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Can You Get a CDL with a Felony?

Can You Get a CDL with a Felony?

Holding a CDL is usually a ticket to a good-paying, stable job.

And with demand for truck drivers outstripping supply, now is an excellent time to think about getting your CDL.

But even though you know that truck driving could be a great career choice for you, you’re worried about your past convictions ruining your chances before you’ve even begun.

No doubt you’ve got a ton of questions about this possible career track, but the one you need to answer right out of the gate is “can you get a CDL with a felony?”

In this article, we’ll answer your question in detail so you know exactly which felonies could stand in your way and which ones won’t be an obstacle.

We’ll also talk about applying for your license, and how you could get your truck driving school tuition for free.

Can You Get A CDL With A Felony?

Can You Get A CDL With A Felony?

Yes, you can. In many cases, you will be able to get your CDL even though you have a felony.

Getting your CDL with a felony depends on what your felony conviction was for and how recent it was.

Federal and state laws govern who can obtain a CDL, and it’s these laws that say yes or no to various felonies.

Some felonies involving a motor vehicle will prohibit you from obtaining a CDL temporarily or permanently.

And others will prevent you from obtaining the further endorsements and security clearances you may need for certain CDL jobs.

What Felonies Could Disqualify You From Getting A CDL?

These felonies include:

  • Arson
  • Assault with intent to murder
  • Bribery
  • Extorsion
  • Kidnapping
  • Operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol of 0.08% or higher (DUI)
  • Reckless driving that results in death
  • Serious traffic offenses involving misconduct with a motor vehicle
  • Smuggling
  • Trafficking in controlled substances or weapons
  • Treason
  • A felony using a commercial vehicle
  • Vehicular manslaughter

If any of those felonies apply to you, then you’ll need to check with your state to find out if your offense has permanently disqualified you from holding a CDL. Or if it’s a temporary prohibition, what period needs to have passed since your conviction.

You could also give a local trucking school a call or drop them an email and ask for a definitive answer for your particular offense.

If you are definitely barred, there are driving jobs you can get which don’t require a CDL.

But if your felony offense isn’t on that list, there’s nothing to stop you from taking the training for your CDL

Let’s quickly run through a few more of the common questions that come up about getting a CDL with a felony.

Can You Get A CDL With A Drug Felony?

Unless your state has put a prohibition in place, having a drug felony won’t prevent you from applying for your CDL. Although if your felony involved drug trafficking, you could be disqualified.

Once you qualify for your CDL, you could still face some issues, though.

If you still use drugs, you should know that you’ll have to pass drug screenings once you’re qualified, and failing a drug screening will cause you a lot of problems.

  1. You won’t be allowed to drive.
  2. Some companies will fire you because it’s a violation of their company policy as well as a violation of the law.
  3. In all cases, you’ll have to complete a Department Of Transportation mandated “Return To Duty” program, which is time-consuming and expensive.
  4. The failed drug screening will go on your record and will be seen when you apply for future driving jobs.

The other point to be aware of if you have a drug felony on your record is trucking company background checks.

Each trucking company has its own hiring procedures and background check requirements.

While some companies will overlook a drug felony, others won’t. And this is something you should look into to make sure that there’s a trucking company in your state that will actually hire you once you have your CDL.

Can You Get A CDL With A DUI Felony?

If you have a DUI felony on your record, you can still obtain a CDL. But at least 1 year needs to have passed since your conviction.

The obstacle you’ll face is getting hired with a recent DUI once you have your CDL. While many trucking companies will hire you with a felony on your record, they are cautious about hiring anyone with driving offenses, and that’s especially true for recent driving offenses and DUIs.

You may find a trucking company that will hire you with a more recent DUI, but with all of the trucking companies we’ve looked at, your DUI will need to be at least 5 years old, with many stating that it must be 10 years old.

The best thing to do if you have a DUI conviction is to contact a truck driving school in your state and find out if any of the trucking companies in your area are likely to hire you.

What Felonies Stop You From Getting HAZMAT Endorsement?

What Felonies Stop You From Getting HAZMAT Endorsement?

Some trucking companies will state in their hiring requirements that you need to already have, or be eligible to obtain, a hazardous materials endorsement (HME).

And you may want to get this endorsement yourself because of the higher rates of pay.

To get a hazardous materials endorsement, you first have to pass a thorough background check from the federal Transportation Safety Administration (TSA).

Some offenses will permanently disqualify you from getting your security clearance, while others will disqualify you for a minimum period.

TSA approval is also needed for CDL holders picking up or dropping off loads at ports.

What Felonies Stop You from Getting TSA Approval?

Many trucking routes involve picking up cargo from shipping ports. To enter many ports you’ll need TSA security clearance and some felony convictions will make getting that approval impossible.

And as mentioned above, you’ll also need to pass security clearance for your HAZMAT endorsement.

