blood alcohol test
- Drug-related offenses
- Driving recklessly
- Excessive speeding
- Erratic lane changes
- Violations of railroad crossing laws
- Following another vehicle too closely
- Driving without the necessary endorsements
- Violating an out-of-service order
It is important to note that these violations do not need to be committed in a commercial vehicle. Your CDL can also be suspended as a result of such violations while operating your personal vehicle or other non-commercial vehicles.
To get your CDL reinstated after a suspension, you will need to wait out the duration of the suspension and satisfy all court requirements. At that point, you must take the CDL knowledge tests and driving skills tests again and receive passing scores. There will also be a fee to reinstate your license.
After Expired CDL
CDLs have an expiration date, just like a regular driver’s license. A CDL is valid between 5 and 8 years, depending on the state you live in. You should receive a notice in the mail about a month before your license is due to be renewed.
If you let your CDL expiration date pass, you may have to re-test as though you are applying for the first time. This process includes retaking the written exam and road test and paying the higher fees for a new application. Depending on your state, you could face these extra measures after your CDL has been expired for anywhere from 60 days to 3 years.
After CDL Downgrade
Having your CDL downgraded does not mean you lose your CDL, but it does remove your privilege of driving a commercial vehicle until you address the reason it was downgraded.
The most common reason to have your CDL downgraded is failure to submit an updated medical certificate, and remedying that situation is usually as simple as having a medical examination and submitting the certificate to reinstate your CDL.
How you go about getting your privileges back will vary based on how long it has been since your CDL was downgraded and also what state you live in. If it’s only been a short time, the process may be as simple as submitting the necessary paperwork. If it’s been longer, you may have to retake some or all of the tests.
Other Voluntary Reasons
If you give up your CDL voluntarily, there likely won’t be an issue getting it reinstated. Maybe you had a health condition that kept you from getting medical clearance, or you decided that driving a truck wasn’t the job you wanted at that point in time.
Whatever the reason, reinstating your CDL after voluntarily giving it up shouldn’t be difficult. If some time has passed, you may have to take tests over again, but the process will be no more complicated than when you originally got your CDL.
What Are The CDL License Requirements?
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sets rules and requirements, which each state must follow.
Some of FMCSA’s requirements for having a CDL include:
- Having a valid non-commercial driver’s license
- Being 21 years of age (or 18 to drive within your state)
- Having 1-2 years of driving experience, depending on your state
- Being a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
- Being able to speak and read English
- Providing a DOT medical card
- Passing all background checks required
Beyond those nationwide requirements, states also have their own laws, some more restrictive than others.
For instance, Washington state requires class A CDL applicants to have completed 160 hours of classroom and driving instruction with an approved driving school. Texas highly recommends training but does not require it.
Another example of various state laws is in South Dakota, you can apply to drive within the state at the age of 16, but Alaska requires in-state drivers to be 19 years old.
What Disqualifies You From Getting Your CDL Back?
Some serious infractions can prevent you from getting your CDL back. These include using a vehicle while committing a felony, even if it’s a non-commercial vehicle, or receiving multiple DUI convictions.
You may be able to get your CDL back ten years after these events, but if you are then convicted of one of these charges again, you will lose your CDL for life.
A CDL can also be permanently revoked if you refuse to take an alcohol test as required by implied consent laws. A single refusal will result in a shorter suspension, but two refusals will disqualify you from having a CDL for life, though in some cases, you may be able to reapply after 10 years.
How Much Does It Cost To Get Your CDL Back?
The cost of reinstating a CDL will depend on the state you live in and the measures you must take to regain your license.
If you simply need to renew your license, you may need to pay as little as $20-30 in some states. If an expired medical card is the sole cause of your CDL lapsing, there is no licensing fee due, but you will owe any costs to be paid to the medical examiner performing your examination, if not covered by your insurance or employer.
If your CDL has been invalid for some time, you may need to pay to take written and road tests again, which could cost a few hundred dollars.
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to take a CDL instruction course again, you could be facing thousands of dollars to get your CDL back.
There is no way to get your CDL for free, but if you have a job lined up that requires you have your CDL, your employer may be willing to help cover the costs of getting your license.
Here are some of the most common questions regarding CDL.
What are the tests for a CDL permit?
The written knowledge test for a CDL permit consists of a CDL general knowledge test and a CDL air brakes test. There are also specific endorsement tests, which include:
- Double/triple trailer
- Hazardous Materials (hazmat)
- Tanker and hazmat
- School bus
These tests are only required if you intend to operate that specific type of vehicle.
Can you get your CDL back after 10 years?
Unless you have had your CDL permanently disqualified, after 10 years, you should be clear of any suspension periods and free to get your CDL back again. After this amount of time, the process will most likely be the same as applying for your CDL for the first time.
Can you get your CDL back after 2 DUIs?
A second DUI typically results in a lifetime disqualification. However, even those with lifetime disqualifications may be able to reapply for their CDL after 10 years.
Can you renew your CDL license online?
If you simply need to renew a CDL that is about to expire, you can renew it online. If you must retake any tests to renew, you may have to renew in person.
Can you get a CDL with a suspended license?
A valid non-commercial driver’s license is required by the FMCSA to obtain a CDL license. You must clear up or wait out the suspension on your license before obtaining a CDL.
Can you change your CDL to a regular license?
Yes, you can voluntarily give up your CDL and downgrade to a regular driver’s license, but there isn’t really any reason to. You can simply choose to no longer drive commercial vehicles even while you still have a CDL. Having a CDL doesn’t require that you actively use it.
How long does it take to get a CDL license?
On average, it takes about 6-8 weeks to obtain a CDL. The length of time will vary depending on how long you study for the written tests and also how many hours of training you choose or are required to take.