South Carolina’s Commercial Driver’s License Laws

The requirements to obtain a South Carolina CDL and reasons for disqualification.

To operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in South Carolina, the driver must have the appropriate commercial driver’s license (CDL). Different CMVs require different classes of CDLs and endorsements. This article outlines the requirements for obtaining the different types of commercial licenses and circumstances that can lead to commercial license disqualification.

When a CDL is Required

A CDL is required to operate any combination of vehicle(s) weighing 26,001 or more pounds or vehicle designed to carry hazardous materials or 16 or more passengers. Exceptions to these requirements exist for military, emergency response, and recreational vehicles. A not-for-hire farm vehicle is generally exempt from CDL requirements when the farmer is hauling crops within 150 miles of the farm. The governor is also permitted to waive CDL requirements during a state of emergency to provide humanitarian relief.

South Carolina's Commercial 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 commercial 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 CDL classes govern the weight of the vehicle, the type of vehicle and cargo can require special endorsements. For example, hauling hazardous materials requires a hazmat endorsement, which entails TSA clearance and a written exam.

Seasonal Restricted CDLs

South Carolina also has a temporary 180-day CDL for farm-related vehicles. The license does not require a knowledge or skills test, but the applicant must have held a South Carolina driver’s license for at least one year. The license can be used to operate a class B or C non-hazmat vehicle for custom harvest, livestock feeding, or agri-business.

CDL Testing

The path to obtaining a CDL starts with holding a South Carolina driver’s license. Next, the applicant must obtain a commercial driver instruction permit (CDIP). To get the CDIP, the applicant must pass a vision and written knowledge exam and show proof of a medical certification. The CDIP allows the holder to drive a CMV under the direct supervision of a licensed commercial driver. After 14 days of CDIP practice, the applicant can take the driving test to obtain a CDL.

Age requirements. Applicants must be at least 18 years old to obtain a CDIP or CDL. However, drivers who are younger than 21 years old can’t transport hazardous materials or operate a CDL out-of-state.

Medical certifications. All CDL applicants must obtain a medical certification from their physician indicating adequate physical health to operate a CMV. Failure to maintain a current medical certification will result in CDL revocation.

CDL Revocation and Disqualification

An operator can face CDL revocation for certain rule violations and criminal convictions. Drivers with a revoked CDL are not eligible for any hardship or restricted-use status.

Serious traffic violations. The commission of multiple “serious traffic violations” within three years will result in license revocation. Having two violations in three years results in a minimum 60-day revocation and having three or more violations in three years carries a minimum 120-day revocation. Serious traffic violations include speeding 15 miles per hour or more over the limit, reckless driving, erratic lanes changes, following too closely, driving a CMV without a proper CDL, and any traffic violation involving a fatality. Driving a CMV without a CDL in possession is also a serious traffic violation, but the charge will be dismissed if the driver presents a CDL (that was valid at the time of the citation) to the court. Driving without ever being issued a CDL is a misdemeanor and carries $150 to $250 in fines and up to 30 days in jail.

Out-of-service orders. Certain rule violations (drinking and driving) can result in an immediate out-of-service order (OSO). The OSO is normally issued by the investigating police officer and driving during an OSO will result in license disqualification and fines.

  • First offense. 90-day to one-year license disqualification (180 days to two years if in hazmat CMV or vehicle designed for more than 15 passengers) and a minimum $2,500 fine.
  • Second offense in ten years. One-to two-year license disqualification (three to five years if in hazmat CMV or vehicle designed for more than 15 passengers) and $5,000 fine.
  • Third offense in ten years. Three-to five-year license disqualification and $5,000 fine.

An employer that permits an OSO violation will also be fined $2,750 to $11,000.

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 minimum 60-day, 120-day, and one-year license revocation for a first, second, and third violation in three years.

Major offenses. Certain offenses will result in a one-year revocation and require the driver to retake the CDL examinations. These “major violations” include chemical test refusal, DUI (driving 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 causing a CMV accident that results in death or serious bodily injury. The revocation period will be three years if the violation occurred in a hazmat vehicle. Any subsequent conviction of the above-listed violations will result in lifetime CDL disqualification, but a driver may be able to retest after ten years. The production or transportation of controlled substances using a motor vehicle will result in permanent 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 probable cause to believe the driver has any measurable amount of alcohol in his or her system can request a chemical test. Test refusal will result in CDL revocation and a 24-hour OSO.

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