Federal law requires drivers of certain types of commercial vehicles to obtain a commercial drivers license.
But this is actually a good thing because, you as a driver, holding a CDL can significantly increase your earning potential being able to drive all sorts of trucks and cargo.
The problem is how do you know which type of commercial driving license do you need to legally drive your specific commercial vehicle?
Below, I'll describe the three types of CDLs and the types of trucks you can drive while holding any of these.
There are three classes of CDLs that determine the kinds of vehicles you’re permitted to drive.
What is a Commercial Driver's License (CDL) and endorsements?
In the United States, a commercial driver’s license is required for any driver that operates large, heavy, or placarded hazardous material vehicles, or, more precisely, who is driving a vehicle or a combination with a trailer that weighs more than 26.001 pounds.
After acquiring a CDL, it gives you the right to earn endorsements that allow you to transport hazardous material such as flammable liquids, explosives, or radioactive substances.
Obtaining a CDL means that you have the skills to operate such specialized vehicles. To obtain any of these licenses, you need to meet certain licensing, testing, and age requirements.
The type of commercial vehicle you plan to operate dictates the type of CDL class you need.
There are three different types of CDL’s: Class A, B, and C.
Types of CDLs
Class A CDL
Class A CDL authorizes the driver to operate any vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more that's carrying a trailer that weighs more than 10,000 pounds.
A driver holding a class A CDL is allowed to operate the following commercial vehicles:
- Tractor-trailers (also known as semi-trucks, big rig, or 18 wheeler),
- Truck and trailer combinations,
- Tanker vehicles,
- Double and triple trailers,
- Most class B and class C vehicles, depending on endorsements.
Generally, class A CDL is for some of the heaviest and most complicated vehicles.
CDL class B
Class B CDL authorizes the driver to operate a vehicle with a gross weight combination rating of 26,001 pounds or more but is carrying a trailer that weighs less than 10,000 pounds or has no trailer.
In most cases, CDL B vehicles carry no trailer.
With a class B CDL and the necessary endorsements, you may drive the following types of vehicles:
- Box trucks,
- Delivery trucks,
- Segmented buses,
- Dump trucks.
With appropriate endorsements, a class B license allows the driver to operate vehicles at a lower classification level.
CDL class C
A class C CDL authorizes the driver to operate vehicles with a GVWR of fewer than 26,001 pounds or vehicle towing another vehicle that has a GVWR that doesn’t exceed 10,000 pounds. As well, this license authorizes the driver to transport 16 passengers + the driver or transport hazardous materials.
With a class C CDL and the proper endorsements, you may drive the following types of vehicles:
- Small HazMat vehicles,
- Passenger vans,
- Combination vehicles not covered by classes A or B.
What are endorsements
After getting a CDL, drivers have the option to add endorsements to their Commercial Driver’s License.
An endorsement allows the driver to operate special types of commercial motor vehicles, or haul specific types of goods.
Each endorsement requires the CDL holder to pass an additional written or road test to be qualified to operate special types of vehicles.
These additional endorsements include:
- Hazardous materials (H) – for transporting HAZMAT
- Tanker (N) – for driving tank vehicles
- Passenger (P) – to operate a vehicle that carries over a specified number of passengers
- Double or Triple trailer (T) – for transporting multiple trailers
Each type of CDL and endorsement requires you to pass a skills test and in most cases a written test (depending on State). It is important to make sure you pass ALL the required tests- or risk having restrictions on your license- and therefore, you may not be able to drive all types of vehicles.