For these truck driving jobs, you need a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC).

You’ll be issued with this biometric identification card once you’ve passed the TSA and Department of Homeland Security background check.

Reasons you’ll fail a TWIC background check and be permanently disqualified from obtaining security clearance are:

  • Espionage
  • Treason
  • Sedition
  • Crimes related to a transportation security incident
  • Making false bomb threats
  • Crimes involving explosives
  • Murder
  • Terrorism or conspiracy to commit terrorism
  • Improper transportation of a hazardous material
  • RICO convictions involving the above offenses
  • Conspiracy to commit the above offenses

If you fail this background check, you can still drive non-port routes that don’t need this extra clearance.

Felonies that will temporarily prevent you from passing a TWIC background check are:

  • All firearms offenses
  • Extorsion
  • Fraud (excluding welfare fraud and passing bad checks)
  • Bribery
  • Smuggling
  • Immigration offenses
  • Distribution of a controlled substance
  • Arson
  • Kidnap
  • Rape
  • Robbery
  • Assault with intent to kill
  • Fraudulent entry into a seaport
  • RICO violations
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Conspiring to commit any of the above crimes

These felonies won’t negatively impact your security clearance once 7 years have passed since the conviction or guilty plea took place. Or after 5 years have passed since you were released from prison.

How To Get A CDL With A Felony: What’s The First Step?

Before you can begin the training that leads to a CDL you need to meet the basic eligibility requirements. These are:

  • Be at least 18 years old if you plan to drive a commercial vehicle only within your state.
  • Be at least 21 years old if you plan to drive interstate or transport hazardous materials.
  • Hold a valid, regular driver’s license that isn’t suspended.
  • Have 1 or 2 years of regular driving experience depending on state regulations.
  • Be a citizen or a permanent legal resident of the United States.
  • Have proof of residency in the state you’re making your CDL application.
  • Be able to speak English and read English.
  • Provide your social security number and another identity document, such as your birth certificate.
  • Meet the health and medical requirements.

If you meet those initial requirements, you can apply for your commercial learner’s permit (CLP).

Each state has its own requirements for a CLP, so go to your state’s website or your local DMV to obtain a copy of your state’s CDL manual.

The CDL manual will tell you each step that you need to complete to obtain a CDL in your state. The manual will also list any offenses that bar you permanently or temporarily from holding a CDL.

You’ll learn everything you need to know to pass your CDL exam at trucking school, but going through the manual to check your eligibility is the first step you should take.

Once you’re sure that you meet the requirements for your state, you can apply to a trucking school to get on one of their CDL courses.

Find Out If You Can Get A Free CDL Course

Getting your CDL isn’t free. In fact, courses cost several thousand dollars, and these fees can be a barrier for many people.

One option that you can consider is going to a trucking school in your state that’s either owned by a trucking company or is one that accepts sponsored students from trucking companies.

In these cases, you don’t have to pay the fees upfront yourself. Instead, you agree to work for the trucking company for a minimum period in return for your tuition.

The minimum period varies, but it’s usually 8 months to 1 year. After that, you can switch to a different company if you wish.

There are some situations you need to be aware of if you go down this route, however.

  1. If you fail the CDL course, you may have to cover the costs yourself.
  2. If the trucking company decides they don’t need you anymore, or if you violate their company policies before the minimum contract period is up, you could be on the hook for some of your training fees.
  3. If you decide to leave for any reason, before the minimum period is over, you’ll have to pay back some of your fees.
  4. You’ll get a lower per-mile rate during your initial contract period.

Some trucking companies also offer tuition reimbursement. Here, you have to pay the costs of your CDL course upfront, and then when you begin work for a trucking company, they will reimburse you a certain amount each month.

If you go down this route, you aren’t restricted in the company you work for after you complete your CDL training. And a good truck driving school will have contacts with major truck lines and will help you to get a job.

It’s also possible to get financing for a CDL course. To find out about financing options, contact some schools and ask to speak to an advisor.

Read Also: Do CDL Schools Drug Test?

Trucking Companies That Cover Your CDL Training Costs

Here’s a list of trucking companies you can approach to find out about their trucking school options and reimbursement offers.

  • Carter express
  • Celadon
  • C R England
  • Jim Palmer Trucking
  • Knight Transportation
  • Maverick Transportation
  • Pam Transport
  • Roehl Transport
  • Swift
  • TMC
  • USA Truck
  • Wil Trans


Many ex-felons have found rewarding and well-paid work by studying for their CDL and becoming truck drivers.

In the majority of cases, your felony won’t be a permanent bar to getting your CDL. However, you could face some difficulties getting hired after you qualify if you have a drug or DUI felony.

And if you were hoping to get a HAZMAT endorsement or make port runs to earn higher rates, your felony could prevent you from passing the TSA security background check.

Read Also: Can You Be A Truck Driver With A Felony?