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Do I need a CDL?

Answer a few questions to find out if you need a Commercial Driver's License (CDL). View CDL Classification Guide.

Is the vehicleís GCWR (weight of combined vehicles) 26,001 or more pounds?

What do I need to get a CDL?

checkmark Be at least age 18.

checkmark Provide proof of full name, date of birth, and Social Security number.

checkmark Provide proof of citizenship, lawful permanent residency, or an employment authorization document (EAD) or I-94 document.

checkmark Provide proof of Iowa residency (your license showing your Iowa address will meet this requirement).

checkmark Pass vision screening

checkmark Hold a CLP (commercial learnerís permit) for at least 14 days prior to application for CDL (effective July 2015).

checkmark We will check your driving record in all other states; the check must show you are eligible for commercial licensing in all other states.

checkmarkYou must certify how you will use the commercial motor vehicles you will operate, which may require you to obtain a medical certificate.

How do I get a CDL?

CLP Process
Step one  Knowledge test
First, you must pass the knowledge test(s) required for the type of commercial vehicle you want to operate.

Types of knowledge tests (number of questions/allowed to miss)

  • General knowledge for any CDL (50/10)
  • Combination vehicle for Class A (20/04)
  • Air brake (25/05)
  • Passenger (20/04)
  • School bus (20/04)
  • Doubles/Triples (20/04)
  • Hazmat (30/06)
  • Tank (20/04)
  • Iowa operator (if applicable) (25/5)

Step two  Commercial learner's permit (CLP)
Second, you have to obtain a CLP. You will be issued a CLP after you pass the applicable knowledge tests, and you will have to hold the CLP for at least 14 days before you can go to the third step (skills testing) and get your full CDL.

What CAN I do with a CLP?

The purpose of a CLP is to allow accompanied behind-the-wheel training in a type and class of Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) that your current license (commercial or noncommercial) is not valid to operate. With a CLP you can:
  • Drive a commercial vehicle specific to the type of CLP you obtained when accompanied by another driver who has a CDL valid for the same type of commercial vehicle.
  • Continue to drive vehicles by yourself (unaccompanied) that your existing license or CDL is valid for. The cost of the CLP is $12. The permit is valid for 180 days and may be renewed for an additional 180 days for another $12.

What CAN'T I do with a CLP?

  • Drive a commercial vehicle by yourself if your existing license or CDL is not valid to drive that type of vehicle.
  • Use a cell phone while driving a commercial vehicle.
  • Carry passengers while operating a commercial vehicle (other than the CDL driver accompanying you, other trainees, and test examiners).
  • Drive a commercial vehicle containing hazmat or drive a tank vehicle that previously contained hazmat that is not purged of residue.
  • Drive a tank vehicle containing cargo.
The same rules that apply to CDL drivers also apply to CLP drivers. Certain violations could result in the disqualification of the driverís commercial operating privileges.

More information about violations and disqualification can be found in the CDL manual, available at any driverís license issuance site or by visiting:

Step three  Skills test
After youíve held the CLP for at least 14 days, the next step is to pass the required skills and driving test.

There are three phases of the skills test.

You must provide a vehicle that is in good working order and is representative of the class of license you are applying for.

1. Pre-trip vehicle inspection test.

A pre-trip vehicle inspection test is required to show the vehicle is safe to drive. You will have to walk around the vehicle and point to or touch each item and explain to the license examiner what you are checking and why. (You will not have to crawl under the hood of the vehicle.)

For more information including a pre-trip inspection memory aid you can use during the test and a helpful instructional video, scroll to the bottom of this page.

2. Skills test (maneuvers around cones and backing maneuvers).

See section 12 in the Commercial Driver License manual for a description of the skills test exercises and scoring.

3. Driving test (on public roads with examiner).

Step three  CDL
After you have passed the required skills (driving) test, you can obtain your CDL at any driverís license issuance location. The cost is $8/year plus applicable endorsement fees.

CDL pre-trip inspection test

Review section 11 in the Commercial Driver License Manual to prepare for and successfully pass the pre-trip vehicle inspection test.
  • You must successfully demonstrate all three components of the airbrake check before you start the pre-trip vehicle inspection test Ė prepare for this by reviewing the information in section 11.
  • If you do not pass the airbrake check and/or the pre-trip vehicle inspection test, you must make another appointment to retake the test Ė that could be two or three weeks out, which will delay the issuance of your commercial driverís license.
PDF file CDL Pre-Trip Inspection Study Aid

Video courtesy of Nebraska DMV