Wisconsin’s Commercial Driver’s License Laws

The requirements to obtain a Wisconsin CDL and reasons for disqualification.

To operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in Wisconsin, the driver must have the appropriate commercial driver’s license (CDL). Different CMVs require different classes of CDLs and endorsements specific to the vehicle and cargo. A CDL can also be revoked for certain criminal convictions or CMV violations. This article outlines the requirements for obtaining the different types of Wisconsin commercial licenses and circumstances that can lead to commercial license disqualification.

When a CDL Is Required

CMVs usually include vehicles weighing more than 26,000 pounds. A CMV can also include vehicles designed for 16 or more passengers or hazardous materials. A CDL is not required for firefighters, law enforcement, rescue responders, or individuals operating a personal-use RV. A farmer, farmer’s family, or farmer’s employee can also operate a CMV within 150 miles of the farmer to transport agriculture products without a CDL.

Wisconsin's Commerical License Classes

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

  • Class A. Any trailer-tractor combination weighing more than 26,000 pounds with the trailer weighing at least 10,000 pounds.
  • Class B. Any trailer-tractor combination (or single tractor) weighing more than 26,000 pounds but with the trailer being less than 10,000 pounds.
  • Class C. Any CMV that weighs less than 26,000 pounds with a trailer that’s less than 10,000 pounds (includes hazmat and public passenger transports).

The driver’s license must be sufficient to operate all applicable weights. For example, a class A CDL permits the operation of all weights of CMVs.

Cargo Endorsements

Endorsements authorize the holder to operate special CMVs or carry special cargo and carry additional requirements. For example, a school bus endorsement requires additional testing and is not available to individuals with certain criminal convictions.

License Restrictions

A CDL can also include restrictions. For instance, drivers under 21 years old and drivers with certain medical conditions will receive a restricted CDL that prohibits out-of-state operation.

Farm Service CDL

A temporary 180-day CDL is available for seasonal farm service employees. The seasonal CDL requires a Wisconsin driver’s license, medical card, and clean record but does not require a written or driving examination. A seasonal farm service worker can operate only a class B or C CMV and only within 150 miles of the farm being serviced.

CDL Testing

Prior to obtaining a CDL, a driver must be at least 18 years old, hold a Wisconsin driver’s license, complete the application, and pass the written examination to acquire a commercial learner’s permit (CLP). The CLP allows the holder to drive a CMV while supervised by an authorized CDL holder who’s at least 21 years old. The CLP holder can then take a driving skills test to obtain a CDL.

An applicant with prior military CMV experience may be exempt from the skills test, but all CDL applicants must hold and maintain a medical examiner’s certificate indicating the driver is physically healthy enough to safely operate a CMV. Failure to maintain and carry a medical card will result in CDL disqualification.

Cheating or lying on a CDL application or test will result in license disqualification.

CDL Revocation and Disqualification

Special rules apply to CMV operators and violation of these rules can lead to license disqualification. A disqualified driver is unable to get a probationary license. Drivers must disclose all traffic convictions and CDL suspensions to the state and employers or face a $2,500 fine.

Serious traffic offenses. A licensee will be disqualified for repeated convictions of so-called “serious traffic offenses.” Serious traffic offenses include speeding 15 miles per hour or more over the limit, reckless driving, erratic lane changes, texting while driving in a CMV, and any traffic violation that results in a fatality. Having two offenses in three years will result in a 60-day revocation and having three or more violations in three years carries a 120-day revocation. Driving without a CDL is also a serious traffic offense but will be dismissed with proof that the driver was properly licensed.

Out-of-service orders. Certain traffic offenses or equipment violations can result in an out-of-service order (OSO). For example, refusing a chemical test or driving with any amount of consumed or open alcohol will require a 24-hour OSO. An OSO temporarily prohibits the operation of the CMV or by the CDL holder. Driving in violation of the out-of-service order will result in penalties depending on the number of prior violations in the last ten years.

  • First offense. 180-day license disqualification and $2,500 fine.
  • Second offense. Two-year license disqualification (three years if in hazmat or passenger vehicle designed for 16 or more passengers) and $5,000 fine.
  • Third or subsequent offense. Three-year license disqualification and $5,000 fine.

Railroad crossings. CMV operators must take special precautions when approaching or crossing railroad tracks. A CMV railroad track violation will result in a 60-day, 120-day, and one-year license revocation for a first, second, and third violation. The employer can also be fined up to $10,000.

Disqualification. CMV operation involving felonies or intoxicants can also result in license disqualification.

  • One-year disqualification. Any “major offense” including operating while intoxicated (OWI), refusing a chemical test, failing to stop for an accident, driving a CMV while disqualified, negligently causing a CMV-related fatality, and using a motor vehicle in the commission of a felony will result in a one-year disqualification.
  • Three-year disqualification. A major offense committed in a hazmat CMV will result in a three-year disqualification.
  • Ten-year to lifetime disqualification. A second major offense will result in lifetime disqualification. But reinstatement is possible after ten years with the completion of an approved rehabilitation program. Any subsequent major offense will result in permanent disqualification.
  • Lifetime disqualification. Using a motor vehicle to transport or distribute controlled substances will result in an unalterable lifetime CDL disqualification.
  • Indeterminate disqualification. A CDL holder can also be deemed an imminent hazard by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which disqualifies the driver until the designation is lifted.

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