California CDL Requirements

California is a state with some of the most geographic and ecological diversity in the entire country. From the hot marine climate in the south, through to rugged rural mountains at the northern end of the state, learning to become a trucker in California is challenging as the state also has progressive and stringent safety and environmental regulations that go beyond the federally regulated minimum standards. With such famous routes as Highway One, running along the western coastal cliffs, and views like San Francisco Bay, Lake Tahoe, and Yosemite National Park, CDL drivers are delighted at the varying scenery that California provides. While major cities like Los Angeles, Oakland and Santa Barbara provide some variation and tight traffic situations between the interstate stretches, California is still a greatly rewarding state in which to pursue your career as a CDL truck driver.

What CDL Licenses are Available in California?

California, like every other state, is part of the federally-governed Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). California however works in active partnership to produce training and legislature that meet the state's vision for safety and environmental protection. California is a leader in regulations and enforcement for truckers and commercial drivers, and accordingly, the state has their own program that supplements the FMCSA, known as the California Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Program.

CDL Class A

This license class pertains to all combination vehicles that have a gross weight of more than 26,000 pounds when the hind portion weighs more than 10,000 pounds. This also includes trailer buses and tractor-trailers. Drivers with a Class A license can pull any legal combination of vehicles in Classes B and C.

CDL Class B

Class B CDL drivers can operate a single vehicle that has a gross weight of more than 26,000 lbs, a vehicle with 3 axles that weighs more than 6,000 lbs, busses and farm vehicles. Class B drivers in California can pull any trailer that weighs less than 10,000 pounds. Drivers with a Class B license can pull any legal combination of vehicles in Classes C as well.

CDL Class C

Class C CDL drivers can operate any vehicle carrying hazardous materials, as long as the driver has the HAZMAT endorsement on the CDL license - this includes drivers of hazardous waste, select agents or toxins as outlined in the CVC §§353 and 15278 and Title 42, Code of

Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 73. Drivers with a Class C CDL are unable to drive Class A and B vehicles until they upgrade their license and remove restrictions.

The vehicle's actual weight will be used to determine the appropriate license classification and if a violation has occurred.

Personal Use Class D

Similar to a Class M (motorcycle) license, a Class D license is issued by the state of California for personal use in a non-commercial vehicle. Class D vehicles are typically jeeps, pickup trucks, and cars of various types. To begin the CDL process, applicants must present their valid Class D license.

CDL Eligibility in California

California continually examines its regulatory statutes to ensure that they are in line with state visions of excellence and federal collaboration.

License and Permits

  • To get started on your CDL, applicants must show proof that they've held a Class D license for 1 year or more.
  • Military personnel and veterans may be eligible to have parts of the process waived through the ‘Troops to Trucks' program. It's best to inquire about the documentation your CDL office requires to support this type of application.

Age

  • Applicants must also be 18 years of age or older with a Class D license in good standing to apply for a CDL permit (called a Commercial Learner's Permit or CLP)
  • Prior to the age of 21, drivers who successfully pass their CLP may be hired to drive truck or passenger vehicle in California
  • Drivers age 21 or older may drive commercially from state to state.

Proof of Residence in California

Proof of California residency is a key part of the California CDL application. Prior to acceptance of your first application that grants your commercial learner's permit, you will be asked to produce two kinds of original, legible, current documentation that proves your permanent California address.

CDL Requirements for California Residents

  • California Class D driver's license in good standing
  • Social Security card
  • Proof of financial responsibility via insurance
  • 10 Year Record Check
  • TSA screening

California CDL Requirements for Out-of-State Residents and Transfers

Ensuring that out-of-state residents are processed properly is an important part of the domicile regulations. Applicants may be asked for some of the following documentation to meet transfer regulations:

  • State ID card or driver's license
  • Out-of-state CDL documentation
  • U.S. birth certificate
  • U.S. passport

Non-U.S. Citizen Requirements for California CDL

Earning your California CDL as a non-U.S. citizen can appear a little tricky at the outset, but California regulations easily highlight the way. Most importantly, non-U.S. citizens who wish to drive truck must show irrefutable proof of permanent California residency. Additionally, these individuals will be asked for supporting documentation that outlines the conditions under which they are in the country. This may include the following types of certificates and supporting documents:

  • Resident alien records
  • Citizenship information
  • Immigration information
  • Birth records
  • Naturalization information

Do I Need a CDL?

Through the ‘Troops to Trucks' program, military veterans with honorable discharge may be able to waive parts of the application process. Have all documentation available and make an appointment with a CDL agent who will help process your claim.

