A CDL or commercial driver’s license is required to operate a commercial motor vehicle in the United States. Different types of commercial vehicles require specific licenses. A CDL is essential to be a professional truck driver.
History of the CDL
Believe it or not, before 1986 you did not need a special license to operate a large commercial vehicle. Each state was responsible for setting their own rules regarding commercial driving. In an effort to increase safety and compliance the Federal government enacted the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Beginning in 1986 all states had to meet specific requirements when issuing commercial drivers licenses (CDL).
The Federal government only allows you to possess one driver’s license at a time regardless of the class. It is actually illegal to have more than one license at a time. That means when you go to get your Commercial Learner’s Permit you will surrender your Class F basic driver’s license.
The Different Types of CDLs
Commercial vehicles are divided into categories, Class A, B or C, based on size, weight, and function. For example, a different license is needed to drive an 18-wheeler hauling a heavy load versus a school bus. Let’s dive into the different types of CDLs.
What is a Class A CDL?
Operating a large commercial vehicle is a big responsibility and takes considerable skill and knowledge. A Class A commercial driver’s license is required to operate a commercial vehicle with a gross combination weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 or more, provided the towed weight of the vehicle(s) is more than 10,000 pounds. With a Class A license, and the required endorsements, you can drive a semi-truck, also known as an 18-wheeler and haul the following trailer types.
- Dry Van Trailer
- Refrigerated Trailer
- Flatbed Trailer
- Tanker Trailer
- Livestock Trailer
- Double and Triple Combination Trailers
Generally, a Class A provides the greatest job opportunities within the trucking industry because, as a Class A CDL holder, you can also drive vehicles that require a Class B or C license. The Driver Resource Center network of schools provide Class A training only.
What is a Class B CDL?
A Class B commercial driver’s license enables you to drive vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 or more, provided the towed weight of the vehicle(s) is less than 10,000 pounds. With the correct endorsement, you may drive vehicles such as:
- School Buses
- City or Tour Buses
- Straight Trucks
- Dump Trucks
- Small Van or Refrigerated Trucks (Delivery drivers, couriers, etc.)
What is a Class C CDL?
A Class C Commercial Driver’s License is required for any vehicle, or combination of vehicles, that do not meet the definition of Class A or Class B, but is designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver, or is placarded for hazardous materials. The gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) must be less than 26,001 pounds, or any vehicle towing a vehicle not more than 10,000 pounds GVWR.
A Class C CDL holder, with the required endorsements, may drive the following:
- Small HAZMAT Truck
- Passenger Van
- Small trucks towing a trailer
Class A CDL Requirements
To get a Class A CDL you will need to meet several Federal and State requirements including:
- Pass required skills test.
- Have your Commercial Learner’s Permit for at least 14 days before taking the CDL test. (No permit is required to enroll. We will help you get your permit as part of the training.) Getting your CDLP requires you to:
- Pass the written knowledge test.
- Provide 1 document proving legal residency in the U.S.
- Submit a review of your driving record.
- Present valid Medical Examiner’s certificate.
- Have a valid driver’s license in the state in which you wish to be certified
- Be at least 18 years old. (21 to operate out of state.)
- Beginning Feb. 7, 2022, drivers applying the first time for a Class A or Class B CDL; upgrading existing CDL’s (Class B to Class A); or adding the following endorsements: hazardous materials (H), passenger (P), or school bus (S) will need to complete Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) prior to taking the applicable knowledge or skills test. Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) is a set of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) minimum training standards for commercial driver license holders and applicants. All Driver Resource Center network schools meet ELDT requirements.
- Be sure to check your state’s requirements
Military veterans with military driving experience may be allowed to waive some or all of the written or driving tests. Proof of relevant military driving experienced is required. Check with your state to determine requirements.
How to Get a CDL?
Now that you know the different types of commercial driver’s licenses available, you’re probably wondering, how to get a CDL? It is quicker and easier than you might think. CDL Training takes about 3-4 weeks and our experienced team will walk you through the entire process. Follow these steps to learn how to get a commercial driver’s license.
Ready to begin your journey as a truck driver? Get started today.