CDL License Requirements
Are you interested in getting your commercial drivers license (CDL)? There are several steps and requirements involved in the CDL permit and licensing process. From qualifications and prerequisites to test preparation tips and step-by-step process guidelines, this article details everything you need to know about how to get a CDL.
First and foremost, it’s important to understand the different classifications of a CDL license. Each of the CDL classifications is dictated by the type of vehicle you intend to drive and is determined by the vehicle’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR).
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As the heaviest and most common of classifications, a Class A CDL permit and license is required for drivers who intend to operate vehicles with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more, given that the GVWR of the towed vehicle weighs no less than 10,000 pounds. With a Class A CDL permit, you’ll be able to drive a variety of different vehicles, including:
Drivers must have a Class A CDL permit for at least 14 days before taking the skills assessment test needed to obtain a certified Class A CDL license. In order to get your Class A CDL permit, you’ll be required to pass a written test that certifies your general knowledge and competence in important subjects like general knowledge, air brakes and the combination vehicle operator module. Once you’ve passed your Class A permit test and had your permit for more than 14 days, you’ll be required to pass a variety of practical skills tests including a formal pre-trip safety inspection and “on the road” driving.
Like the Class A permit, a Class B permit is required for drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) weighing more than 26,001 pounds. However, as the second heaviest weight class, Class B pertains to trailers weighing less than 10,000 pounds, which often provides drivers with more flexibility when it comes to work opportunities like construction, shipping, public transit, etc. With a Class B CDL permit, you can operate a variety of vehicles, including:
Identical to the Class A permit, drivers must pass a written test to obtain a Class B CDL permit. After meeting necessary permit requirements, you’ll be able to take the road test that qualifies you for certified licensing. This testing portion is comprised of three parts: a pre-trip inspection, basic controls, and on-road performance. Failure to pass any of these tests will prevent you from immediately getting your Class B license, as you normally have to wait upwards of 30 days before retesting.
A Class C CDL permit pertains to lightweight vehicles with a GVWR of less than 26,001 pounds. You’ll need to obtain a Class C CDL if you intend to operate a vehicle that carries 16 or more passengers, or a vehicle that carries hazardous materials. As with all CDL licenses, Class C requires you to pass a general knowledge test in order to get your permit, and additional skills tests for licensing. Unlike Class A and Class B licenses that qualify you to operate some vehicles of another classification, a Class C permit prohibits you from driving vehicles that fall into CDL A or B classes.
While the aforementioned descriptions of each CDL classification detail class specifications, it’s helpful to clearly understand the differences between the three. Generally speaking, Class A and B are very similar licenses, particularly in regards to the testing and qualification process. There are, however, key differences when it comes to GVWR, drivable vehicles, and occupational opportunities.
|Class A||Class B||Class C|
|GVWR||26,001 or more pounds with towing trailers accounting for 10,000 or more pounds of GVWR.||26,001 or more pounds with towing trailers accounding for less than 10,000 pounds of GVWR.||Less than 26,001 pounds and to be designed to transport either hazardous materials or at least 16 passengers.|
|Drivable Vehicles||Tractor-trailers, truck and trailer combinations, double- and triple-trailers, tractor-trailer buses, tanker vehicles, livestock carriers, and flatbeds, as well as Class B and C vehicles.||Straight trucks, box and delivery trucks, large buses like school busses, city buses, and tourist buses, dump trucks, and trucks with small trailers. Holders can also operate Class C vehicles but not Class A vehicles.||Passenger vans or busses capable of holding 16 passengers including the driver, small HAZMAT vehicles, and combination vehicles that don’t fall into Class A or Class B CDL licenses.|
|Careers||Heavy truck drivers, dispatchers, local drivers, couriers, and bus drivers||Dump truck drivers, tourist bus drivers, and straight truck drivers.||School bus driver, tourist bus driver, and driver of any hazardous materials.|
Depending on state specifications, certain endorsements may also be required after the particular classification for the CDL license has been obtained.
The following six endorsements enable licensed drivers to operate specialized vehicles and transport specific cargo:
Depending on the purpose and classification of your CDL, one or more of these endorsements may be required in order to operate a specific vehicle or transport specific cargo.
Knowing and understanding the requirements needed to get your CDL license can make navigating the process much easier. In order to be eligible to apply for a CDL permit, you must have:
In addition to these requirements, you’ll also need to bring the proper paperwork and documentation, which will be further expanded on later in this article.
Once you’ve decided to pursue a CDL license, you’ll first need to get a CDL permit. Here’s how:
While you don’t have to complete or pass a driving skills test for a CDL permit, you must pass the written test with a score of at least 80%.
Being prepared with the right paperwork is key when taking your CDL permit test. In addition to the CDL application that can be printed out and completed ahead of time, you’ll also need to provide the following documents:
Depending on the type of license, certifications, and endorsements you need, you may be required to show other documents like medical certifications and background information. Be sure to check with your local DMV for specific information regarding which documents you’ll need to provide as well as any fees required for the application, written test, and permit. Knowing exactly what’s needed ahead of time will save you time and hassle in the long run.
Remember to review details surrounding paying the fees and costs associated with the CDL permit, training, and licensing.
Each driver who applies for a Class A or Class B CDL license must submit a self-certification medical evaluation that’s specific to their state of residency. This evaluation validates that you’re medically qualified to adhere to the physical demands of the commercial transportation industry. Your self-certification is submitted to your state driver’s licensing agency and must be renewed every two years.
Contrary to what some may think, even if you own your own rig, you still have to have a CDL license. Regardless of whether you’re working for a company or using a truck for private use, having your CDL ensures not only that you are qualified to safely operate an oversized, heavy-weight vehicle on public roadways, but it also helps to keep fellow motorists safe, too.
If you intend to operate any vehicle weighing over 26,001 pounds or transporting more than 16 passengers, including yourself, at once, you’re required by federal and state laws to obtain a CDL. Failure to comply with these laws puts you at risk of facing serious consequences. Not only can you face being charged with a misdemeanor by violating CDL requirements, but you could also face civil charges of $2,500 to $5,000 and anywhere from three months to a year in jail. Furthermore, any employer who knowingly lets you operate a commercial motor vehicle can face up to $10,000 in fines. Lastly, in addition to penalty points on your driving record, you’ll also have your license suspended for 90 days by failing to comply with federal CDL requirements.
Finding the right study materials can help you prepare for the written CDL permit test. In addition to your state-specific test manual, you can use a variety of online study guides and practice tests to help you get comfortable with the types of questions that will be on the actual test. The more you prepare for your permit test, the better your chances of passing will be. Remember, if you fail to pass the test by 80%, you may have to wait before taking it again, but you’ll also be required to pay additional fees.
Note, too, that your CDL permit test will vary depending on which type of classification license you pursue. Generally speaking, you can expect your written permit test to consist of at least 100 multiple-choice questions that cover general commercial driving knowledge, air brakes, and combination vehicle topics such as:
By understanding the requirements, steps, and specifics involved in getting a CDL permit and license, you can be better prepared to navigate the process with accuracy and efficiency.