Iowa’s Commercial Driver’s License Laws

The requirements to obtain an Iowa CDL and the reasons for disqualification.

Iowa has different commercial driver’s license (CDL) classes and endorsements to authorize the operation of each type of commercial motor vehicle (CMV). Each license and endorsement carries different requirements and is subject to varying regulations. Violation of these regulations or certain convictions can result in CDL disqualification. This article outlines the CDL application process and the CDL disqualification penalties.

When a CDL is Required

A CDL is generally required to operate a vehicle weighing 26,001 or more pounds or 10,001 or more pounds if a passenger vehicle. A CDL is also required for vehicles designed to transport hazardous materials or 16 or more passengers. Motor homes, emergency-response vehicles, and military vehicles are generally exempt from the CDL requirements. CMVs used for agriculture can also be exempt when used within 150 miles of the farm and operated only by farmers or the farmer’s family members.

CDL License Classes

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

Combined Weight

Tractor Weight

Trailer(s) Weight

Class A

26,001 or more pounds

26,001 or more pounds

10,001 or more pounds

Class B

26,001 or more pounds

26,001 or more pounds

10,000 or less pounds

Class C

26,000 pounds or less

26,000 pounds or less

10,000 or less pounds

The CDL must be sufficient to operate the CMV’s weight. For example, a class A CDL can be used to operate any weight of CMV.

Endorsements. A CDL operator can take additional tests to receive CDL endorsements. Endorsements are added to the license and permit the operation of special CMVs like school buses and tankers.

Restrictions. Iowa can also place special restrictions on the driver’s license. For example, a driver under 21 years old is restricted to driving in-state only.

Restricted CDL. Iowa provides a seasonal agriculture CDL that is valid only for 180 days but does not require a driving examination. The driver must have a valid driver’s license and be free of any suspensions or prohibitive convictions in the last two years.

CDL Testing

All CDL applicants must be between 18 and 72 years old and have a valid Iowa driver’s license before beginning the CDL application process. The applicant must then complete a driving history check, vision test, and pass the written exam to obtain a commercial learner’s permit (CLP). The CLP allows CMV operation under the supervision of a licensed commercial driver.

CDL driving exam. After holding a CLP for 14 days, the applicant can take the CDL driving exam. The driving exam can be waived for CLP holders with prior military experience operating CMVs.

Medical exam. All CDL holders must obtain and maintain a medical certificate to ensure physical fitness to operate a CMV.

CDL Revocation and Disqualification

CMV operation is subject to special rules. Failure to follow these rules can result in fines and license disqualification. Any CDL disqualification can be contested by administrative review.

Serious Traffic Offenses

A driver will be disqualified for committing multiple “serious violations” within three years. Having two offenses will result in a 60-day revocation and having three or more violations carries a 120-day revocation. “Serious traffic offenses” include speeding 15 miles per hour or more over the limit, reckless driving, following too closely, texting while driving in a CMV, and any traffic violation involving a fatality. Driving a CMV without the proper license and endorsement is also considered a serious traffic violation.

Out-of-Service Order

A police officer can issue an out-of-service order (OSO) to both a driver and a CMV, temporarily prohibiting operation. Driving in violation of the “out-of-service order” is a simple misdemeanor and the penalties depend on the number of prior violations in the last ten years.

  • First offense. 180-day to one-year license disqualification (180 days to 2 years if in CMV designed for hazmat or more than 15 passengers). Minimum $2,500 fine.
  • Second offense. Two-to five-year license disqualification (three to five years if in CMV designed for hazmat or more than 15 passengers). $5,000 to $6,000 fine.
  • Third or subsequent offense. Three-to five-year license disqualification (mandatory five years if in CMV designed for hazmat or more than 15 passengers). $5,000 to $6,000 fine.

An employer that allows an OSO violation will also face a simple misdemeanor and a $2,750 to $25,000 fine.

Railroad Crossings

CMVs are required to either stop or slow down prior to crossing railroad tracks and must ensure there is proper clearance to cross safely. A violation will result in a 60-day disqualification for a first offense, a 120-day disqualification for a second offense, and a one-year disqualification for a third or subsequent offense. The driver’s employer can also be fined up to $10,000.

Major offenses. A CDL will be disqualified for one year upon the following major offenses: chemical test refusal, OUI (operating under the influence), an OUI in a CMV, leaving the scene of an accident, driving a CMV while revoked, and using a motor vehicle in the commission of a felony or an aggravated misdemeanor. A violation occurring in a vehicle designed for hazardous materials will result in a three-year revocation. Any subsequent conviction of the above-stated violations or the use of a motor vehicle to distribute or produce controlled substances will result in lifetime disqualification.

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