Commercial driver's license

Commercial driver's license
A Commercial Driver's License is required to operate a tractor-trailer for commercial use.

A Commercial Driver's License (CDL) is a driver's license required in the United States to operate any type of vehicle which has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 lb (11,793 kg) or more for commercial use, or transports quantities of hazardous materials that require warning placards under Department of Transportation regulations, or that is designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver. This includes (but is not limited to) tow trucks, tractor trailers, and buses.[1]

The Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 was signed into law on October 27, 1986. The primary intent of the Act was to improve highway safety by ensuring that truck drivers and drivers of tractor trailers and buses are qualified to drive Commercial Motor Vehicles (CMVs), and to remove drivers that are unsafe and unqualified from the highways. The Act continued to give states the right to issue CDLs, but the federal government established minimum requirements that must be met when issuing a CDL.[2]



Driving commercial motor vehicles (CMVs), which are primarily tractor-trailers (or Longer Combination Vehicles (LCVs)),[3] requires advanced skills and knowledge above and beyond those required to drive a car or other light weight vehicle. Before implementation of the Commercial Driver's License (CDL) Program in 1986, licensing requirements for driving larger vehicles and buses varied from state to state.

Many drivers were operating motor vehicles that they may not have been trained or qualified to drive.[citation needed] This lack of training resulted in a large number of preventable traffic deaths and accidents.[4]

Class definitions

Since April 1, 1992, when this Act became law, all drivers have been required to have a CDL in order to drive a Commercial Motor Vehicle. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has developed testing standards for licensing drivers. U.S. states are able to issue CDLs only after a written and practical test have been given by the State or approved testing facility.

A driver needs a CDL if the vehicle meets one of the following definitions of a CMV:[5]

Class A truck
Any combination of vehicles with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds (11,793 kg) provided the GVWR of the vehicle(s) being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds (4536 kg).
Class B truck
Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds (11,793 kg), or any such vehicle towing a vehicle not in excess of 10,000 pounds (4536 kg) GVWR.
Class C truck
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 placarded for hazardous materials.

A state may also require a driver to have a CDL to operate certain other vehicles legally. A driver licensed in New Jersey must have a CDL to drive legally a bus, limousine, or van that is used for hire, and designed to transport 8 to 15 passengers.[6] A driver licensed in New York must have a CDL to transport legally passengers in school buses and other vehicles listed in Article 19-A of the state's Vehicle and Traffic Law.[7] Prospective licensees should verify CDL requirements by referencing their state specific CDL Manual.[8]

The minimum age to apply for a CDL is usually 21, as required by the United States Department of Transportation, although some states allow drivers who are 18 to 20 to apply for a CDL that is valid only within the driver's state of residence. A single state CDL only restricts driving of CMVs within the holder's state (not non-commercial vehicles), and automatically converts to a 50 state CDL at the age of 21.[citation needed]


Additional testing is required to obtain any of the following endorsements on the CDL. These can only be obtained after a CDL has been issued to the driver:

  • T Semi trailer Double or Triple (Written Test)
    • Certain states prohibit triple trailers statewide, such as California,[9] Florida,[10] and New York[7]
    • A Class A license is required to obtain the T endorsement
  • P Passenger Vehicle (Written and Driving Tests)
  • S School Bus (Written and Driving Test, Background Check, Sex Offender Registry Check and P endorsement)
  • N Tank Truck (Written Test)
  • H Hazardous materials (Written Test and Background Check through the Transportation Security Administration)
  • X Combination of Tank Vehicle and Hazardous Materials (Written Test)
  • W Tow truck. (Written Test)

Test requirements

Formal training is not mandatory to obtain a CDL. Although each state may add additional restrictions, there are national requirements in the United States .[11] A prospective driver must pass a written test on highway safety and a test about different parts of a truck with a minimum of 30 questions on the test. To pass this knowledge tests student drivers must answer at least 80 percent of the questions correctly. To pass the driving skills test the student driver must successfully perform a set of required driving maneuvers. The driving skill test must be taken in a vehicle that the driver operates or expects to operate. For certain endorsements, such as Air Brakes, the driving skills test must be taken in a vehicle equipped with such equipment.

Testing facilities

Employers, training facilities, States, governmental departments, and private institutions may be permitted to administer knowledge and driving test for the State. The test must be the same as those given by the State issuing the CDL and the instructors must meet the same professional certification as State instructors.

States are required to conduct an inspection of any testing facility and evaluates the programs by taking an actual test as if they were testing driver at least once a year, or by taking a sample of drivers tested by the third party and then comparing pass/fail rates.

