Wisconsin Department of Transportation

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Commercial driver license (CDL) - Overview

Commercial driver licenses (CDL) are required to operate vehicles that:

  • Weigh over 26,000 pounds, determined by the highest of the following weights:
    • manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR)
    • manufacturer’s gross combination weight rating (GCWR) when the towed unit has a GVWR, registered weight or actual gross weight over 10,000 pounds
    • actual weight
    • registered weight
  • Carry hazardous materials that require placarding under federal law.
  • Are designed or used to carry 16 or more persons including the driver (buses and some school buses).

There are federal and state regulations governing the operation of commercial motor vehicles.

Wisconsin CDL law requires:

  • A classified licensing system.
  • Issuing of only one license to each driver.
  • Testing of commercial drivers, who must pass a knowledge test and driving skills test in the type of vehicle they drive.
    • School bus drivers are required to pass a knowledge test and abbreviated driving skills test at each renewal in addition to providing proof of physical fitness in the form of a completed MV3030B or valid Federal Medical Certificate.
    • Hazardous materials (Hazmat) drivers who are renewing, transferring or applying for the "H" endorsement for the first time require a background check, including fingerprinting. Drivers are also required to complete the hazardous materials endorsement application and pass the "H" knowledge test.
  • Enforcement of the law through the Commercial Driver License Information System (CDLIS), a computer network of all states.
  • Enforcement of CDL disqualifications for alcohol and serious traffic violations such as a BAC of .04 in a commercial motor vehicle, and speeding in excess (15 mph or more) in a commercial motor vehicle.


A disqualification is the withdrawal of a person’s privilege to operate a commercial motor vehicle.

Operation of farm machinery

A driver license is not required to move non-registered farm machinery on a highway between fields or between a farm and a field. However, a Farm Service CDL is available for a person who is employed by a farm service industry for 180 days or less per calendar year.

License classes

Wisconsin has a classified licensing system. The classes are:

Class A

For operation of a commercial motor vehicle. Any combination of vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), actual weight, or registered weight over 26,000 pounds provided the GVWR, actual weight, or registered weight of the towed vehicle(s) is more than 10,000 pounds.

Class B

For operation of a commercial motor vehicle. Any single vehicle with a GVWR , actual weight, or registered weight over 26,000 pounds, or such vehicle towing a vehicle with a GVWR, actual weight, or registered weight of 10,000 pounds or less.

Class C

For operation of a commercial motor vehicle. Any single vehicle with a GVWR , actual weight, or registered weight of 26,000 pounds or less, (or such vehicle towing a vehicle less than 10,000 pounds) transporting hazardous materials requiring placarding or designed to carry 16 or more persons including the driver.

Class D

For operation of automobiles; light trucks and mopeds.

Class M

For operation of motorcycles.


Who is exempt from CDL licensing in Wisconsin?

Federal law allows states the option to waive certain kinds of drivers from the requirement to obtain a CDL. In Wisconsin, the following drivers are not required to hold a CDL:

  • Fire fighters and rescue squad members are not required to hold a CDL to drive properly equipped emergency or fire fighting vehicles. However, if you hold a Wisconsin driver license but operate a fire fighting vehicle in another state, you may be required to obtain a CDL.
  • Recreational vehicle operators (owned or leased motor home, fifth wheel mobile home or touring mobile home, provided it isn’t longer than 45 feet) not engaged in commercial activity are not required to hold a CDL.
  • A farmer, the farmer’s family members, and/or the farmer’s employees are not required to hold a CDL to drive a commercial motor vehicle owned or leased by the farmer, provided the vehicle is not used in “for hire” carriage, is transporting farm supplies, produce or machinery to or from the farm and is within 150 miles of a farm in Wisconsin, Minnesota or Iowa. The farm supplies that a farmer may transport without obtaining a CDL may include hazardous materials. However, a farmer driving a commercial motor vehicle with double or triple trailers or designed to carry or actually carrying 16 or more passengers must have a CDL with proper endorsements.
  • Back-up (substitute or replacement) snowplow drivers (includes snow or ice removal by plowing, salting or sanding) for local units of government (defined as a county, city, village, town, school district, county utility district, sanitary district, metropolitan sewage district, or other public body created by or pursuant to state law) are not required to hold a CDL if they meet all of the following:
    • Are an employee of a local unit of government with a population of 3,000 or less.
    • Hold a valid Class D license.
    • Are operating within the boundaries of the local unit of government.
    • Is one of the following:
      • Substituting for or replacing, a regular employee who ordinarily operates the vehicle.
      • An additional employee because a snow emergency exists as determined by the local unit of government.
Questions? Contact us: Wisconsin DMV email service
Call: (608) 264-7049

Last modified: October 21, 2014

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