Hazardous Materials Test Study Guide for the CDL

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General Information

The Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Hazardous Materials (HazMat) test assesses how well a commercial driver can transport and/or handle materials that have been deemed hazardous. This test is designed to ensure that hazardous materials are transported using the highest safety standards. This study guide is designed to allow professional drivers to pass that test—and give them the skills that they need to ensure the safety of themselves, other drivers around them, and the general public.

The HazMat endorsement is by far the most difficult written test. The HazMat test is usually attempted last—after all other written tests are passed. It’s highly recommended you spend a lot of time preparing for this section. We recommend reviewing this study guide and your state’s CDL handbook, and then testing your knowledge with practice tests and flashcards before test day.

Who Needs a HazMat Endorsement?

You must have a CDL and HazMat endorsement to drive any vehicle that is used to transport hazardous materials (HazMat).

Is My HazMat Endorsement Valid Everywhere?

  • A HazMat endorsement issued by any state is valid in every state.

  • Your written DMV test will be based on Federal transportation regulations.

After you have your endorsement, when you drive in various states and cities, you need to be aware that state and local laws might be different. Check your state/local regulations. You can search online for a handbook issued by your own state—and it is recommended that you do so.

Why Bother With A HazMat Endorsement?

Many drivers never need a HazMat endorsement. Drivers won’t need a HazMat endorsement if they pull: dry van, non-hazardous bulk, timber, flatbed, etc. Some drivers never bother. But having a HazMat endorsement provides additional opportunities.

Here are some examples of how a HazMat endorsement could be beneficial:

  • Some Over-The-Road (OTR) companies only hire drivers with a HazMat endorsement.

  • Some OTR companies pay a premium for drivers with a HazMat endorsement. (Sometimes, a penny per mile extra, whether you are hauling HazMat or not.)

  • Some specialized industries pay very well for HazMat drivers. For example, hauling sand or water in an oil field pays very well (no HazMat endorsement required). Hauling oil in an oil field pays much better (HazMat endorsement required).

Federal Regulations versus State Law

Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)

There are 50 different titles that comprise the United States Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). These rules and regulations (administrative law) are issued by various agencies of the U.S. Federal Government.

CFR Title 49 - Transportation is the title that controls transportation—including pipeline, railroad, motor carrier (trucking), Coast Guard, etc.

The Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) are found in CFR, Title 49, Parts 100–185.

State Law

States write additional laws that affect transportation. As long as individual states create laws that are more restrictive than Federal Regulations; this is allowed. States can also write less restrictive laws to be applied if the truck is operating only within that state (intrastate). This explains why something that is legal in one state is not legal in the next state.


  • Doubles and Triples are legal in Nevada. Doubles are legal in California, but Triples are not legal in California.

  • Hours Of Service (HOS) are standard across the U.S.—except, California has placed more restrictive HOS rules while hauling flammable liquids (such as gasoline) and California has placed less restrictive HOS rules while hauling intrastate agriculture.

How to Use this Study Guide

Get Your State’s Handbook

The other study guides for the CDL tests have been “stand-alone.” All the information you needed to pass a written DMV test was in the study guide. This study guide is different. To be thoroughly prepared for the HazMat test, you will also need your state’s Commercial Driver Handbook. Printed versions of these handbooks are available at your local DMV and are usually available online, usually in portable file format (PDF).

Follow the Lesson Format in the Test Preparation Lessons (below)

As you go through the rest of this study guide, you’ll need to refer to your state handbook, following the procedure below.

Each section of this study guide includes:

  • reading assignment from the CDL Handbook
  • summary of the CDL Handbook information
  • tips, suggestions, and things that might be on the written DMV test

At the bottom of this study guide, there are a few “last minute thoughts”—mostly suggestions about how to deal with driving HazMat once you have found a driving job.

HazMat Test Preparation Lessons

Note—The HazMat section in California’s handbook starts in section 9, and the lesson numbers in this guide correspond to the numbers in the California handbook. Your state’s handbook might be organized and numbered differently, so look for topics similar to those in bold print in the reading assignments below if you are using a handbook from a different state.

Lesson 1: Introduction

Reading assignment

  • Read Introduction (beginning of section 9 in the CA handbook).

  • Stop before “Intent of the Regulations” (9.1 in the CA handbook).


  • You can’t take a driving test in a truck carrying HazMat.

  • The term “Hazardous Materials” is sometimes shortened to HazMat or HM.

  • The shipper decides if a load is HazMat.

