CDL Driver Basics


A driver with a commercial driver's license, or CDL, is someone who has taken appropriate CDL training and passed written and driving exams to be able to drive vehicles that weigh in excess of 26,000 pounds. In most states, anyone who is over the age of 18, has a good driving record, and meets the physical requirements can undergo training and apply for a CDL to drive within their state of residence. Drivers who wish to also drive outside of their state of residence must be age 21 or older and meet the physical and driving record requirements.

Each state establishes its own set of rules and regulations for commercial drivers, so the first step is to contact the closest Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office and request state-specific information.

Before a driver can qualify for a CDL, he/she will be required to get a CDL permit. A permit can be obtained by passing a series of written tests. Upon completion of the permit requirements, drivers can then move on to the skills test for a license.

There are three types of CDL licenses available, each one specific to the type of commercial vehicle the driver will be operating. The first, and most common, is a Class A CDL. Class A CDLs are required for drivers of any combination of vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of more than 26,000 pounds with a tow vehicle of more than 10,000 pounds. These include tractor-trailers, truck/trailer combinations, tank vehicles, livestock carriers and flatbed trailers. The second type, Class B CDLs, are required for drivers of single vehicles with a GVWR of more than 26,000 pounds or a tow vehicle weighing less than 10,000 pounds. These include straight trucks, large passenger and segmented buses, box trucks, dump trucks with small trailers and tractor-trailers. Third, Class C CLDs are required for drivers of vehicles that transport 16 or more occupants or transport hazardous materials. This classification generally includes any combination vehicles not covered by Class A or Class B CDLs.

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What can I do with a CDL license?

A Commercial Driver's License (CDL) opens the door to various driving opportunities. Holders can operate commercial vehicles such as tractor-trailers, buses, tank trucks, and hazardous materials vehicles. CDL drivers can work in diverse sectors, from long-haul trucking and construction to public transportation and waste management, depending on their specific endorsements.

How long is a CDL valid?

The validity of a CDL varies by state but generally lasts for a period of four to eight years. However, some endorsements or certifications, like the medical examiner's certificate, may have shorter validity periods and require more frequent renewals. Always consult the local DMV or licensing agency for state-specific information.

Can I drive a commercial vehicle without a CDL?

Driving most commercial vehicles requires a CDL; however, there are exceptions based on the vehicle's size and purpose. For example, vehicles below a certain Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) might not necessitate a CDL. It's crucial to be aware of local and federal regulations to ensure you have the appropriate license for the vehicle you're operating. Driving a commercial vehicle that requires a CDL without one can result in hefty fines and legal penalties.


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