First, you must pass the knowledge test(s) required for the type of commercial vehicle you want to operate. You can study for the test with the Iowa CDL test app
Types of knowledge tests (number of questions/allowed to miss)
- General knowledge for any CDL (50/10)
- Combination vehicle for Class A (20/04)
- Air brake (25/05)
- Passenger (20/04)
- School bus (20/04)
- Doubles/Triples (20/04)
- Hazmat (30/06)
- Tank (20/04)
- Iowa operator (if applicable) (25/5)
Commercial learner's permit (CLP)
Second, you have to obtain a CLP. You will be issued a CLP after you pass the applicable knowledge tests, and you will have to hold the CLP for at least 14 days before you can go to the third step (skills testing) and get your full CDL.
What CAN I do with a CLP?
The purpose of a CLP is to allow accompanied behind-the-wheel training in a type and class of Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) that your current license (commercial or noncommercial) is not valid to operate. With a CLP you can:
What CAN'T I do with a CLP?
- Drive a commercial vehicle specific to the type of CLP you obtained when accompanied by another driver who has a CDL valid for the same type of commercial vehicle.
- Continue to drive vehicles by yourself (unaccompanied) that your existing license or CDL is valid for. The cost of the CLP is $12. The permit is valid for one year from the date of issuance, with no renewal period.
- Drive a commercial vehicle by yourself if your existing license or CDL is not valid to drive that type of vehicle.
- Use a cell phone while driving a commercial vehicle.
- Carry passengers while operating a commercial vehicle (other than the CDL driver accompanying you, other trainees, and test examiners).
- Drive a commercial vehicle containing hazmat or drive a tank vehicle that previously contained hazmat that is not purged of residue.
- Drive a tank vehicle containing cargo.
The same rules that apply to CDL drivers also apply to CLP drivers. Certain violations could result in the disqualification of the driver’s commercial operating privileges.
More information about violations and disqualification can be found in the CDL manual, available at any driver’s license issuance site or by visiting: https://iowadot.gov/pubs/CDL-manual.pdf.
Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT)
Beginning Feb. 7, 2022, drivers applying the first time for a Class A or Class B CDL; upgrading existing CDL’s (Class B CDL to Class A CDL); or adding the following endorsements: hazardous materials (H), passenger (P), or school bus (S) will need to complete Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) prior to taking the applicable knowledge or skills test. Once you complete the ELDT, the training provider will upload your driver training certification to the Training Provider Registry, which we will verify prior to testing.
ELDT is a FMCSA program and is not administered by the Iowa DOT. For more information please select the link below or call the FMCSA information line at 1-800-832-5660 or the FMCSA Iowa Field Office at 515-233-7400.
Get more information about ELDT and view the listing of approved training providers
After you’ve held the CLP for at least 14 days and completed the Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT), the next step is to pass the required skills and driving test.
There are three phases of the driving test.
You must provide a vehicle that is in good working order and is representative of the class of license you are applying for.
1. Pre-trip vehicle inspection test.
A pre-trip vehicle inspection test is required to show the vehicle is safe to drive. You will have to walk around the vehicle and point to or touch each item and explain to the license examiner what you are checking and why.
View the pre-trip inspection memory aid you can use during the test
2. Skills test (maneuvers around cones and backing maneuvers).
See section 12 in the Commercial Driver License manual for a description of the skills test exercises and scoring.
3. Driving test (on public roads with examiner).