What Is a CDL License? Types of CDL

For those looking into a career on the road, this is an essential post. 

One can not simply get in a truck and start driving. Drivers first need to get a license for it.

This is what a CDL is – it is a permit that allows you to drive a commercial motor vehicle.

What Does CDL Stand For?

CDL is an abbreviation of a Commercial Driver’s License. A driver must possess a valid CDL license to be eligible to drive a commercial motor vehicle in the US.

What Is a CDL License Used For?

You need a CDL license to be eligible to drive any commercial motor vehicle (CMV). Such vehicles include:

  • Tractor-trailers
  • Busses
  • Semi-trucks
  • Dump-trucks
  • 18 wheelers
  • Refrigerated trucks
  • Passenger vans

How to Get a CDL License?

CDL licenses, like a regular non-commercial driver’s license, are issued by the state where the driver lives. Two sets of rules dictate the eligibility for a CDL license – the Federal Government’s requirements that are followed by all states and the state’s requirements that must be met for the applicant to be eligible to own a CDL. It is important to note that these state requirements may vary depending on the state.

Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP)

Before getting a CDL license, the applicant must obtain a CLP, or a commercial learner’s permit, which is required to start training for a CDL.

This license is an authorization that allows a person to practice driving a CMV (commercial motor vehicle).

What Are the Requirements for a CDL?

The requirements to apply for a CDL are as follows:

  • Possess a regular non-commercial driver’s license
  • Be at least 18 years old (in some countries; even if you get your CDL at this age, you won’t be able to drive interstate)
  • Be at least 21 years old (to be able to drive interstate or drive hazardous materials)
  • Have at least two years of driving experience (in some states, the requirement is one year)
  • Have documents to prove your citizenship or lawful residency: social security card, green card, birth certificate
  • Pass a background check (for beginners other types of screening may apply, but once you start driving, this check is a DAC report)
  • Must not have an active driver’s license suspension or revocation (this applies if you moved from state to state, and you must not have a suspended license in any state)
  • Be proficient in English (spoken and written). The written test part of the CDL license is exclusively in English. 
  • Must not be disqualified under the FMCSA list of disqualifications. You can find the list on FSMCA’s website.
  • Not to possess a CDL in another state
  • To pass Medical and Physical self-certification *(only from authorized medical examiners who are listed on the National Medical Registry)

For further information on requirements, check out our post on how to become a truck driver. 

Types of CDL Licenses

There are three main types of CDL licenses: the CDL A license, CDL B license, and CDL C license (or Class A CDL, Class B CDL, and Class C CDL, respectively). 

Class A CDL License

The CDL A license enables a driver to operate a vehicle with a semi-trailer or trailer with two or more axles.

Owners of a CDL A license can operate any combination of vehicles that have a GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) of 26,000 pounds or more – only if the towed vehicle has a GVWR of 10,000 pounds or more.

The perks of having a CDL A license are the following:

  • The owner can operate vehicles that are classified as Class B and Class C
  • CDL A includes tractor-trailers, combos of truck and trailer, oversized vehicles (multiple trailers), tankers, flatbeds, carriers, and tractor-trailer buses.
  • A CDL A owner can drive most haul types

Class B CDL License

The Class B CDL license allows the holder to operate vehicles with GVWR 26,000 pounds or more, including vehicles with a trailer – but the trailer must be 10,000 pounds or less. 

The perks of having a CDL B license are the following:

  • The holder can operate vehicles classified as Class C (but can not operate Class A vehicles)
  • CDL B includes vehicles like box trucks, busses (school bus, city bus), small dump trucks, and straight trucks.

Class C CDL License

The holder of this license can operate a vehicle designed to carry 16 passengers and above (this calculation includes the driver). Class C CDL holders can also operate small hazmat trucks (classified as such under the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act). 

CDL Endorsements

In addition to the regular CDL licenses, the holder can get up to 6 endorsements on their license. These endorsements enable the holder to operate specialized types of CMVs and transport special kinds of goods. 

