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Commercial Drivers LicensesIn the United States, commercial vehicle drivers operating heavy, large, or hazardous materials vehicles in commerce must get commercial drivers licenses (CDL). A CDL is required to drive any bus, tank truck, or vehicle carrying passengers.

All operators must pass a specialized knowledge examination and perform a comprehensive driving road test to obtain commercial drivers licenses. School bus drivers must also pass a background check.

Before October 1986, commercial drivers in most states could operate a large commercial vehicle using only a state-issued automobile driver’s license without proper training required.

That year, Congress passed the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act making it mandatory for all commercial vehicle operators to acquire commercial drivers licenses.

This change in the law significantly improved highway safety, ensuring that all large truck operators and bus drivers operating on the nation’s freeways and roads were highly qualified with approved training.

Commercial Drivers Licenses: A, B, and C Licenses Based on the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating

Federal and state laws require commercial vehicle operators to have commercial drivers licenses when the vehicle’s combined weight of the car and trailer is 26,001 pounds or more.

However, further classifications are based on the type of vehicle being driven and what is being hauled.

CDL A License

The law requires commercial drivers to have a Class A commercial driver’s license to operate any vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more if the towed vehicle weighs more than 10,000 pounds.

Class A commercial drivers licenses are typically required to operate numerous vehicles, including:

  • Semi-tractor-trailers
  • Flatbeds
  • Tanker vehicles
  • Trucks and trailers, including double and triple trailers
  • Livestock carriers

Class A commercial drivers licenses provide opportunities to operate some vehicles requiring Class B and Class C commercial drivers licenses.

CDL B License

The law requires commercial operators to have Class B commercial drivers licenses to operate any vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more or a vehicle towing a trailer weighing less than 10,000 pounds.

Class B commercial drivers licenses are typically required to operate numerous vehicles, including:

  • Large passenger buses
  • Tourist buses
  • City buses
  • Straight trucks
  • Box trucks (box vans)
  • Segmented passenger buses
  • Tractor-trailers
  • Single vehicle or combination of truck and trailer
  • Dump trucks towing small trailers

The Class B CDL license does provide opportunities to operate some vehicles requiring Class C commercial drivers licenses.

CDL C License

The law requires commercial drivers to have a Class C commercial driver’s license to operate any vehicle designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver.

Class C commercial drivers licenses are also required for transporting federally classified hazmat (hazardous materials).

Class C commercial drivers licenses is typically required to operate numerous vehicles. Some Class C vehicles include:

  • Passenger vans
  • Small hazmat trucks
  • All commercial commerce vehicles do not require Class A or Class B commercial drivers licenses.

Getting Commercial Drivers Licenses – Taking the First Step to Get a CDL

The state issues commercial learner’s permits (CLPs) to any commercial driver candidate to practice operating a commercial motor vehicle before getting a CDL.

Only individuals 21 years and older can apply for a CDL to operate a vehicle between multiple states.

However, some states offer single-state commercial drivers licenses to potential commercial vehicle drivers between eighteen and twenty years of age.

The intrastate driving restriction is automatically lifted on the driver’s twenty-first birthday.

The strict federal guidelines to acquire a commercial learner’s permit must be met, and the potential candidate must pass a written knowledge test.

Restricted Commercial Drivers Licenses

Special restrictions in obtaining a commercial driver’s license could prohibit the CDL operator from driving a manual transmission if they passed their skills test using an automatic transmission.

Other restrictions that might limit the driver’s opportunities include:

  • Automatic transmission only
  • Commercial learner’s permit operating a purged tank vehicle and no cargo trailers only.
  • Corrective lenses
  • Daylight operation only
  • Dual outside mirrors
  • Group B and Group C passenger vehicles
  • Group C passenger vehicles only
  • Hearing aid required
  • Mechanical aid
  • Medical variance required
  • Medical waiver required
  • No combination of vehicles (fifth-wheel)
  • No full airbrake-equipped commercial trucks
  • Prosthetic aid
  • Vehicles without airbrakes

Some CDLs have an M restriction limiting the vehicle and equipment authorized to operate. Only a Class A CDL will have an M restriction.

This restriction limits commercial motor vehicles’ operation to class B or C school buses and passenger vehicles.

The driver cannot operate any passenger vehicle requiring a Class A license.

There are state regulations on removing the restriction.

CDL Endorsements – What to Know

State governments issue CDL endorsements to allow commercial drivers to operate specific CMVs (commercial motor vehicles).

After receiving Class A, B, or C CDLs, these endorsements require additional testing, driving vehicles with a gross weight of 26,001 pounds or more.

Different states have different endorsements. However, every state has the following endorsements including:

  • H Endorsement – This CDL H endorsement allows the truck driver to operate vehicles loaded with hazardous materials (hazmat). Obtaining an H endorsement to transport hazardous materials requires passing a written knowledge test.
  • N Endorsement – This CDL N Endorsement permits the truck driver to operate a tanker vehicle hauling gases and liquids. Obtaining an L endorsement requires passing a written knowledge test.
  • P Endorsement – This CDL P Endorsement allows the CDL holder to drive a bus or vehicle that carries 16 or more passengers, including the driver. Potential P endorsement holders include those who pass road and written tests. School bus driver candidates must pass a federal background check and obtain an S Endorsement while maintaining a P Endorsement.
  • S Endorsement – Possible school bus drivers must obtain a CDL S Endorsement, undergo a comprehensive background check, and pass a road skills test and written knowledge test.
  • T Endorsement – A CDL holder with a T Endorsement can drive a vehicle hauling double and triple trailers. However, obtaining the T Endorsement requires completing a written knowledge test.
  • X Endorsement – CDL holders with X Endorsements can operate tanker trucks hauling hazardous materials (hazmat). Passing a written knowledge test is necessary to obtain an X endorsement.

