Kentucky’s Commercial Driver’s License Laws

The requirements to obtain a Kentucky CDL and the reasons for disqualification.

Kentucky requires commercial motor vehicle (CMV) operators to obtain and hold a commercial driver’s license (CDL). The different types of CMVs require different types of CDLs. There are rules and requirements specific to each type of CDL. This article outlines the requirements for obtaining a commercial license and violations that can lead to an operator losing this privilege.

When a CDL is Required

A CDL is required to operate any combination of vehicle(s) weighing 26,001 or more pounds. Vehicles designed to carry hazardous materials or 16 or more passengers also require a CDL. On-duty military personnel, emergency responders like firemen are exempt from the normal CDL requirements as are farmers within 150 miles of the farm and operators of recreational vehicles (RVs).

License classes. There are three classes of CDLs corresponding to 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

Exceeds 10,000 pounds

Class B

26,001 or more pounds

26,001 or more pounds

10,000 pounds or less

Class C

Less than 26,001

Less than 26,001

10,000 pounds or less

The CDL must meet or exceed the applicable weight limits. For example, a class A CDL can be used to operate any size or weight of CMV.

Endorsements. While classes govern the weight of the vehicle, endorsements govern the type of cargo that a driver can transport. Each endorsement comes with special rules and testing requirements. For instance, to transport hazardous materials, the driver must obtain a hazmat endorsement by completing the corresponding tests and the Kentucky Security Threat Assessment.

Restrictions. Kentucky also places restrictions on certain drivers. Drivers under 21 years old will receive an “I” restriction and cannot drive hazmat vehicles, school buses, or any CMV across state lines.

CDL Testing

Kentucky’s CDL testing procedures vary based on the experience of the driver and purpose of the CDL.

Instruction permits. At 18 years old, a licensed Kentucky resident can apply for a CDL instruction permit. The applicant must complete the vision and knowledge test and submit to a background check. The instruction permit authorizes the operation of a CMV only under the accompaniment of a licensed commercial driver.

CDLs. After obtaining the instruction permit (or completing the necessary tests), a driver can take the skills test to obtain a commercial driver’s license.

Farm CDLs. Kentucky also has a limited farm CDL that’s valid for up to 180 days and can be used only within 150 miles of the farm. However, the applicant does not need to complete the written or skills test. The applicant must only hold a driver’s license for one year and be free of any serious traffic violations, major offenses, and license suspension for two years. A farm CDL is also subject to certain hazmat and cargo restrictions.

Medical exams. All CDL and instruction permit applicants must obtain a medical card. The medical card is a certification that the driver is healthy enough to operate a CMV. Certain medical conditions can preclude CDL issuance or place restrictions on the license.

Military. A driver with at least two years of military service operating a CMV can be exempted from the CDL driving test.

CDL Revocation and Disqualification

CMVs are subject to special rules and regulations. Violation of these rules and certain traffic offenses can result in license disqualification or revocation. CDL holders are also prohibited from taking advantage of diversion agreements that would mask the driver’s record.

Serious traffic violations. A CDL will be revoked for 60 days for two “serious traffic violation” convictions in three years. Any subsequent violations will result in a 120-day revocation. Kentucky considers speeding 15 miles per hour or more over the limit, erratic lane change, following too closely, driving a CMV without a proper CDL, and any traffic violation involving a fatality to be serious traffic violations. Certain other traffic violations that result in license suspension are also considered serious traffic violations.

Major offenses. More severe violations will result in a one-year license revocation for a first offense. These violations include leaving the scene of an accident, chemical test refusal, DUI (driving under the influence), impaired CMV operation, using a motor vehicle to commit a felony, negligently causing a CMV-related fatality, and operating with a revoked CDL. A second violation will result in a lifetime revocation, but reinstatement may be possible after ten years. The use of a CMV to transport or distribute controlled substances will result in lifetime disqualification.

Out-of-service orders. Some safety violations can result in a temporary and immediate out-of-service order (OSO). For example, operating a CMV with any bodily amount of alcohol or drugs will result in a 24-hour OSO. Driving during an OSO will result in license revocation for a period of time that depends on the number of prior OSO violations the driver has within the past ten years.

  • First offense. 90-day license revocation (180 days if in hazmat CMV or vehicle designed for 16 or more passengers).
  • Second offense in ten years. One-year license revocation (three years if in hazmat CMV or vehicle designed for 16 or more passengers).
  • Third offense in ten years. Three-year license disqualification.

Railroad crossings. CMV operators must take care around railroad crossings. Failure to leave enough room in front of or below the CMV can result in a violation. A railroad crossing violation will result in a 60-day, 120-day, and one-year license revocation for a first, second, and third violation in three years.

Implied consent. All CMV operators are considered to have given consent to a test of the driver’s blood, breath, or urine to identify the presence of alcohol or drugs. An officer who has reasonable cause to believe the driver has consumed alcohol or drugs can request a chemical test. Test refusal will generally result in license disqualification and an OSO.

School buses. Kentucky prohibits any use of a cellphone while operating a school bus. A first offense carries a $50 fine and any subsequent violation will result in a $100 fine and six-month license revocation.

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