DOT Requirements and Regulations for CDL Truck Drivers

Trucking is one of the most highly regulated industries in the United States. The Department of Transportation (DOT) is responsible for overseeing regulations for this complex industry and does so through a variety of laws contained within Title 49.

Truck drivers in the United States must comply with Section 391 of the aforementioned legislation, which outlines strict qualifications and requirements in order for them to legally work.

This resource may serve you well as a driver qualification (DQ) file checklist explaining how commercial vehicle operators/drivers qualify for employment in the United States. By the end, you’ll understand the DOT truck driver requirements enough to put together a DQ File of your own!

What Vehicles Require a CDL?

First of all, let’s get clear on what types of vehicles are considered commercial and require a commercial driver’s license.

  • Law requires a CDL driver for vehicles which have a Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR) that is 26,001 pounds or more with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed that is 10,000 pounds or higher.
  • Any type of commercial vehicle designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • A vehicle that is required to have a placard while it has hazardous materials inside.

What Are the DOT Truck Driver Requirements for Driver Qualification & Driver Disqualification?

To qualify, CDL applicants must be at least 21 years of age, with a clean DOT and state criminal record, GED or high school diploma (or equivalent) and the ability to read, write and speak English.

In order to be considered DOT-compliant from the department’s standpoint, applicants must hold a valid CDL with endorsements that correspond with the DOT’s permissible driving classifications. While this may seem obvious, there are many who aren’t DOT compliant due to inadequate licensing or endorsements; it’s imperative to ensure you have all relevant papers before heading out on the road.

Additional Requirements for New Drivers

All new drivers must complete BOC (Basic Operator Certification), which is described as 80 hours of sponsored classroom insurance to cover the cost of cleanup and mitigation. DOT regulations dictate that these hours be spread out over several days with no more than 8 hours per day (nighttime drivers may not drive during the 12-hour break between shifts).

New drivers must also complete DOT SWD (Supplements for Windswept Debris), DOT TPWDDT (Tractor-Propelled Windshield Debris) and DOT SSWT (Snow & Sleet Water) courses within 30 days of employment.

The DOT requires a new driver to complete 60 hours of driving time with 35 being on duty before transporting commercial freight. This requirement can be fulfilled through training or experience, though which one will depend on your background and application status.

How Drivers Are Disqualified for CDL

Drivers can be disqualified for several reasons:

  • If they’re involved in an accident with a commercial vehicle that results in DOT violations; including but not limited to:
  • DOT safety violation fines or penalties that reach a total of $2000 (or more) within 120 days.
  • Excessive speeding violations, or driving over 15 miles per hour over the speed limit.
  • Convictions for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol within three years disqualify DOT compliant drivers from employment as well. DOT trucks must be driven by drivers who meet each and every DOT requirement—including those listed here.
  • Drivers who receive a DOT citation while operating a non-commercial vehicle are not eligible to operate DOT commercial vehicles unless they pay the DOT fine, complete a DOT-approved defensive driving program and are granted permission by the DOT.

DOT Truck Driver Requirements: Is a Background Check Required?

Yes. DOT compliant CDL drivers must submit to DOT background checks every 12 months or 24 months (if under age 60 and granted permission by DOT medical examiners). These files verify criminal history and driving records before DOT certification is granted.

DOT Truck Driver Requirements: Is a Drug Test Required?

Yes. ​​Truck drivers are subject to DOT drug and alcohol tests as part of the qualification process. The DOT requires these exams due to serious safety concerns regarding these two issues in commercial driving scenarios. In addition, DOT regulations dictate that all drivers must be physically fit according to DOT medical standards. 

DOT Truck Driver Requirements: Is a Physical Exam Required?

Yes. DOT physicals must be performed by a DOT physician, DOT registered physician’s assistant or DOT registered nurse practitioner who can certify the applicant is capable of performing duties without any risk to themselves or others. Operators are required to maintain current medical certification and physicals every 24 months or 12 months if they’re under age 60 and have DOT medical examiner authorization to do so.

Are you ready to learn more? Talk to a Fleet Advisor today.

DOT Truck Driver Requirements: Is a Road Test Required?

Yes. The DOT requires a road test for drivers who wish to transfer their CDL’s from one state to another. The road test is optional for those with previous driving experience. The DOT requires this exam due to serious safety concerns regarding commercial driving scenarios. The exam covers these basic concerns that CDL drivers must master:


  • Coupling and uncoupling of combination units, if the equipment he/she may drive includes combination units
  • Placing the commercial motor vehicle in operation
  • Use of the commercial motor vehicle’s controls and emergency equipment;
  • Operating the commercial motor vehicle in traffic and while passing other motor vehicles;
  • Turning the commercial motor vehicle;
  • Braking, and slowing the commercial motor vehicle by means other than braking
  • Backing and parking the commercial motor vehicle.

DOT Truck Driver Requirements: Is Insurance Required?

Yes. Compliant truck drivers must maintain DOT-required insurance to drive on public roads during work hours. Each company will provide a statement for commercial liability and other liabilities if stated in the contract upon hiring. 


DOT regulations require that each driver carry at least $750,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) coverage per person and another $1 million for each DOT-compliant truck that the driver operates. All DOT compliant drivers must carry this insurance.

Are there Differences in State & Federal DOT Driver Requirements?

Yes. While there are federally-mandated minimum requirements upon which all state requirements are based, each state has its own manual and state-run testing. 

Compliant Trucking & Tracking with GPS Trackit

While DOT compliance can be tricky, it’s necessary to become a licensed commercial trucker.

The driver qualification criteria, background and character investigation, required road test and physical health examination ensure that everyone driving a commercial vehicle has the capability, ethics, skills, and wellness to be trusted with the keys to a large commercial vehicle like an 18-wheel truck.

There are a few more DOT truck driver requirements that we’ve skipped for brevity, and although the above will get you in the door, this text should not be considered an exhaustive description of the legislation. 

For more information, check out the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations online. Please note that this article should not be interpreted as legal advice.

If you’d like to learn more about how GPS Trackit can help to improve safety, increase productivity and reduce costs for your business, speak with one of our knowledgeable Fleet Advisors at 866-320-5810 or get a quick Custom Quote.

Updated: August 2021

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