Michigan’s Commercial Driver’s License Laws

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

Michigan has several types of commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) to authorize the operation of a variety of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). Each license type is governed by different regulations and can be revoked if the driver fails to follow these rules. This article outlines when each CDL is required, how they can be obtained, and when they can be revoked.

When a CDL is Required

A CDL is generally required to operate any CMV. A CMV is defined as any vehicle (including towed trailers) weighing 26,001 or more pounds or designed to carry more than 15 passengers or hazardous materials. Emergency vehicles like firetrucks are exempt from the CMV rules as are personal transports like RVs.

CDL License Groups

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

Combined Weight

Tractor Weight

Trailer(s) Weight

Group A

26,001 or more pounds

26,001 or more pounds

Over 10,000 pounds

Group B

26,001 or more pounds

26,001 or more pounds

10,000 pounds or less

Group C

26,000 pounds or less

26,000 pounds or less

10,000 pounds or less

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

Endorsements

Endorsements are added to a CDL to authorize special equipment and cargo. Endorsements usually require additional testing and may require background checks. Violations of the endorsement requirements can result in stiff penalties. For example, transporting hazardous materials without an endorsement is a misdemeanor and punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum of $500 in fines.

Farmer Endorsements

A farmer endorsement is added to a group D license and does not require the driver to pass a knowledge or skills test. This endorsement authorizes a farm owner to operate certain CMVs within 150 miles of the farm in order to transport agriculture products.

Seasonal CDLs

Michigan has a special seasonal CDL that is used for transporting crops during harvest. The applicant must be at least 18 and hold a valid driver’s license but does not need to take a CDL knowledge or skills test. The license can be used to operate a group B or C CMV during planting and harvest seasons within 150 miles of the farm.

Enhanced CDLs

Michigan also has an enhanced CDL that authorizes operation between Canada and the United States. The enhanced CDL generally requires additional documentation and background checks.

CDL Testing

Commercial learner’s permits. Michigan requires applicants to obtain and hold a commercial learner’s permit (CLP) for at least 14 days before taking the CDL driving test. A CLP requires a valid driver’s license, a driving record check, proof of residency, and a written knowledge test. The CLP can be used to operate a CMV under the direct supervision of a licensed commercial driver. Drivers must be at least 18 years old to apply and at least 21 years old to travel out-of-state.

Commercial driver’s licenses. After 14 days with a CLP, the applicant can take the driving test for a full CDL. The test must be performed in the type of CMV being applied for. Applicants with prior military experience operating CMVs can be exempt from the skills test.

Reports. All CDL holders are required to self-certify as to the type of driving performed and to carry a medical card indicating health qualification. Drivers are also required to report all future traffic violations and suspensions to both the state and to employers.

CDL Revocation and Disqualification

CDL holders are required to abide by special safety regulations and failure to comply can result in license revocation.

60-day revocation. A CDL will be revoked for 60 days for a conviction related to CDL testing fraud, a railroad crossing violation, or for having two “serious traffic violations” in three years. Serious traffic violations include excessive speeding, reckless driving, improper lane use, following too closely, and any traffic violation involving a fatality.

120-day revocation. A CDL will be revoked for 120 days for having three serious traffic violations in three years or two railroad crossing violations in ten years.

One-year revocation. A CDL will be revoked for one year for having three railroad violations in a ten-year period or any “major offense.” Major offenses include OWI (operating while under the influence), leaving the scene of an accident, using a motor vehicle in the commission of a felony, driving a CMV while revoked, and criminally or negligently causing a CMV-related fatality.

Three-year revocation. Any major offense committed in a hazmat CMV will result in a three-year license revocation.

Lifetime revocation. A driver who commits two major offenses will be disqualified for life from operating a CMV. However, reinstatement may be possible after ten years. A driver will be disqualified for life without the possibility of reinstatement for any of the following:

  • a third or subsequent major offense
  • using a CMV to distribute or manufacture controlled substances, or
  • any violation of the Michigan Anti-Terrorism Act.

Indefinite suspension. A commercial driver will be disqualified indefinitely upon being deemed an imminent hazard or being a security risk under the Patriot Act.

Out-of-service orders. Certain safety violations may result in a temporary but immediate out-of-service order (OSO) that prohibits CMV operation. Driving during an OSO will result in a 180-day disqualification for a first offense, two-year disqualification for a second offense, and three-year disqualification for a third offense in ten years. The operator will also be fined $2,500 to $2,750 for a first offense and $5,000 to $5,500 for a second or subsequent offense. Even the operator’s employer can be fined $2,750 to $25,000 for an OSO violation.

Implied consent. All CMV operators are considered to have given consent to a chemical test of their breath, blood, or urine to determine the presence of alcohol or drugs. A driver who refuses a preliminary breath test or has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of at least .015% will receive a 24-hour OSO. A requesting officer must have reasonable cause to believe the driver was operating with alcohol or drugs in his or her system.

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