What is a Commercial Driver License (CDL)?

 A Commercial Drivers License (CDL) is a federally required license  that allows you to operate vehicles that requiring special knowledge.  There are different levels,or classes, of CDL’s.  Each allows you to drive different sizes  of vehicles, and specialized equipment.  After you qualify for a size of vehicle, then you must test for several endorsements.  If you fail certain parts they will put limitations on your license.  Here is the section from the FMCSA  (The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) that addresses this…
Classes of License:
The Federal standard requires States to issue a CDL to drivers according to the following license classifications:
Class A — Any combination of vehicles with a  Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR)  of 26,001 or more pounds provided the  gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR)  of the vehicle(s) being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
Class B — Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle not in excess of 10,000 pounds GVWR.
Class C — Any single vehicle, or combination of vehicles, that does not meet the definition of Class A or Class B, but is either designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver, or is transporting material that has been designated as hazardous under 49 U.S.C. 5103 and is required to be placarded under subpart F of 49 CFR Part 172 or is transporting any quantity of a material listed as a select agent or toxin in 42 CFR Part 73.
Endorsements and Restrictions:
Drivers who operate special types of CMVs must pass additional tests to obtain any of the following endorsements placed on their CDL:
T – Double/Triple Trailers (Knowledge test only)
P – Passenger (Knowledge and Skills Tests)
N – Tank vehicle (Knowledge test only)
H – Hazardous materials (Knowledge test only)
X – Combination of tank vehicle and hazardous materials endorsements
S – School Bus (Knowledge and Skills Tests)
States may have additional codes for additional grouping of endorsements, as long as such codes are fully explained on the license.
“L” On a full air brake vehicle, if a driver fails either the air brake component of the general knowledge test, or performs the skills test  in a vehicle not equipped with air brakes, then the driver will have an “L” air brake restriction placed on their license.
“Z” If the driver takes the test in a vehicle with an air over hydraulic brake system, then they will have a “Z” no full air brake restriction  placed on their license. In either case the driver is not authorized to operate a CMV equipped with air brakes.
“E” If the driver takes the Skills Test in a vehicle that has an automatic transmission, then an “E” no manual transmission restriction is  placed on their license.
“O” If the driver takes the Skills Test in a Class A vehicle that has a pintle hook or other non-fifth wheel connection, they will have an  ”O” restriction placed on their license restricting them from driving any Class A vehicle with a fifth wheel connection.
“M” If a driver possesses a Class A CDL, but obtains his or her passenger or school bus endorsement in a Class B vehicle the State must   place an “M” restriction indicating that the driver can only operate Class B and C passenger vehicle or school buses.
“N” If a driver possesses a Class B CDL, but obtains his or her passenger or school bus endorsement in a Class C vehicle; the State must  place an “N” restriction indicating that the driver can only operate Class C passenger vehicle or school buses.
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  1. I almost got my cdl years ago. But my wife said quit at three weeks because she didn’t want me being gone for so long. Funny but I had all my endorsements when I quit. Lol

    • I am glad your wife spoke up. Trucking is a hard way of life on the family. Everyone has to be on board for it to work out. Getting all your endorsements is quite an accomplishment, but I’m glad you put your family first. There is nothing more important than that.

  2. Good information for aspiring truck drivers. It is definitely not as easy as one might think.

    • It is a good life, but it is a hard life on family. There are many rewards but they must be be weighed against the toll that it can take on you mentally and physically.

  3. Thanks for the information on the different types of Commercial Truck licenses, Enid. I just have a couple of questions I would like to ask and hope you can answer them for me?
    I want to end up doing long distance hauls but know this can’t be done straight away.
    What Trucking Licence do you think I should start on and how long will it take before I can start driving the bigger Trucks?
    Regards, Jeff

    • If you want to drive long haul, the best thing to do is get the state regulations for a CDL and begin studying for a class A. An unrestricted class A will allow you to cross state lines, and load and unload in different states. The kind of company you work for determines which endorsements are required. Each state has slightly different requirements for the tests. In Montana, whatever general endorsements you get at the time of the initial test are included in the fee. Any test that is taken at a later date will be charged separately. If you study diligently you can pass the main test and all the endorsements( barring hazmat) in one sitting. Hazmat requires a background check, a separate test time and other requirements per the state. Once you have completed the written test, you will have 6 months to complete the driving portion of the test. If you have someone who can help you practice driving, you can accomplish this on your own. If you don’t have a truck available, you will have to consider going through a truck driving school. Some truck driving companies will train people. They will pay to help you get a license in exchange for a 2 year contract. I hope this helps aim you in a direction.

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