Commercial Drivers License: The Skinny
According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, truck driving jobs are set to increase in 2022 by 21%. This means that workers with commercial driver's licenses (CDLs) are in high demand, and many employers go out of their way to attract drivers with these credentials. Those who are interested in getting started in the trucking industry are doing so at a lucrative time.
If you are considering a career in trucking, you should be prepared to acquire a commercial driver's license as part of your job requirements. In this article, we will cover the basics about CDL driving and the different CDL classes to help you get your license.
CPL Vs CDL: What's the difference?
If you're wondering what the difference is between a CPL and CDL, here's the breakdown:
What Is a Commercial Learner's Permit (CLP)?
A commercial learner's permit (CLP) allows a driver to begin practicing driving a commercial motor vehicle. The state of the driver's residence issues the permit.
Gaining your commercial learner's permit is usually the first step towards attaining the full commercial driver's license (CDL).
What Is a Commercial Driver's License (CDL)?
A commercial driver's license is a type of driver's license required for someone to operate any one of a variety of different commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) in the United States. The types of motor vehicles for which drivers must have a CDL tend to be large, heavy, or capable of transporting hazardous materials.
Trucking know-how 101
If you're new to trucking, start here to get your new trucking business set up. Everything from weight classes to tax deductions, we've got you covered.
WHAT YOU'LL LEARN...
- Commercial Truck Insurance Rates by State
- Trucking Authority: Ultimate Guide
- Trucker Tax Deductions
- Last Mile Delivery: What Trucker's Need to Know
- CDLs and Weight Class Guide for Truckers
- 5 Common ELD Mistakes Fleets Make
- How to Survive Long Distance Trucking
- How to Optimize Route Planning for Local/Regional Trucking Companies
- 7 Effective Strategies of Freight Rate Negotiation
Which Weight Class to Get a Commercial Drivers License?
Here's a quick summary of the different CDL classes:
What Is a Class A CDL?
A Class A license authorizes drivers to operate any combination of vehicles with a combined gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more. It also permits drivers to haul trailers weighing at or over 10,000 pounds.
You may need specific endorsements to haul particular kinds of cargo, such as hazardous materials.
When you have a Class A CDL, you can drive these types of vehicles:
- Tractor-trailers (big rigs, semis, 18-wheelers)
- Truck and trailer combinations (including double and triple trailers)
- Tank vehicles/tanker vehicles
- Livestock trailers
- Flatbed vehicles
- Most Class B and Class C vehicles (with proper endorsements)
- Tractor-trailer buses
What Is a Class B CDL?
A Class B license authorizes drivers to operate any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or greater. You may also tow trailers with this license so long as they are under 10,000 pounds in weight.
Drivers with a Class B driver's license may be permitted to drive these types of vehicles:
- Straight trucks
- Large passenger buses (city buses, tourist buses, school buses)
- Segmented buses
- Box trucks (delivery trucks, furniture trucks)
- Dump trucks with small trailers
- Some Class C vehicles (with proper endorsements)
What Is a Class C CDL?
A Class C license authorizes drivers to operate vehicles that can seat 16 or more passengers (including the driver). It can also permit drivers to use vehicles to transport hazardous materials.
Drivers with a Class C driver's license may be permitted to drive these types of vehicles:
• Small vehicles transporting hazardous materials • Passenger vans • Combination vehicles and other vehicles not covered by CDL A or CDL B licenses
Closer Look: Comparing the Class A and Class B CDL
The class of license you should pursue is determined by the kind of vehicle you want to drive in your career. There are numerous advantages to obtaining a Class A driver's license. However, certain circumstances may make acquiring a Class B license more practical for certain drivers.
Some advantages of earning a Class A license include:
- Allows you to drive a big rig.
- Frequently, there are more jobs available that need drivers with a Class A CDL.
- Having a Class A driver's license can sometimes guarantee you a job with certain companies.
- Drivers with a Class A license often have greater earning potential.
- Most drivers looking for a long-term career in the industry opt for a Class A driver's license.
- You are authorized to operate more types of vehicles with a Class A CDL rather than a Class B driver's license.
- A Class A license usually means drivers have more destinations open to them with fewer restrictions.
Jobs that require a Class B license, on the other hand, are fewer. Therefore, it may be more challenging to compete for those spots. The advantages to getting a Class B driver's license might include:
- There is a specific job a driver wants that requires a Class B license.
- The driver is okay with more geographic limitations.
- The driver is possibly only looking at this as a short-term job and wants a career in a different field.
How to Get Your Commercial Drivers License
Usually, you need to be at least 21 years of age to apply for a commercial driver's license. You can apply for it at your local DMV. You must pass a written test and a driving test that are designed by your state to meet both the strict federal requirements and any additional requirements set out by the state.
