Pennsylvania Commercial Driver's License Rules

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

To lawfully operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in Pennsylvania, the operator must possess a commercial driver’s license (CDL). There are several classes of CDLs and various endorsements that are required for certain cargo. Each license has different requirements and permits the operation of a certain size or type of CMV. This article outlines the requirements for obtaining the different types of commercial licenses and how an operator can lose commercial driving privileges.

When a CDL is Required

A CDL is required to operate any vehicle defined as a “commercial motor vehicle.” This definition includes any combination of vehicle(s) weighing 26,001 or more pounds, school buses, and vehicles designed to carry hazardous materials or 16 or more passengers. Motor homes, construction equipment, antique vehicles, and farm machinery are not considered CMVs. Additionally, certain individuals such as emergency responders, military personnel, and farmers (within 150 miles of their farm) can operate a qualified CMV with only a class C license.

Pennsylvania Commerical 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

Over 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 driver’s license 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.

Cargo Endorsements

While class governs the weight of the vehicle, the type of vehicle and cargo can require special endorsements. For example, endorsements are necessary for carrying passengers and hazardous materials. Each endorsement comes with special rules and testing requirements.

Commercial Restrictions

A CDL can also be subject to certain restrictions. For example, a driver under 21 years old has a ”K” restriction, prohibiting out-of-state travel.

CDL Testing

Application process. Generally, to obtain a CDL in Pennsylvania, an applicant must be at least 18 years old and first apply for a commercial driver learner’s permit (CDLP). Applicants who complete and pass the written exam and driving record check and meet the residency requirements will receive a CDLP. A CDLP holder can operate a CMV while under the supervision of a licensed commercial driver, and after 15 days of practice, can take the driving test to obtain a CDL. A driver with recent military experience operating a CMV can be exempted from the CDL driving test.

Medical certification. All applicants must obtain a medical certification from their physician indicating adequate physical health to operate a CMV. This certification must be updated every two years. An expired medical card will result in CDL disqualification. The medical requirements may differ if the driver self-certifies to only in-state driving.

CDL Revocation and Disqualification

An operator can face CDL revocation for certain rule violations and criminal convictions. The driver must disclose all tickets and suspensions to the state and to the driver’s employer. Disqualified drivers can’t obtain an occupational limited license.

Serious traffic violations. The commission of multiple “serious traffic violations” within a three-year period will result in license revocation. Having two violations in three years results in a 60-day revocation and having three or more violations in three years carries a 120-day revocation. Serious traffic violations include speeding 15 miles per hour or more over the limit, speeding in a construction, school, or downgrade zone, lane violations, reckless driving, texting and driving, improper passing, following too closely, and any traffic violation involving a fatality. A violation occurring in a non-CMV will only result in CDL suspension if the offense would normally result in the suspension of non-CDL privileges. Driving without a license in possession is also a serious violation that carries a $500 fine and an additional six months license revocation, but can be dismissed if the driver presents a then-valid license within 15 days of being cited.

Out-of-service orders. Certain rule violations (like driving after consuming alcohol) can result in an immediate out-of-service order (OSO). OSOs are typically issued by the investigating police officer. Driving during an OSO will result in license disqualification and fines.

  • First offense. One-year license disqualification (two-year if in hazmat CMV or vehicle designed for 16 or more passengers), and $2,500 fine.
  • Subsequent offense in ten years. Three-year license disqualification (five years if in hazmat CMV or vehicle designed for 16 or more passengers), and $5,000 fine.

Railroad crossings. Pennsylvania has special rules for CMVs related to approaching or crossing railroad tracks. 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.

Major offenses. A CDL will be disqualified for one year for any of the following convictions: chemical test refusal, DUI in a CMV, leaving the scene of an accident, using a CMV in the commission of a felony, driving a CMV while disqualified, and negligently causing a CMV-related fatality. The revocation will be for three years if the violation occurred in a hazmat vehicle or CMV designed for 16 or more passengers. Any subsequent conviction of the above-listed violations will result in lifetime CDL disqualification. The production or transportation of controlled substances using a motor vehicle will also result in lifetime CDL disqualification.

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 grounds to believe the driver has consumed alcohol can request a chemical test. Test refusal is considered a major offense and will result in a one-year CDL revocation. A driver who operates a CMV with any amount of consumed alcohol or who refuses testing will also face a 24-hour OSO (30 days if in a school bus) and a fine of $100 ($250 if in a school bus).

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