Other people who may be exempt from applying for or obtaining their CDL are:

  • People who transport certain classes of small-volume hazardous, human and animal waste under specific conditions listed in CHSC§25163
  • People who, at the direction of a peace officer and in an emergency, operate an emergency vehicle
  • People who tow a "fifth-wheel" travel trailer that weighs more than 15,000 pounds GVWR or a trailer coach for recreation or personal use (requires a noncommercial Class A license)
  • People who drive a housecar of 40 - 45 feet (requires a noncommercial Class B license)
  • Military personnel who operate military-class vehicles
  • Farm workers who operate farm or husbandry implements
  • Ride sharing in the form of vanpools

Medical and Physical CDL Requirements

  • All California CDL applicants are directed to schedule a physical examination as they move through the application process. The examiner shall be drawn from the nationally published list for this purpose. With a completed successful examination, CDL drivers will be issued a Federal Medical Card.
  • One the successful examination is complete, California CDL truckers need to complete their annual Medical Self-Certification Affidavit online or in person, or risk a disqualification/suspension.
  • Those individuals who are not successful during their medical exam may apply for a CDL restriction (Medical Variance). More information about restrictions below.
  • In many cases, your employer is responsible to pay the cost of the medical examination. Please check with your employer and if in doubt, contact your nearest CDL office.

Background Check for CDL Applicants

TSA screening is a mandatory component for many CDL applicants, as it opens opportunities to carry the least restrictive class of goods.

CDL Testing in California

California CDL candidates will complete a minimum of one knowledge test and one skills test to receive their commercial licence. applicants have a minimum of one knowledge test and one road-skills test in order to receive their commercial license.

CDL Knowledge Tests

In order to continue the application process, CDL applicants are required to write a basic knowledge test about road safety as it applies to the kind of class and vehicle they pursue.

CDL Skills Tests

After candidates pass the required test of knowledge, each can schedule and complete the road-skills portion of the CDL one-on-one at a CDL office or licensed third party testing center. Most states' Class A, B, and C road tests - commercial and non-commercial - are comprised of 3 basic parts:

  • Vehicle Inspection
  • Basic Vehicle Control and Operation
  • Road test

California CDL Office Locations

These office locations offer CDL testing across the state of California. When you arrive for your test, ensure you are slightly early, and have the appropriate documentation and vehicle ready to go.The following offices offer CDL testing:

  • 1440 Van Nuys Blvd.
    Arleta, CA 91331
    800-777-0133
  • 3120 F Street
    Bakersfield, CA 93301
  • 233 N. Imperial Avenue
    El Centro, CA 92243
  • 322 W. 15th Street
    Eureka, CA 95501
  • 10207 Poplar Avenue
    Fontana, CA 92335
  • 4287 Central Avenue
    Fremont, CA 94536
  • 735 E. North Avenue
    Fresno, CA 93725
  • 909 W. Valencia Drive
    Fullerton, CA 92832
  • 1110 W. Avenue I
    Lancaster, CA 93534
  • 124 Burney Street
    Modesto, CA 95354
  • 424 N. Wilcox Avenue
    Montebello, CA 90640
  • 2135 Civic Center Drive
    Redding, CA 96001
  • 1901 Jamacha Road
    El Cajon, CA 92019
    619-441-2342
  • 260 E. Laurel Drive
    Salinas, CA 93906
  • 3190 S. Higuera Street
    San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
  • 2570 Corby Avenue
    Santa Rosa, CA 95407
  • 180 Martinville Lane
    San Jose, CA 95119
  • 55 South Lincoln Street
    Stockton, CA 95203
  • 1785 W. 220th Street
    Torrance, CA 90501
  • 542 S. Orchard Avenue
    Ukiah, CA 95482
  • 200 Couch Street
    Vallejo, CA 94590
  • 4260 Market Street
    Ventura, CA 93003
  • 2528 Evergreen Avenue
    West Sacramento, CA 95691
  • 1570 Poole Boulevard
    Yuba City, CA 95993

For more information about office hours, testing times, current wait times, and services provided please visit https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/fo/offices/toc_cdl or call (800) 777-0133 unless otherwise noted above.

California CDL Endorsements

California CDL drivers have an extensive list of endorsements and certifications that they can test for in addition to the standard Class A, B, or C licensing. These include endorsements such as:

  • Passenger Transportation (PV)
  • Double Trailers (D)
  • Hazardous Materials (HM)
  • Tank Vehicle (TV)
  • Triple Trailers (T)

California has a comprehensive set of certificates for individuals in different industries who may not pursue the standard set of CDL professions. Additional certifications help to ensure the safety of the special populations transported, or the safe handling of specific hazardous materials. Many of these certifications have a practical component as well. These include:

  • Farm Labor (F/L)
  • School Bus (SCH)
  • Ambulance (AMB)
  • School Pupils Activity Bus (SPAB)
  • Hazardous Agricultural Materials (HAM)
  • General Public Paratransit Vehicle - Ambulance (GPPV)
  • Radioactive Materials (RM)
  • Vehicle for Developmentally Disabled Persons (VDDP)
  • Youth Bus (YOB)
  • Tow Truck Driver (TTD)

All the candidates for the certifications listed above - except for Radioactive Materials - require additional and ongoing criminal screenings by the Department of Justice to ensure the safety of the populations they interact with.