In some cases, you can acquire a single-state CDL (a kind of provisional license) before the age of 21, when you are between 18 and 20. This type of CDL allows drivers to operate commercial vehicles but only in their state of residence. The term for that is "intrastate driving." This restriction automatically lifts as soon as the driver becomes 21 years old.
Pass your CDL exam. Guaranteed.
To pass a CDL exam, it can be extremely beneficial to gain access to study and practice materials beforehand. Preparing this way will increase your chances of passing the first time significantly.
A popular example of a program that helps aspiring CDL drivers is CDL Premium. On its profile at driving-tests.org, it boasts the following:
- 95.2% success rate
- The only program that DMVs recommend
- Instant feedback
- Clear explanations
- Accurate CDL test simulator
- Covers all endorsement tests
Endorsements and Restrictions on Commercial Driving Licenses
Even with a given CDL, you may still be required to obtain certain endorsements to drive specific types of vehicles or haul particular kinds of cargo. Typically, you must pass a written test and possibly a driving test.
Sometimes, your CDL may also be issued with restrictions. You can get these restrictions removed by passing tests that demonstrate that you meet the necessary criteria.
The following are different endorsement categories you may acquire while holding a CDL:
- H endorsement: Permits drivers to drive or haul vehicles containing hazardous materials such as flammable liquids or gases, explosives, or radioactive materials.
- N endorsement: Allows drivers to operate tank vehicles (vehicles carrying liquids or gases).
- P endorsement: Allows drivers to drive vehicles that seat 16 or more passengers (including the driver).
- S endorsement: Permits drivers to operate a school bus. A driver must already have a P endorsement and meet other requirements like passing a background check.
- T endorsement: Permits drivers to tow double trailers or triple trailers.
- X endorsement: This is a combined endorsement allowing for the driving of tank vehicles as well as those containing hazardous materials.
The following are different restrictions that federal or state guidelines may place on a CDL. Restrictions prevent you from driving particular types of commercial motor vehicles:
- E restriction: Drivers may not operate a vehicle with a manual transmission.
- L restriction: Drivers may not operate a vehicle with a full air brake system.
- M restriction: Drivers may only drive Class B or C passenger vehicles or school buses.
- N restriction: Drivers may only drive Class C passenger vehicles or school buses.
- O restriction: Drivers may not operate a vehicle with a fifth-wheel connection.
- V restriction: Indicates that the driver has a medical variance.
- Z restriction: Drivers may not operate a vehicle with full air brakes (reasons for issuance differ from L restriction).
FREE Resources for Truckers
Steps to Get Your Commercial Drivers License
Getting your CDL license may seem a bit daunting. However, if you know the requirements and study hard, you should be able to start driving the commercial vehicle of your choice. The fundamental steps that you need to take to get a CDL in 2022 include:
- Reach 21 years of age (or 18 for intrastate driving).
- Submit a CDL application with your state and pay any fees.
- Verify identity by providing documents such as your Social Security card per state requirements.
- Provide proof of residency within the U.S. and your state.
- Complete a Medical Examination Report Form and a Medical Examiner's Certificate Form.
- Pass both a vision test and a knowledge exam.
- Once passed, receive your issued commercial learner's permit.
- Allow for a minimum 14-day waiting period before scheduling a CDL road skills exam.
- Pass an inspection prior to your trip.
- Pass the exam for road skills and driving (you must use your own vehicle).
- If you pass the exam, you must pay the necessary fees for a new CDL.
- Ideally, you should submit a 10-year record check. That is especially crucial if you have held a driver's license in any other state.
CDL Federal Requirements
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sets the federal requirements for all drivers of CMVs. State processes, forms, and fees differ, but all must abide by FMCSA rules. Thus, it pays to be aware of what these rules are.
Federal requirements for applying for a CDL include the following:
- You must first acquire a CLP (and meet all the basic requirements to do so) before applying to take a CDL exam.
- Drivers may not hold more than one CDL at a time.
- Drivers may not text while operating a commercial vehicle.
- You must self-certify medical information.
- You must use approved medical examiners from the National Medical Registry.
- Drivers must meet detailed physical and medical requirements for vision, hearing, diabetes, blood pressure, blood sugar, and sleep apnea.
- You must pass written knowledge exams.
- You must pass a driving road skills test.
Getting your a CDL license is a great way to earn income, especially since this industry is expected to grow in the next year. If you are considering entering the trucking industry, you will need to get one of the CDLs discussed above.
Be sure to choose one that best meets the needs of your goals. For instance, if you are only interested in becoming a bus driver, you should look into getting a Class B license. However, if you think you may want to do a variety of jobs in the future, getting a Class A license with the proper endorsements is best as it allows you to drive both Class B and Class C vehicles.
If you would like to know more about CDL licensing requirements or commercial insurance that you may need, contact us at CoverWallet. We're happy to help you get the coverage you need.