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What Is CDL License?
(Classes & 6 Types of Endorsements Explained)

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Collen Clark Published by Collen Clark
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Before driving any commercial vehicle, you must have a valid commercial driver’s license.

However, there are various commercial driver licenses, each serving different purposes. Some require more training than others based on the vehicle’s type and size.

As a lawyer with more than a decade of experience in this field, I will tell you about the three classes of CDLs and provide details about each.

Quick Summary

  • If a commercial driver’s license (CDL) operator uses an automatic transmission to take and pass their skills test, they could be restricted from driving a manual transmission.
  • The driver’s license classification depends on the vehicle being driven and what it will carry.
  • There is both a federal and state process that you must go through when applying for a commercial driver’s license (CDL).

What is a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)?

A commercial truck driver with a licenseA commercial driver’s license (CDL) is a type of driver’s license that allows a person to operate commercial motor vehicles (CMVs), such as semi-trucks, tractor-trailers, and buses [1].

Before October 1986, many states allowed commercial drivers to operate a large commercial vehicle without the proper training if they only had a state-issued automobile driver’s license.

That year, however, Congress passed the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which requires every commercial driver to acquire a CDL.

The recent law change has visibly improved highway safety and guarantees that all professional truck and bus drivers have had the proper training.

What Is a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP)? 

A commercial learner’s permit is a permit issued to an individual that, when carried with a valid driver’s license from the same state or jurisdiction, allows the driver to operate a class of commercial motor vehicle for behind-the-wheel training [2].

This only occurs when accompanied by someone who has a valid CDL. When issued to someone who already has their CDL, it permits them to do behind-the-wheel training in another CMV not authorized by their current CDL.

The Difference Between Class A, B, and C Commercial Driver’s License Classes

Commercial vehicle operators need a CDL license if the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR)  of their car and trailer is 26,001 pounds or more. The classification for the type of driver’s license needed is determined by the vehicle driven and what it tows. 

Class A CDL Licenses

If you want to operate any vehicle with a gross weight of 26,001 pounds or more—and the towed vehicle weighs more than 10,000 pounds—you will need a Class A commercial driver’s license (CDL).

A truck driving in the middle of nowhereThe following commercial vehicles usually require a Class A CDL:

  • Semi-tractor-trailers
  • Flatbeds
  • Tanker vehicles
  • Trucks and trailers (double and triple trailers)
  • Livestock carriers

A Class A CDL license allows you to drive Class C vehicles and Class B.

Class B CDL Licenses

If you want to drive any vehicle with a gross combination weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more for commercial purposes, you must have a Class B CDL.

A bus driver standing outside of his school busTo operate Class B vehicles, you will need a Class B CDL license:

  • Large passenger buses, such as school buses
  • Tourist buses
  • City buses
  • Straight trucks
  • Box trucks (box vans)
  • Segmented passenger buses
  • Tractor-trailers
  • Delivery trucks
  • Single vehicle 
  • Dump trucks or a single vehicle towing small trailers

The Class B license enables holders to operate vehicles that require a Class C license.

Class C CDL Licenses

Anyone who wants to operate a vehicle that can transport around 16 people must have obtained a Class C commercial driver’s license, as required by law. This also goes for hazardous materials classified under federal standards.

A commercial driver driving a company vehicleA Class C CDL license is required to operate the following Class C vehicles:

  • A passenger vehicle or van
  • Tank vehicle
  • Small hazardous materials trucks
  • Any commercial vehicle that does not need Class A or Class B licenses

How to Get a CDL?

To get a CDL, the minimum age of the individual applying must be 21. Some states, however, let commercial truck drivers who are 18 or 20 get a single-state CDL. That only permits them to drive commercial vehicles in the state where they live (intrastate driving). Once the driver turns 21, that rule is lifted automatically.

“Serious traffic violations committed by a CDL holder can affect their ability to maintain their CDL certification.”
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

6 Types of CDL Endorsements

A CDL officiator helping a driver get his license

Endorsements for car insurance policies vary from state to state.

However, every state offers the following endorsements:

  1. H Endorsement – This permits truck drivers to operate vehicles carrying hazardous materials (hazmat). 
  2. N Endorsement permits the truck driver to drive a gas and liquid tanker vehicle.
  3. P Endorsement – permits the driver to drive a bus or vehicle carrying 16 passengers, including the driver.
  4. S Endorsement – permits the driver to drive school buses. But first, they must pass a road skills test and written knowledge test and undergo a comprehensive background check.
  5. T Endorsement permits the driver to drive a vehicle hauling double and triple trailers. 
  6. X Endorsement permits the driver to operate tanker trucks that transport hazardous materials (hazmat). 

4 Pre-Trip Truck Inspection Steps

A truck inspector kneeling down beside a truck while holding a clipboard

A commercial driver’s license inspector will expect you to take a pre-trip vehicle inspection test before driving to identify any problems that could occur during the operation.

If the gross weight is 26,001 pounds or more, the pre-trip inspection should include the following:

  1. Check the truck’s engine and front end for damage
  2. Check the coupling device
  3. Begin your inspection of the taxi by checking under the hood
  4. Don’t forget to check your brakes

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What Would Disqualify You from Getting a CDL?

Some felonies will automatically disqualify you from getting a CDL, but there are also trucking companies that hire drivers with specific felony convictions. 

What Happens If You Fail Your CDL Tests Three Times?

What happens when you fail your CDL tests three times depends on your state. Depending on the state, there are different restrictions on how many times you can fail a CDS test before waiting an extended time.

How Long Should a DOT Pre-Trip Take?

A DOT Pre-Rtip should take about 30 minutes to complete.

What Does the CDL Drug Test Identify?

The CDL drug test identifies any kidney medical condition by taking the driver’s urine samples. It also identifies marijuana, opiates, cocaine, methamphetamines, amphetamines, and phencyclidine.

Did You Get Into An Accident With A Commercial Vehicle?

If you or a loved one was in an accident with a commercial motor vehicle, our personal injury law firm could help. Schmidt & Clark, LLP will stand by you and fight to get the best possible outcome given your unique circumstances.

Contact our attorneys in free consultation sessions, and we will assess your case and determine the best legal course of action for you. We have experienced personal injury attorneys who specialize in commercial driver’s license cases, so don’t hesitate to reach out to us today. We are here to help.



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