Penalties for driving infractions for certified CDL operators may be stricter than under other circumstances. Certificate revocation is a possibility given the magnitude of the offense.

California CDL Disqualifications

California continually updates the list of regulations and penalties that CDL drivers can commit. Violating any of the rules while driving professionally will result in a suspension, or possibly a revocation of your CDL license or certificate. Regulations include:

  • Compliance with state emission standards
  • Compliance with length requirements for single, semi, and combi trailers
  • Compliance with axle weight requirements
  • Compliance with vehicle and load heights
  • Compliance with slow vehicle and right-lane rules
  • Carrying a standard length bumper
  • Compliance with duty and driving time rules
  • Abandoning the scene of an accident in which you had a role
  • Are in the U.S. illegally
  • Having traffic violations in other vehicles
  • False disclosure of other CDLs
  • Failing to wear a safety belt at all times
  • Being charged with a felony while driving under CDL
  • "DUI" alcohol charges
  • Refusal of roadside breath testing
  • "DUI" for a controlled substance
  • Operating while under CDL suspension
  • Operating in a reckless or negligent way
  • Speeding
  • Breaking applicable level crossing regulations

Please also bear in mind the following:

  • Certifications listed above carry more stringent penalties for driving and criminal infractions
  • California CDL rules and restrictions are updated with regularity; please check directly with the CDL office nearest to you, or a licensed third party training center for the most current information
  • Chances of revocation increase with repeat offences

CDL Salary, Employment, and Prospects

Over the next 10 years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that California commercial drivers are going to increase by a significant margin and much faster than other parts of the nation.

Heavy Trucks

As a median salary, California CDL drivers make about $41,000 per year. In their peak earning years, about 10% of interstate truckers will earn as much as $63,000. Seniority and additional endorsements improve wages in most cases. The interstate trucking industry moves livestock, chemicals and other materials from state to state and is forecasted to grow by about 15% or must faster than national projections.

Light Trucks

In California, small commercial trucks earn about $31,000 per year or slightly more than the national averages. Driving construction vehicles or store delivery vehicles, the industry is forecasted to grow by 14% or much faster than the national forecasts over the next decade.

Passenger Vehicles

In the state of California, passenger vehicle, school bus drivers, and those who transport special populations earn about $35,000 per year. With clean driving records and years of good service under their belt, they can earn up to $47,000 per year. A growth rate of 18% is much faster than national projections and will net approximately 900 new jobs every year.

Resources for California CDL Requirements

Learn more about California trucking schools.

Truck Driver Salary in California

Location 25th Percentile 75th Percentile Annual Salary
United States $31,270 $48,330 $38,700
California $33,190 $50,780 $40,460
Bakersfield-Delano, CA $33,540 $47,530 $38,970
Chico, CA $34,080 $48,100 $41,240
El Centro, CA $24,520 $34,630 $28,400
Fresno, CA $31,290 $43,670 $35,910
Hanford-Corcoran, CA $26,640 $41,420 $32,100
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA Metropolitan Division $32,820 $50,400 $40,660
Madera-Chowchilla, CA $33,280 $49,590 $41,090
Merced, CA $28,270 $68,920 $34,810
Modesto, CA $32,040 $48,370 $38,060
Napa, CA $36,680 $51,950 $42,960
Oakland-Fremont-Hayward, CA Metropolitan Division $35,310 $56,210 $43,520
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA $34,900 $54,030 $44,480
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA $34,710 $55,010 $41,720
Sacramento--Arden-Arcade--Roseville, CA $31,570 $48,580 $38,350
Salinas, CA $30,490 $46,960 $39,140
San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA $31,970 $49,710 $40,040
San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, CA Metropolitan Division $35,050 $56,230 $46,130
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA $33,960 $56,980 $45,200
San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, CA $36,420 $46,550 $42,090
Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, CA Metropolitan Division $33,070 $48,660 $39,580
Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Goleta, CA $34,070 $48,280 $41,140
Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA $37,200 $48,900 $42,800
Santa Rosa-Petaluma, CA $39,790 $55,190 $46,740
Stockton, CA $34,490 $47,030 $41,370
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA $35,510 $48,630 $42,510
Visalia-Porterville, CA $23,560 $45,090 $34,410
Yuba City, CA $29,780 $45,200 $37,740

Table data taken from 2015 BLS (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes533032.htm)