Performing a Pre-Trip Truck Inspection

When applying for a commercial driver’s license, the inspector will expect you to perform a pre-trip vehicle inspection test to identify any commercial vehicle operation problems.

The pre-trip vehicle inspection test involving a vehicle with a GVWR (Gross combination weight rating) of 26,001 pounds or more should include the following:

  • Inspect the truck’s front end and engine – Raise the hood, and evaluate all critical fluids, including coolant, power string, engine oil, and windshield wiper fluid. Check the operation of the air compressor, alternator, and water pump. Finally, inspect the tires, brakes, and suspension.
  • Inspect the coupling device – Specifically, inspect the kingpin and fifth wheel, including the slide locking pin, skid plate, release arm, and pivot pin. Check the bottom of the trailer, the apron, and the kingpin.
  • Inspect the cab and start the engine – check to ensure that the seatbelt operates as designed, inspect the shifting distance and clutch space, and notice if the parking brake is in the on position. Turn the engine on, inspect the gauges, use the windshield wipers, defrost heat the windshield, in turn on the vehicle lights. Inspect the airbrake to ensure their sufficient air pressure.
  • Check the brakes – Inspect the entire brake system, including the parking brake, airbrakes, and hydraulic brakes. Check the safety equipment to ensure all the electrical fuses work and inspect the three safety triangles and fire extinguishers required to be on board.


The personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC know many individuals have questions about obtaining and maintaining commercial drivers licenses. Our law firm is answered some of those questions below.

Were you involved in a commercial vehicle accident, injured, or lost a loved one through a wrongful death? For additional information, contact us today at (888) 424-5757 to schedule a free consultation.

What Would Disqualify You from Getting a CDL?

Trucking companies have hired some drivers with specific felony convictions, but not everyone.

A felon must usually wait five years past their conviction to work for some transport companies.

State laws disqualify potential commercial vehicle drivers from obtaining a CDL. Felonies that will prohibit truckers from ever obtaining commercial drivers licenses include:

  • First or second-degree manslaughter involving a motor vehicle
  • Using commercial vehicles to commit felonies
  • Treason
  • Smuggling
  • Extortion
  • Motor vehicle misconduct
  • Arson
  • Assault with the intent to murder
  • Bribery
  • Taking the life of others by driving negligently or recklessly

What Happens If You Fail Your CDL Tests Three Times?

Every state has different restrictions on the number of times you can fail a CDS test before you must wait an extended time.

Any potential CDL holder that fails the driving exam, road skills test, or written knowledge test must wait until the next day to retake the test.

The potential CDL holder has three attempts to pass their examinations within twelve months before paying the application fees again.

The road skills test examiner must know that the applicant can drive the commercial vehicle safely and effectively.

The operator must show they have controlled the vehicle when driving through intersections, backing up, making right and left lane changes, and driving through business or residential communities.

How Long Should a DOT Pre-Trip Take?

State CDL examiners typically do not place a time limit on applicants to complete a pre-trip inspection.

However, if nothing is wrong, the pre-trip inspection will usually be over within thirty minutes.

According to commercial truck regulations, the CDL examiner will ensure the applicant conducts their pre-trip inspection properly.

Who is Responsible for Securing the Cargo on a Commercial Vehicle?

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), commercial truck drivers must maintain ready access to the cargo compartment and perform routine inspections of load-securing devices and transported cargo. (Section § 392.9)

The regulation ensures that the motor carrier correctly loads the cargo in numerous ways, including:

  • Supervising the loading of cargo to determine compliance
  • Receiving documents from the connecting freight carrier that shows that the cargo was loaded correctly, or
  • Receiving approval from the paid customer to permit inspection by breaking the seal

While the driver is not required to load, brace, block, and strap the cargo personally to ensure compliance, they must be familiar with cargo securing procedures and methods.

What Does the CDL Drug Test Identify?

The Federal Department of Transportation does not require undergoing a drug test. However, a physical exam might be necessary, including submitting a urine sample.

Typically, the urine sample screens for any kidney medical condition only.

Any new hires might need to undergo a pre-employment drug test ordered by the trucking company.

The employer might request the driving candidate undergo a DOT physical examination.

Usually, the drug test is screening for marijuana, opiates, cocaine, methamphetamines, amphetamines, and phencyclidine.

Involved in an Accident with a Commercial Vehicle? Legal Representation is Available

Large motor vehicles, including buses, dump trucks, cement trucks, city buses, livestock carriers, school buses, and semi-tractor-trailers, crash into a single vehicle and can leave victims severely injured or dead.

Our personal injury law firm represents injured victims harmed by a commercial motor vehicle.

Were you injured by a commercial vehicle transporting hazardous materials or lost cargo? Did a school bus crash into your passenger vehicle, causing injuries and extensive property damage?

Contact our truck accident lawyers today at (888) 424-5757 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your commercial motor vehicle accident.

We accept all cases through contingency fee agreements, meaning you will owe us nothing if we cannot secure financial compensation on your behalf.


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