A Class of Their Own: Types of Commercial Driver’s Licenses

To drive certain types of commercial vehicles – such as semi-trucks, dump trucks, passenger buses, and tractor-trailers – drivers are required to get a commercial driver’s license (CDL). This was first imposed in 1986 when the federal government passed the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act. This law made it mandatory for all drivers of commercial vehicles to have a CDL, which highly improved highway safety.

If you’re looking for an opening for CDL truck driver job, you should first know what kind of licenses are available, so you know which one you should get. There are three classes of CDL that determine the kinds of vehicles that a driver can drive. Each CDL classification is distinguished by many factors, including the vehicle’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), among others.

Here are the types of commercial driver’s licenses:

Class A

A Class A CDL is needed to operate a combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 lbs. or more. This includes a towed vehicle that is heavier than 10,000 lbs. You will be able to drive the following vehicles with a Class A CDL and the proper endorsements:

  • Double and triple trailers
  • Flatbeds
  • Livestock carriers
  • Tanker vehicles
  • Tractor-trailers
  • Tractor-trailer buses
  • Truck and trailer combinations

Class B

A Class B CDL is required to drive a single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 lbs. or more and any vehicle of that GVWR that is towing another vehicle weighing up to 10,000 lbs. The vehicles you can drive with a Class B CDL are the following:

  • Box trucks
  • Dump trucks with small trailers
  • Large buses
  • Segmented buses
  • Straight trucks

a female driver

Class C

A Class C CDL is required if the vehicle that you’re intending to drive doesn’t meet the criteria for either a Class A or Class B license and is meant to transport either at least 16 passengers, including the driver, or hazardous material (HAZMAT). Examples of vehicles you can drive with a Class C CDL include the following:

  • Combination vehicles not described in Class A or B, like a small truck towing a trailer
  • Passenger vans
  • Small HAZMAT vehicles

How to Get a Commercial Driver’s License

You can apply for a CDL at your local DMV office. Though requirements differ by state, most states usually require candidates to pass a practical and written exam before they can get their CDL. It is recommended that you take a training course before taking the exams.

The first step to getting a CDL is getting a commercial learner’s permit (CLP). This is a permit that authorizes you to practice driving a commercial vehicle. It is given to you by your state. The minimum requirements for a CLP are:

  • A valid non-commercial driver’s license
  • One to two years of driving experience
  • Proof of citizenship or lawful permanent residency, such as Social Security Number, birth certificate, valid passport, or green card
  • You must be at least 18 to drive within the state
  • You must be at least 21 to drive out-of-state and transport hazardous materials
  • You must have adequate written and verbal English skills
  • You must provide a Department of Transportation (DOT) medical card, which requires a DOT physical exam
  • You must not be a disqualified driver

The minimum age to apply for a CDL is usually 21. Some states allow drivers between the ages 18 to 20 to apply for a single-state CDL, which allows them to operate a commercial vehicle in just one state, usually the driver’s state of residence. This restriction is automatically removed when the driver turns 21.

With the proper CDL, you can operate vehicles that are off-limits to regular drivers. Getting a CDL is an investment of time, energy, experience, and effort. When you get the CDL that you’ve been aiming for, then you should be proud. Good luck and drive safely.

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