Class A CDL – What Is a Class A CDL License?

Driving an 18-wheeler is art.

Don’t believe us?

They say great art evokes memories. The smell of diesel and burnt rubber do the same too. They also say art requires dedication, skill, and perception. Being a truck driver requires the same as well. Not to mention the legendary classic semis that are a form of art on their own.

Still not convinced? Ask anyone who has witnessed a double-trailer truck being backed into a tight loading dock. They will tell you that’s art.

And, as with any type of art, with trucking, there is a learning curve, talent, and the need for determination to become good. The CDL license is a testament to this skill and dedication, and only the best, most skilled truck drivers are Class A CDL drivers.

Or, to put it bluntly, for those who want to drive the biggest  trucks out there, the journey starts with a Class A CDL.

What Is a CDL License?

CDL is an abbreviation of Commercial Driver’s License. These licenses are mandatory for all drivers who want to drive a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV.)

What Is a Class A CDL License

The Class A CDL is a subtype of the Commercial Driver’s License that certifies the driver to drive vehicles weighing over 10,001 pounds, among other things.

Another definition would be that the Class A CDL enables the driver to operate a vehicle with a semi-trailer or trailer with two or more axles.

Or, in other words, the biggest, most badass trucks are driven by CDL A licensed drivers.

What Is a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV)

According to Section 204 of the Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1984 (MCSA) by the FMCSA, a commercial motor vehicle is any vehicle that:

  • Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of at least 10,001 pounds, whichever is greater;
  • Is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation;
  • Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation; or
  • Is used in transporting material found by the Secretary of Transportation to be hazardous under section 5103 and transported in a quantity requiring placarding under regulations prescribed by the Secretary under section 5103.

What Is a Class A Commercial Motor Vehicle

The definition of Class A CMV varies depending on the state the driver operates in.

However, generally, a Class A vehicle has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 26,000/26,0001 lbs. or more if the vehicle is towing an excess of 10,000 lbs.

Some states are more specific, adding additional criteria for Class A CMVs, including the vehicle being a semitrailer or trailer with two or more axles.

What Does It Take to Get a Class A CDL?

To get a Class A CDL license, a prospective driver needs to have a minimum of 160 hours of CDL school. Within these 160 hours are included both truck driving training behind the wheel and classroom hours.

During this time, the driver will have a CDL learner’s permit (CLP).

What Is a CDL Learner’s Permit (CLP)?

CLP stands for Commercial Learner’s Permit. It allows the holder to operate a commercial motor vehicle under supervision of a valid CDL license holder.

The CLP is valid for up to 180 days, and the driver cannot take the CDL driving skills test until 14 days pass after they get the CLP.

How Do I Get My Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP)?

To get a CLP, the driver needs to meet the following criteria:

  • Be at least 18 years of age (or 21 to drive interstate);
  • Provide proof of identity, such as social security number
  • Provide proof of residency (US);
  • Submit a valid Medical Examination Report Form and Medical Examiner’s Certificate Form;
  • Pass a vision test;
  • Pass a knowledge exam.

Once the driver passes the knowledge exam, they are eligible for getting a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) and can start preparing for getting a CDL license.

How Long Does It Take to Get Class A CDL?

Each CDL A program is specific in itself. However, generally speaking, the CDL A program lasts about seven weeks, considering the program runs five days per week. 

Compared to other CDL licenses (like the CDL B or CDL C), CDL Class A programs usually last the longest because the license covers a higher variety of trucks and load types.

What Are the 3 CDL Tests?

The CDL test consists of three types which test three different areas, including:

  • General knowledge,
  • Combination vehicles,
  • Air brakes.

How Long Is a Class A CDL Good For?

All Commercial Driver’s Licenses are valid for five years. When they expire, the driver needs to renew them.

There are some cases in which CDL licenses last less than five years. This is usually the case when during a DOT physical, the driver is found to be affected by chronic diseases like high blood pressure.

Is the Class A CDL License Worth Getting?

Short answer: Definitely. Long answer: It depends. If you know you are going to use it, get a CDL A license.

However, if you are not sure about it, you need to consider the following: There are a lot of steps one needs to complete to get a CDL license. And, throughout the process, you will need to dedicate time and money to obtain the license.

Therefore, only go for a CDL license if you are positive you will end up using it.

Are all CDL Tests the Same?

The CDL tests on themselves are different depending on the state you live in. Having said that, in all states the written portion of a CDL exam is based on Federal Guidelines, meaning they follow the same information.

What State Has the Hardest CDL Test?

There is no such thing as an easy CDL test. However, if we follow general statistics about driving test difficulty in general, then the hardest states are Washington, Maryland, Massachusetts, and South Carolina.

Is a CDL License Valid Nationwide?

Yes, all types of CDL licenses are valid nationwide. However, the driver needs to obtain their CDL license from their state of residency. 

Class A CDL vs Class B CDL

By getting a Class A CDL, the driver gets a lot more options compared to the Class B CDL. Or, to be more precise, a Class A CDL owner can work the same jobs a Class B CDL owner can.

The advantages to having a Class A CDL are as follows:

  • CDL A jobs pay more;
  • Most carriers in the US offer Class A CDL jobs exclusively;
  • The owner of a Class A CDL can operate almost all types of CMV*;
  • The owner of a Class A CDL can take all CDL endorsements for specialized haul types;
  • CDL A owners can drive further distances, meaning more miles, and can go into OTR (Over-the-Road).