  • HazMat loads must display four placards of at least 9.84 inches (250 mm) square, turned upright into a diamond shape, and must bear the ID number of the HazMat. (Sometimes, instead of a diamond shaped placard, an orange rectangle is displayed.)

  • To transport HazMat, you must have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) with a HazMat endorsement. Having a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) isn’t good enough.

  • Just having your HazMat endorsement doesn’t mean that your company will trust you with a HazMat load on your very first day working for them. The company is required to give you additional training and/or determine that you are competent.

  • When you apply for a HazMat endorsement, you will be given a TSA Threat Assessment (which is a background check and fingerprint scan). The process for applying for this is spelled out in the CDL Handbook. This “Threat Assessment” will be reviewed every few years.

  • States and counties can establish special HazMat routes. Special permits might be needed to transport certain classes of HazMat.

For example: California requires motor carriers that transport HazMat in California to have a “California Hazardous Material Transportation License.” As a driver, it is your responsibility to have a copy of this special license in your truck (usually, in the “binder of stuff” found in every truck).

Tips (These things might be on the test.)

This section is largely about the process of obtaining a HazMat endorsement. The following information is likely to be on your written DMV test:

  • Hazardous material is often shortened to “HazMat” or “HM.”

  • The “shipper” determines if a load is HazMat.

  • A HazMat load requires four placards; one on each side.

  • A placard is a diamond shape (or orange rectangle), is at least 9.84 inches (250 mm) square, and displays the ID number of the contents.

  • You might be required to follow certain HazMat routes.

  • You might be required to obtain a special permit to move certain types of HazMat.

Lesson 2: Intent of Regulations and Who Does What

Reading assignment

  • Read Intent of the Regulations (9.1 in the CA handbook).

  • Read Hazardous Materials Transportation—Who Does What (9.2 in the CA handbook).

  • Stop before “Communication Rules” (9.3 in the CA handbook).


Shippers pack the material and label the material. Shippers provide placards to the drivers. It is the driver’s responsibility to attach the placards to the load. Shippers will put emergency contact information on the shipping papers [usually an (800) number that will be answered 24/7].

Drivers should refuse loads that are leaking, improperly packaged, or improperly labeled. Shippers that handle HazMat are usually very careful about making everything correct, but mistakes happen. Make certain everything is right before leaving the shipper’s location.

If in doubt, ask.

Tips (These things might be on the test.)

  • The shipper determines if a load is HazMat.

  • Refuse loads that are leaking, improperly packaged, or improperly labeled.

  • Know what the load is.

  • Know what to do in an emergency.

Lesson 3: Communication Rules

Reading assignment

  • Read Communication Rules (9.3 in the CA handbook).

  • Stop before “Loading and Unloading” (9.4 in the CA handbook).


  • There are nine different classes of HazMat. Some classes are further divided into divisions.

  • The HazMat being transported is described in the shipping papers. These shipping papers include Bills of Lading (BOL) and possibly other documents. In the written test, these documents are collectively called the shipping papers.

  • If there is a wreck (or other emergency), emergency responders will need to determine what is inside the truck.

  • It is the shipper’s responsibility to mark the shipping papers.

  • The Commercial Driver Handbook explains how the papers are to be marked. Know how to identify a load as being HazMat.

  • The shipper will label each carton, box, barrel, portable tank, etc. with a label.

  • The Hazardous Materials Table can be found in CFR, Title 49 §172.101.

  • It is the driver’s responsibility to keep the documents where emergency responders can find them quickly.

  • The following are the only three places that HazMat shipping papers can be kept:

  • The pouch on the driver’s door, or
  • In clear view and in immediate reach while the seat belt is fastened, or
  • In the driver’s seat when out of the vehicle.

  • It is generally a good habit to place all Bills Of Lading (BOL) in the door pocket of the driver’s door, even if the load is not HazMat. This pocket is the first place that emergency personnel will look for documents if there is a wreck or other problem. (Also, it makes it easier to find paperwork if you work consistently.)

Tips (These things might be on the test.)

  • Know what HazMat information is found on the shipping papers.

  • Know the difference between a placard and a label.

  • The shipper provides placards and fills out the shipping papers.

  • The driver mounts the placards and determines if the shipping papers are correct.

  • The following are the only three places that HazMat shipping papers can be kept:
    • The pouch on the driver’s door, or
    • In clear view and in immediate reach while the seat belt is fastened, or
    • In the driver’s seat when out of the vehicle.
  • The shipping papers must be easily seen by someone entering the cab.

