The CDL – Commercial Drivers License
Drivers have been required to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) in order to drive certain commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) since April 1, 1992. The types of vehicles and operations requiring a CDL are outlined below. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has developed and issued standards for State testing and licensing of CDL holders. These standards require States to issue CDLs to certain CMV drivers only after the driver passes knowledge and skills tests administered by the State and related to the type of vehicle the driver expects to operate. Drivers are required to obtain and hold a CDL if they operate in interstate, intrastate, or foreign commerce and drive a vehicle that meets one or more of the classifications of a CMV described below. Restrictions are placed on a CDL when a driver takes the Skills Test in a vehicle which lacks critical equipment present in particular types of CMVs. Examples of these restrictions are listed below. Therefore, to avoid restrictions, drivers should take the Skills Test in the same type of vehicle for which they are seeking a CDL to operate.
Classes of License and Commercial Learner’s Permits (CLP)
Pursuant to Federal standards, States issue CDLs and CLPs to drivers according to the following license classifications:
Class A: Any combination of vehicles which has a gross combination weight rating or gross combination weight of 11,794 kilograms or more (26,001 pounds or more) whichever is greater, inclusive of a towed unit(s) with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of more than 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds) whichever is greater.
Class B: Any single vehicle which has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 11,794 or more kilograms (26,001 pounds or more), or any such vehicle towing a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight that does not exceed 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds).
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:
Double/Triple Trailers (Knowledge test only)
Passenger (Knowledge and Skills Tests)
Tank vehicle (Knowledge test only)
Hazardous materials (Knowledge test only)
Combination of tank vehicle and hazardous materials endorsements (Knowledge test only)
School Bus (Knowledge and Skills Tests)
CLP Endorsements – Only 3 endorsements are allowed on the CLP
Passenger, A CLP holder with a “P” endorsement is prohibited from operating a CMV carrying passengers, other than Federal/state auditors and inspectors, test examiners, other trainees, and the CDL holder accompanying the CLP holder as prescribed by 49CFR383.25(a)(1).
School Bus, A CLP holder with an “S” endorsement is prohibited from operating a school with passengers, other than Federal/state auditors and inspectors, test examiners, other trainees, and the CDL holder accompanying the CLP holder as prescribed by 49CFR383.25(a)(1).
Tank Endorsement, A CLP holder with an “N” endorsement may only operate an empty tank vehicle, and is prohibited from operating any tank vehicle that previously contained hazardous materials that have not been purged of any residue.
If the driver does not pass the Air Brakes Knowledge Test, does not correctly identify the air brake system components, does not properly conduct an air brake systems check, or does not take the Skills test in a vehicle with a full air brake system, the driver must have an “L” no full air brake restriction placed on their license.
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 full air brakes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If the State is notified by the FMCSA that a medical variance has been issued to the driver, the State must indicate the existence of such a medical variance on the CDLIS driving record and the CDL document using a restriction code “V” to indicate that there is information about the medical variance on the CDLIS record.
States may have a more restrictive category for a class of license, or have additional codes for endorsements or restrictions on CDLs that are not mentioned in the Federal regulations, as long as these items are fully explained on the license document.