Veteran and Military Driver Laws and Benefits in California

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The state of California has a robust benefits program for drivers who have either served in an Armed Forces branch in the past, or are current active military members.

Vehicle registration benefits

California waives registration fees as well as license plate charges for one vehicle (a passenger vehicle, motorcycle, or commercial vehicle under 8001 pounds) for disabled veterans, Medal of Honor recipients, and ex-POWs. In order to qualify, Medal of Honor recipients must complete form REG 17A, POWs form REG 17, and all applicants must provide proof of status or award received.

Driver’s license veteran designation

California veterans are eligible for a military designation on their driver license. In order to qualify, you must provide the DMV with form VSD-001 (Veteran Status Verification Form), which is obtained from your County Veteran Service Office. It’s best to make an appointment at your local DMV field office to add this designation to your license, and there is a fee – in addition to the regular license fee – of $5. This request cannot be completed by mail or online.

Military honor plates

California offers an Honoring Veterans license plate, available to any California motorist. This plate is available in your choice of more than 100 insignias covering a range of military branches, veterans’ service organizations, specific conflicts, and individual military units. Proceeds from the sale of veterans plates go to support services for veterans in the community.

The state also offers veterans license plates for the following:

  • Congressional Medal of Honor
  • Former Prisoners of War
  • Gold Star Family
  • Legion of Valor
  • Pearl Harbor Survivor
  • Purple Heart
  • Service-connected disabled veterans

In order to be eligible for the above plates, you must provide appropriate documentation as proof of service or the award received.

Military skills test waiver

This benefit applies to both veterans and active military personnel, and allows you to leverage your heavy vehicle driving experience in order to get your CDL. If you have at least two years of experience driving military vehicles that qualify as comparable to commercial vehicles, and this experience took place within a year before your discharge or date of application (if still active) you may be eligible to skip the CDL road test. There are some requirements in order to apply for this waiver.

Applicants must certify to a SDLA:

  • A history of safe driving

  • The fact that you’ve only held one license outside of your military driving license in the past two years

  • The fact that your regular driver’s license has not been revoked, cancelled, or suspended

  • The fact that you haven’t been convicted of a motor vehicle violation that would preclude your eligibility for a CDL

Certain offenses on your driving record, like DUI or committing a felony with a commercial vehicle, can disqualify you from participating in the skills test waiver program. All 50 states plus D.C. do participate in this program, including California.

If you have applicable experience and wish to apply, you can download and print the waiver here. You will still have to take the written CDL test, however.

Military Commercial Driver’s License Act of 2012

This act gives states the authority to issue a CDL to military personnel who are stationed in the state of California (or any other state) even if it’s not their home state. You may be eligible to get licensed in a state other than your home state if you are in any of the five main military branches, or even the Reserves, National Guard, or Coast Guard.

Driver license and registration renewal while deployed

If you are deployed or stationed out of state when your driver license is due for renewal, the state of California exempts you from having to renew. You must notify the DMV by calling (916) 657-7790 to update your record. The state will send you a DL 226 card (Extension of License for Person in Armed Forces) as proof that your license is still valid. A spouse or other family member can also obtain this extension (good for one year). Upon return to California you’ll have 20 days to renew your license in person. You will need documentation of discharge or other appropriate proof of service.

Resident military personnel are eligible for a waiver of late fees when renewing vehicle registration upon return from deployment. This waiver does not apply to those out of state for training. You must apply for registration renewal within 60 days of returning to the state.

Non-resident military personnel driver license and vehicle registration

Non-resident military personnel are permitted to retain their home state driver license for as long as it remains valid. You may also operate a vehicle in the state as long as the home state registration is current, registered to either your or your spouse, and is insured.

Active or veteran military personnel can read more at the state’s motor vehicle division website here.

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