Do You Need a CDL to Drive an Ambulance?

When considering a career in the medical field, there are so many different options with varying levels of schooling, from emergency medical technician to a doctor or surgeon. But if you decide you want to be a patient’s initial point of care and become a first responder, what sort of requirements do you need to begin providing that care, and what do you need to make sure you get your ambulance to the patient in the easiest way possible? 

Do I need a CDL to drive an ambulance?

A commercial driver’s license, or CDL, is not needed to drive an ambulance. All ambulance drivers are required to have a valid driver’s license, but they are not required to apply for an additional license through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. All drivers must instead attend an emergency vehicle operations course to receive the emergency vehicle endorsement on their existing license. 

But what vehicles can you drive with a CDL if you are not required to have one to drive an ambulance? What requirements do you have to meet to drive an ambulance? Read on to find out.

What is a CDL?

Do you Need a CDL to Drive an Ambulance?

A CDL, or a commercial driver’s license, is a specific driver’s license that is required when the driver is operating large, heavy, or hazardous materials. According to the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986, which established the license requirements, you must be 18 to apply for a CDL. In New York, the requirement for a Class A license is 21, but remains 18 for the others; in Hawaii, the minimum age for all classes is 21.

There are three types of CDL licenses that are broken down into classes: 

Class A allows license holders to operate any vehicle in commerce that has a weight of over 26,000 pounds, as long as the trailer is over 10,000 pounds. This class is typically used by trailers or trailer buses.

Class B allows license holders to operate single vehicles over 26,000 pounds, or if they are towing a unit, that unit must be 10,000 pounds or less. This class includes utility trucks such as box trucks, dump trucks, garbage trucks, cement trucks, or buses. 

Class C allows license holders to operate single vehicles under 26,000 if the license holder is transporting 16 or more passengers, which includes the driver, or any sort of hazardous materials. 

While not regulated federally, some states require you to have a CDL before driving a recreational vehicle or an agricultural vehicle. 

Do you Need a CDL to Drive an Ambulance?

What you don’t see in this list, though, are emergency vehicles. That is because they do not fall under the categories or classes above—most ambulances are around 10,000 to 14,000 pounds. They are also not used as a commercial vehicle, which eliminates them from the commercial driver’s license requirement all together.

To get your CDL, you must be at least 18 years of age, submit an application and pay the fee. After you prove your identity and residency, you must complete both a medical exam and vision test before taking the written exam. 

After the written exam, you will receive a commercial learner’s permit, where you can then schedule your inspection and driving examination in your own vehicle. After passing, you must pay additional fees before receiving your CDL. 

So, what is required for you to drive an ambulance if you don’t need your CDL?

Driving Requirements for an Ambulance

Do you Need a CDL to Drive an Ambulance?

Although a commercial driver’s license is not required for an ambulance driver, there is an educational program that drivers must go through before heading out into the field. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has established a curriculum that about 50 percent of agencies across the country still use as their guide for their Emergency Vehicle Operators Course, or EVOCs, according to a study by the NHTSA

These Emergency Vehicle Operators Courses are typically about ten to twenty hours of training and over a two-day period. Although the course is not nationally regulated and can chance between states or even municipalities, you will still have to take some sort of written class and driving class. 

Some of the lessons an ambulance driver training course include knowing your state or region’s vehicle codes and laws; knowing how to send and receive messages properly; knowing the different ambulance types; knowing exactly the protocol on how to carry out an emergency run safely; knowing how to use all the equipment on an ambulance; and knowing how to properly drive the ambulance.

What is the difference between a first responder and an EMT? 

If you are interested in training to become an EMT or ambulance driver, contact your local fire department to find out more about any trainings, deadlines, or requirements for your area. Sometimes, vehicle training is included in an EMT or paramedic course, so you will not have to pursue that education separately. Your biggest asset will be those already serving in your community in that position, and they will be willing to help you pursue the same career that they have.

Although a CDL isn’t required to drive an ambulance, you will still have to go through an extensive process in order to receive your emergency vehicle operator certification. If you want to become an EMT, though, this is almost always required, so don’t worry about getting your CDL if you want to pursue that career.


Can you drive an ambulance without being a paramedic?

No, being an EMT or paramedic is not required to drive an ambulance, but because of budgets and need, most EMS organizations and departments only hire certified medical professionals to drive the ambulance. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were only about 14,000 ambulance drivers in the country as of May 2020, leaving all others as certified medical professionals. 

Do firefighters need a commercial driver’s license to drive the firetruck?

Even though firetrucks fit into the weight requirement, they are not considered commercial vehicles and therefore firefighters are not required to have their CDL. Firefighters are also required to go through an emergency vehicle operators’ course, much like anyone intending on driving an ambulance. 

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Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.