  • Distinguish hazardous materials shipping papers from others by tabbing them or keeping them on top of your stack of papers.

  • Emergency response information must be kept in the same location as the shipping papers.

  • Each load gets four placards (one on each side).

  • If a material is forbidden, it may not be transported by truck. (This is very likely to be on your written test.)

  • The shipping papers will show: the proper shipping name, hazard class, and packing group.

  • A symbol of D in the first column means that the description is valid for domestic loads, but not for international loads.

  • Each type of HazMat will have a 4-digit ID number to help identify the material.

  • If the ID number is preceded by UN, the ID number is valid for international shipment, domestic U.S. and/or Canada, and international between U.S. and Canada.

  • If the ID number is preceded by NA, the ID number is valid for domestic U.S. and/or Canada and international between U.S. and Canada only.

  • Shipping paper columns 9 and 10 do not apply to HazMat shipped by highway.

  • Any quantity of HazMat must be shown on the shipping papers with an X on the “HM” column.

  • If there is enough HazMat that it becomes a Reportable Quantity, then instead of an “X” in the “HM” column, RQ is placed in the “HM” column.

  • HazMat is shown on the shipping papers: entered first, highlighted, in a contrasting color, or identified with an “X” in the “HM” column (or “RQ” in the “HM” column).

  • The shipper will place a 24/7 emergency contact number on the shipping papers [usually an (800) number with chemical spill experts ready to help.]

  • If more than one label is required, they must be placed close together and near the proper shipping name.

  • Placards must be at least 3 inches away from any other markings.

  • Other markings might be needed on the outside of the truck. If the shipper gives you additional signage, place them as the shipper requires. (e.g., Marine Pollutant is not an official HazMat class—but has a placard.) The law might require that the load be marked. If in doubt, contact your company for clarification.

  • 1,001 pounds or more of HazMat must be placarded unless it is on the “Any Amount” table.

  • The Reportable Quantity (RQ) of some HazMat might be less than 1,001 pounds. If there is more HazMat than the RQ, then the truck must be placarded.

  • Any HazMat from the “Any Amount” table must be placarded.

  • The RQ can be found in “The Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) and common references” (also known as Emergency Response Guidebook or The Yellow Book).

  • Memorize the eight types of HazMat on the “Any Amount” table. (There will be multiple questions on the written test regarding these eight types.)

  • If you can’t remember all eight types, remember: radioactive, explosives 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 (but not explosives 1.4, 1.5, 1.6). Then remember: dangerous when wet, inhalation, poisonous/toxic gases. Then remember: organic peroxide.


Retrieved from: CALIFORNIA COMMERCIAL DRIVER HANDBOOK: Figure 9.7, Page 9.10. https://www.dmv.ca.gov/web/eng_pdf/comlhdbk.pdf


You are carrying some division 1.4 explosives. You have checked the HazMat’s “proper shipping name” and “4-digit ID number” in The Hazardous Materials Regulations (the “Yellow Book”), and determined that the RQ is 1,001 pounds.

  • 1,000 pounds of this division 1.4 explosive is not a reportable quantity. The shipping papers get an “X” in the “HM” column. A placard is not required.

  • But 1,001 pounds of this division 1.4 explosive is a reportable quantity. The shipping papers get a “RQ” in the “HM” column. A placard is required.

  • Any quantity of division 1.3 explosives is a reportable quantity. The shipping papers get a “RQ” in the “HM” column. A placard is required (no matter how small a quantity).


  • If you are uncertain if placards are required or what the cargo is, ask the shipper. Shipping clerks that handle HazMat are used to answering this sort of question.

  • Have a copy of “The Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) and common references (also known as “Emergency Response Guidebook” or “The Yellow Book”) in your truck.

  • When in doubt, call the (800) emergency number.

  • It is good practice to compare what is in the back of your truck to the paperwork and placards/labels.

  • Do not place placards upside down on the outside of the truck. Formerly, this was a common practice—to show that a trailer had recently held HazMat, or that there might be HazMat residue still remaining in the trailer. This practice is no longer legal.

  • Do not place placard-shaped cards and/or messages on the outside of the truck—such as “Drive Safely” or “Have a Nice Day.” Formerly, this was a common practice. This practice is no longer legal.

  • Sometimes, the shipper assembles the shipping papers, then staples everything together in a particular order. If you randomly unstaple things, you might accidentally separate the BOL from the emergency contact information.

  • There is a lot of information to memorize to pass the test. On the road, you will have guidebooks (The Yellow Book) and expert help from shipping clerks and other people.


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