What is a CDL (Commercial Drivers License)?
A commercial driver’s license or CDL is a license that allows drivers to operate heavy vehicles on the roadway. CDL’s are broken down into different classifications or “classes” of vehicles based on their weight and are defined by letters. In addition, drivers can earn endorsements for different types of vehicles within those weight classifications. These endorsements are also defined by letters.
Class A CDL
This license allows you to operate a combination vehicle, most commonly associated with a tractor pulling a trailer (pictured), with a GCWR of 26,001 or more pounds, with the GVWR of the trailer weighing in excess of 10,000 pounds. (GCWR = Gross Combined Weight Rating, or the total weight of both the tractor and trailer. GVWR = Gross Vehicle Weight Rating or the total weight of any given vehicle.) In order to obtain a CDL A, a driver must pass a written CDL permit test and a road skills test.
Note – If a driver has a CDL A, they can drive a Class B or D (common car or SUV) vehicle.
Class B CDL
This license allows you to operate any single vehicle, most commonly associated with a straight truck (pictured), with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds. It also allows you to operate a single vehicle towing a trailer that is less than 10,000 pounds GVWR. To obtain a CDL B, a driver must pass a written commercial driver’s license test and road skills test.
Note – A driver with a Class B license can also drive a Class D vehicle, but NOT a Class A vehicle.
Class C CDL
This license allows you to operate any combination vehicle with a GVCWR under 26,001 pounds or any single vehicle under a GVWR of 26,001 pounds that is designed to carry 16 or more passengers including the driver or hazardous materials. This classification of license is commonly associated with limousines and small buses.
Note – A driver with a Class C license can also drive a Class D vehicle, but NOT a Class A or Class B vehicle.
Endorsements are categorizations that allow a driver to operate special vehicles within the above classifications. As an example, a Class A license with an N endorsement allows a driver to operate a tractor pulling a tanker trailer. And a Class B license with a P endorsement allows a driver to operate a bus that carries more than 16 passengers including the driver. This is often associated with motor coaches and city buses.
To obtain an endorsement, you must pass an additional written commercial driver’s license test, and for some, an additional road skills exam.
T – Double/Triple Trailers – written test only
P – Passenger – written test and road skills examination
N – Tank vehicle – written test only
H – Hazardous Materials – written test only
X – Combination of tank vehicle and hazardous materials endorsements
S – School Bus – written test and road-skills examination
For additional information about CDL requirements, go directly to the Federal Motor Carrier Association (FMCSA) website. The FMCSA is the Federal Government Agency that oversees the laws that govern commercial motor vehicles and the companies that operate those vehicles.