Washington’s Commercial Driver’s License Laws

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

Whether used for delivery or transportation, Washington issues commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) to authorize the operation of different commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). Each license has different rules and can be revoked for certain violations and criminal convictions. This article outlines the requirements for obtaining the different types of commercial licenses and violations that could lead to license revocation.

When a CDL is Required

Washington requires a CDL to operate any vehicle designed to carry hazardous materials, 16 or more passengers, or that weighs 26,001 or more pounds. Operating personal RVs, collector trucks, and authorized military vehicles do not require a CDL. Firefighters and law enforcement are also exempt but must take special classes to operate a work-related CMV. Additionally, a farm owner operating a not-for-hire agriculture transport within 150 miles of the farm doesn’t need to have a CDL.

Washington's Commercial License Classes

There are three classes of CDLs based on 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

26,000 pounds or less

26,000 pounds or less

10,000 pounds or less

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

Cargo Endorsements

Transporting passengers or hazardous materials also requires CDL license endorsements. Each endorsement requires additional testing and comes with special limitations. For example, a school bus endorsement is not available to those with certain criminal offenses like DUIs or child abuse.

Commercial License Restrictions

A person’s age, health, or experience can also result in certain CDL restrictions. For example, a driver who’s under 21 years old can’t carry passengers, obtain a hazmat endorsement, or operate out-of-state.

CDL Testing

A driver must be at least 18 years old and hold a Washington driver’s license before applying for a CDL. With proof of residency and the application documents complete, the driver can take the knowledge test to receive a commercial learner’s permit (CLP). A CLP allows the driver to practice driving a CMV under the direct supervision of a licensed commercial driver who has five years of driving experience, including two years in a CMV. A CDL applicant must also complete an approved driver education course or have an employer certify that the applicant has the necessary skills to operate a CMV. With all requirements satisfied, the applicant can take a skills test to obtain a full CDL. Applicants with prior experience operating a military CMV may be exempt from the driving test.

Generally, all CMV operators must have a medical certificate signed by a physician indicating adequate physical health to safely operate a CMV. Failure to display the medical certificate is a traffic infraction and carries a $250 fine.

CDL Revocation and Disqualification

Failure to follow any of the many CMV-related rules can result in license disqualification. Hardship licenses aren’t available for disqualified drivers and drivers disqualified for more than a year must re-apply and re-test for a CDL.

Serious traffic violations. In Washington, the list of “serious traffic violations” includes speeding 15 miles per hour or more over the limit, reckless driving, erratic lane changes, following too closely, using a cellphone while driving a CMV, negligent driving, failure to yield, failure to stop for an accident, endangerment of roadway workers, and any traffic violation involving a fatality. Driving a CMV without a CDL is also a serious traffic offense but will be dismissed if the driver can provide a CDL that was valid at the time of the citation to the court. Having two serious traffic violations in three years will result in a minimum 60-day revocation. Having three serious traffic offenses in three years will result in a minimum 120-day revocation.

Out-of-service orders. Certain unsafe actions will result in the issuance of an immediate, but temporary, out-of-service order (OSO). For example, driving with any consumed alcohol or THC is a 24-hour OSO. Driving in violation of an OSO will result in CDL disqualification based on the number of prior offenses in the last ten years.

  • First offense. 180 days to one-year license disqualification (180 days to two years if in CMV designed for hazmat or 16 or more passengers).
  • Second offense. Two to five years license disqualification (three to five years if in CMV designed for hazmat or 16 or more passengers).
  • Third offense. Three to five years of license disqualification.

Railroad crossings. CMVs have special safety rules regarding railroad crossings. The driver must slow down or stop for all crossings and ensure the CMV has proper clearance to completely cross. A railroad crossing violation will result in a minimum 60-day, 120-day, or one-year license disqualification for a first, second, and third offense in three years.

Major offenses. A CDL will be disqualified for at least one year for certain “major violations.” The list of major violations includes chemical test refusals, DUIs (driving under the influence), underage DUIs, CMV DUIs, leaving the scene of an accident, using a motor vehicle in the commission of a felony, driving a CMV while revoked, and negligently causing a CMV-related fatality. The disqualification will be for at least three years if the violation occurred in a CMV designed to carry hazardous materials. A second major offense will result in a lifetime revocation but reinstatement is possible after ten years. The production or transportation of controlled substances using a motor vehicle will result in permanent lifetime revocation.

Drug and alcohol tests. Drivers are required to submit to periodic drug and alcohol tests. A positive alcohol or drug test will result in CDL disqualification. The CDL will be disqualified until the holder obtains a chemical dependency assessment and completes the recommended treatment. Three positive tests in five years will result in permanent lifetime disqualification.

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