The Types of CDL Endorsements

The six types of CDL license endorsements are as follows:

  • (P) Passenger Transport Endorsement
  • (S) School Bus/Passenger Transport Combo Endorsement
  • (T) Double/Triples Endorsement
  • (N) Tank Vehicle Endorsement (Tanker)
  • (H) Hazardous Materials Endorsement (HAZMAT)
  • (X) Tanker/HAZMAT Combo Endorsement

(P) Passenger Transport Endorsement

The (P) Passenger Transport Endorsement allows the holder to operate a vehicle designed to carry a specified number of passengers. 

To get this endorsement, the holder must pass a written and a road skill test.

(S) School Bus/Passenger Transport Combo Endorsement

The (S) School Bus/Passenger Transport Combo Endorsement allows the holder to operate a school bus. Having a (P) Passenger Transport Endorsement is a prerequisite to get the (S) Endorsement.

This endorsement type is strictly regulated and includes the following regulations:

  • To apply for an (S) Endorsement, the applicant must submit a special form and pass background checks;
  • To retain the (S) Endorsement, the holder will be required to pass periodical physical examinations;
  • The applicant will be tested for knowledge of school bus laws each time they renew the (S) Endorsements in some states;
  • Some states require the driver to undergo a national criminal background check alongside the standard criminal history check

(T) Double/Triples Endorsement

The (T) Double/Triples Endorsement allows the holder to tow a double or a triple trailer. 

To get this endorsement, the driver must pass a written knowledge test.

(N) Tank Vehicle Endorsement (Tanker)

The (N) Tank Vehicle Endorsement (Tanker) allows the holder to operate a tank vehicle. It features both temporary and permanently attached tanks to the vehicle. 

To get this endorsement, the holder must pass a written knowledge test. 

It is important to notice that tank vehicles have a unique design that enables them to safely transport liquid or gaseous materials.

(H) Hazardous Materials Endorsement (HAZMAT)

The (H) Hazardous Materials Endorsement (HAZMAT) allows the holder to transport hazardous materials. Such materials include flammable liquids, gases, and toxic waste.

To get this endorsement, the holder must do the following:

  • Take a Hazardous Materials Endorsement (HME) written knowledge test
  • Submit their fingerprints to a collection site and show two forms of ID (passport, driver’s license, DOT medical card, etc.)

In some cases, the holder will be asked to retake a written test to maintain their (H) Endorsement.

(X) Tanker/HAZMAT Combo Endorsement

The (X) Tanker/HAZMAT Combo Endorsement allows the holder to transport hazardous materials in a vehicle with temporary and permanently attached tanks.

To get this endorsement, the holder must pass a written knowledge test.

CDL Endorsement Eligibility for Each CDL Class

Each CDL license can hold a certain amount of endorsements, as follows:

Class A CDL Endorsements

The Class A CDL can hold one, or all of the six endorsements, i.e.:

  • (P) Passenger Transport Endorsement
  • (S) School Bus/Passenger Transport Combo Endorsement
  • (T) Double/Triples Endorsement
  • (N) Tank Vehicle Endorsement (Tanker)
  • (H) Hazardous Materials Endorsement (HAZMAT)
  • (X) Tanker/HAZMAT Combo Endorsement

Class B CDL Endorsements

The Class B CDL can hold one or more of the following endorsements:

  • (H) Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT)
  • (N) Tank Vehicle
  • (P) Passenger Transport
  • (S) School Bus/Passenger Transport
  • (X) Tanker and Hazardous Materials

Class C CDL Endorsements

The Class C CDL can hold one or more of the following endorsements:

  • (H) Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT)
  • (P) Passenger Transport
  • (S) School Bus/Passenger Transport

How to Earn CDL Endorsements?

CDL endorsement can be earned as early as when the driver applies for a CLP (commercial learner’s permit). It is done by declaring which endorsements the driver wants to receive. 

Some states allow for a max of three endorsements for drivers with commercial learner’s permits. 

Holders of a CDL license can add additional endorsements to their existing by taking the appropriate tests and meeting the proper requirement for each endorsement. 

How Much do CDL Endorsements Cost?

Most of the CDL Endorsements cost less than $100 to get, considering you pass the required tests and requirements to get them.

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