Tennessee’s Commercial Driver’s License Laws

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

Like all states, Tennessee requires commercial motor vehicle (CMV) operators to possess a commercial driver's license (CDL). Tennessee has special rules regarding the type of license a commercial operator must have and the requirements for obtaining a CDL. Tennessee also has strict penalties for drivers who fail to comply with the CMV rules. This article outlines the types of CDLs, the application process, and the reasons for which a CDL can be revoked.

When a CDL is Required

Tennessee requires a CDL to operate any vehicle weighing 26,001 or more pounds or designed to carry hazardous materials or more than 15 passengers. Recreational vehicles, leased personal property transports, emergency response vehicles, and military vehicles are not considered CMVs and do not require the operator to possess a CDL. Agricultural vehicles can also be used without a CDL if owned by the farmer and used for farm-related tasks.

Tennesee's Commercial License Categories

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

Not over 10,000 pounds

Class C

26,000 pounds or less

26,000 pounds or less

Not over 10,000 pounds

The CDL's applicable weight limits must meet or exceed the operated CMV's weight. So, a category A CDL can be used to operate all weights of CMVs.

Endorsements. The operation of certain CMVs requires the driver to possess "endorsements." Endorsements typically have specific requirements that often warrant additional testing and education. For example, the school bus endorsement requires the driver to be at least 25 years old, have five years of clean driving experience, pass the specialized tests, and clear a background check.

Restrictions. A CDL can also include certain restrictions depending related to the driver's health or age. For example, drivers younger than 21 years old can only operate in-state within 100 miles of the employer and drivers younger than 19 years old can't operate class A CMVs.

Farm restricted CDLs. Tennessee has a temporary 180-day license for workers in custom harvest, livestock feeding, and agriculture sales. The applicant must be at least 18 years old and have at least one year of clean licensed driving prior to applying. However, no written or driving test is required. Holders of this temporary license are limited to operating a class B or C CMV and can't travel more than 150 miles from the farm or place of business.

CDL Testing

The path to obtaining a CDL begins by being at least 18 years old, holding a Tennessee driver's license, and taking the knowledge test to receive a commercial learner's permit (CLP). The CLP can be used to practice driving a CMV while supervised in the front seat by a licensed commercial driver. Finally, to obtain a full CDL, the driver must pass the CMV driving test. The driving test can be waived for veterans with CMV experience.

Generally, CMV drivers must obtain and hold a current medical examiner's certificate. This certificate indicates that a physician has examined the licensee and found the licensee physically fit enough to operate a CMV. Certain medical conditions can warrant additional CDL requirements or restrictions.

CDL Revocation and Disqualification

Certain criminal convictions and rule violations will result in CDL revocation. A CDL holder is required to disclose all traffic convictions to their employer and to Tennessee Driver Services. CDL holders aren't eligible for any conviction masking or diversions but can contest the suspension at a hearing.

Serious traffic violations. "Serious traffic violations" include excessive speeding, reckless driving, and any CMV traffic violation that results in death, bodily injury, or property damage. Driving a CMV without a CDL in possession or with improper certifications is also a serious traffic violation but will be dismissed if the driver can present to the judge a CDL that was valid at the time of the citation. The driver's license will be disqualified for at least 60 days for having two violations in three years and at least 120 days for having three or more violations in three years.

Out-of-service orders. A temporary out-of-service order (OSO) can be issued to a CMV, CDL-holder, or CMV business for certain safety violations. The penalties for driving during an OSO vary depending on the CMV driven and the number of prior offenses in the last ten years.

  • First offense. Minimum $2,500 civil penalty and 180-day license revocation.
  • Second offense. Minimum $5,000 civil penalty and two-year license revocation (three years if driving a CMV designed for hazmat or more than 15 passengers).
  • Third offense. Minimum $5,000 civil penalty and three-year license revocation.

Railroad crossings. Tennessee has special rules for operating a CMV near or over railroad tracks. CMV operators must ensure the CMV has enough undercarriage clearance to safely cross and enough room in front to cross without stopping. Railroad track violations will result in a minimum 60-day, 120-day, and one-year license disqualification for a first, second, and third violation in three years.

Major offenses. Certain convictions and offenses are considered "major offenses" and will result in a minimum one-year disqualification. This list includes operating a CMV with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .04% or higher, leaving the scene of a CMV accident, and using a CMV in the commission of a felony. Any of these violations that occur in a hazmat CMV will result in a minimum three-year disqualification. A CDL will be revoked for life for any subsequent major offense or for using a motor vehicle to transport or manufacture controlled substances.

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