District of Columbia’s Commercial Driver’s License Laws

The requirements to obtain CDL in Washington D.C. and the reasons for disqualification.

To lawfully operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV), like a school bus and semi-truck, the driver must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and the appropriate endorsements. There are many types of CDLs and endorsements and each has different requirements. This article outlines the requirements for obtaining a commercial license and the circumstances that can lead to commercial license disqualification.

When a CDL is Required

A CDL is required to operate a school bus, hazmat vehicle, any vehicle weighing over 26,000 pounds, and any vehicle designed for more than 15 passengers. Certain vehicles, like recreation vehicles or rental trucks—not used for commercial purposes—are exempt from the commercial license requirements. Additionally, emergency responders, active military, and city streetcar operators don’t need a CDL.

CDL License Classes

There are three classes of CDL based on the weight of the truck and/or trailer(s).

Combined Weight

Tractor Weight

Trailer(s) Weight

Class A

Over 26,000 pounds

Over 26,000 pounds

Over 10,000 pounds

Class B

Over 26,000 pounds

Over 26,000 pounds

10,000 pounds or less

Class C

26,000 pounds or less

26,000 pounds or less

10,000 pounds or less

The license weight limits must meet or exceed the weight of the CMV. So, a class A CDL can be used to operate all weights of vehicles.

Endorsements for Special Cargo

To transport certain cargo (such as hazardous materials) or school children, the driving must have special endorsements. Each endorsement has specific tests and requirements. For example, a hazmat endorsement requires a driving test in the proposed vehicle as well as clearance from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

CDL Testing

A CDL applicant must be a D.C. resident and generally at least 21 years old with a non-prohibiting background check. A driver who’s at least 18 years old can apply for a CDL but must have at least two years of driving experience. A CDL holder who’s under 21 years old cannot drive a CMV outside of D.C. cannot drive a school bus, a vehicle designed for 16 or more passengers, a vehicle weighing more than 26,001 pounds, or a hazmat transport.

Commercial Learner Permit

Prior to obtaining a CDL, all applicants must obtain a commercial learner permit (CLP). The applicant must already hold a driver’s license and must complete the written examination. The CLP authorizes the operation of the designated CMV while under the supervision of a licensed commercial driver. After 30 days with a CLP, the holder can take the driving test for a CDL.

Medical Examination

At the time of issuance and every two years thereafter, a CDL holder must obtain a medical examination certification. The certification indicates the driver is physically fit enough to safely operate a CMV. Failure to maintain the certificate will result in license disqualification.

CDL Revocation and Disqualification

Failure to comply with the many CMV rules and regulations can result in license disqualification.

Serious Traffic Offenses

A driver can be suspended for multiple “serious traffic offenses” including speeding 15 miles per hour or more over the limit, erratic lane change in a CMV, following too closely in a CMV, texting while driving, operating without a CDL, and any traffic violation involving a fatality. Two violations in three years will result in a 60-day disqualification and three or more violations in three years will result in a 120-day disqualification.

Out-of-Service Orders

In certain situations, police officers are permitted to issue an out-of-service order (OSO). An OSO temporarily prohibits the operation of a CMV. For example, an OSO can be issued for a commercial driver found to have consumed or been in possession of alcohol. Operation in violation of an OSO will result in a one-year disqualification. The driver will be disqualified for five years if there is a prior violation within the last ten years.

Railroad Crossings

CMVs must take care when crossing railroad tracks, ensuring there is enough clearance below and in front of the vehicle to ensure the CMV does not get stuck on the tracks. Railroad track violations will result in a 60-day, 120-day, and one-year license disqualification for a first, second, and third violation in three years.

Convictions

A CDL will be revoked for one year upon the following convictions: chemical test refusal, DUI (driving under the influence), CMV operation with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .04% or more, leaving the scene of an accident, using a motor vehicle in the commission of a felony, driving a CMV while revoked, and causing a fatality due to a negligent CMV operation. The disqualification will be for three years if the violation occurred in a hazmat vehicle. A second conviction in ten years will result in a lifetime disqualification, but the driver may be able to reinstate his or her license after ten years. A CDL holder will be unconditionally revoked for life upon a third such conviction or for any conviction involving the sale, transportation, or distribution of controlled substances using a CMV.

Implied Consent

All CMV operators are considered to have given consent to a test of the driver’s breath, blood, or urine for alcohol or drugs. An officer that reasonably believes the driver has consumed alcohol or drugs can request a chemical test. Test refusal can result in an OSO, license disqualification, and other penalties.

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