In addition, the State's agreement with the third party testing centers must allow the FMCSA and the State to conduct random examinations, inspections, and audits without notice.


A CDL must contain the following information:

(a)(1) The prominent statement that the license is a “Commercial Driver’s License” or “CDL,” except as specified in §383.153(b);

(a)(2) The full name, signature, and mailing address of the person to whom such license is issued;

(a)(3) Physical and other information to identify and describe such person including date of birth (month, day, and year), sex, and height;

(a)(4) Color photograph of the driver;

(a)(5) The driver’s State license number;

(a)(6) The name of the State which issued the license;

(a)(7) The date of issuance and the date of expiration of the license;

(a)(8) The group or groups of commercial motor vehicle(s) that the driver is authorized to operate, indicated as follows:

(a)(8)(i) A for Combination Vehicle;

(a)(8)(ii) B for Heavy Straight Vehicle; and

(a)(8)(iii) C for Small Vehicle.

(a)(9) The endorsement(s) for which the driver has qualified, if any, indicated as follows:

(a)(9)(i) T for double/triple trailers;

(a)(9)(ii) P for passenger;

(a)(9)(iii) N for tank vehicle;

(a)(9)(iv) H for hazardous materials;

(a)(9)(v) X for a combination of the tank vehicle and hazardous materials endorsements;

(a)(9)(vi) S for school bus; and

(a)(9)(vii) At the discretion of the State, additional codes for additional groupings of endorsements, as long as each such discretionary code is fully explained on the front or back of the CDL document.

(b) If the CDL is a Nonresident CDL, it shall contain the prominent statement that the license is a “Nonresident Commercial Driver’s License” or “Nonresident CDL.” The word “Nonresident” must be conspicuously and unmistakably displayed, but may be noncontiguous with the words “Commercial Driver’s License” or “CDL.”

(c) If the State has issued the applicant an air brake restriction as specified in §383.95, that restriction must be indicated on the license. [12]

CDLIS Clearinghouse

The Commercial Driver's License Information System (CDLIS) and the National Driver Register (NDR) exchange information on traffic convictions and driver disqualifications of commercial drivers. States have to use both CDLIS and NDR to check a driver's record before a CDL can be issued. To gain permission to access to the CDLIS and NDR databases one should visit the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Technical Support Web site for instructions on how this information is accessed and who can access it. Trucking companies can use a commercial service that has clearance for providing this information as a means of screening prospective employees.

If Convicted while driving a CMV

  • Driving without a CDL, or suspended CDL, incurs a civil penalty of up to US$2,500 or, in aggravated cases, criminal penalties of up to US$5,000 in fines and/or up to 90 days in prison.

An employer is also subject to a penalty of up to US$10,000, if they knowingly permit a driver to operate a CMV without a valid CDL.

  • Two or more serious traffic violations, including excessive speeding, reckless driving, improper or erratic lane changes, following the vehicle ahead too closely, and traffic offenses in connection with fatal traffic accidents, within a three-year period: a 90-day to five-year suspension.
  • Driving under the influence of a controlled substance or alcohol, or leaving the scene of an accident, or using a CMV to commit a felony: three year suspension.
  • Any of the one-year offenses while operating a CMV for hazardous materials or second offense of any of the one-year or three-year offenses, or using a CMV to commit a felony involving manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing controlled substances: life suspension.

States can reduce certain lifetime disqualifications to a minimum disqualification period of 10 years if the driver completes a driver rehabilitation program approved by the State. Not all states do this: it is available in Idaho[5] and New York State[7] but not California[9] or New Jersey.[6]

If a CDL holder is disqualified from operating a CMV they can not be issued a "conditional" or "hardship" CDL, but can continue to drive non-commercial vehicles.

Any convictions are reported to the driver's home State and Federal Highway Administration and these convictions are treated the same as convictions for violations that are committed in the home State.

The Commercial Drivers License Program collects and stores all convictions a driver receives and transmits this data to the home State so that any disqualification or suspension can be applied.

The FHWA has established 0.04% as the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level at or above which a CMV driver is deemed to be driving under the influence of alcohol and subject to lose his/her CDL. Additionally, an operator of a CMV that is found to have 'any detectable amount of BAC above 0.0%' will be put out of service for a minimum of 24 hours.

A driver must report any driving conviction within 30 days, except parking, to their employer regardless of the nature of the violation.

Employers must be notified if a driver's license is suspended, revoked, or canceled. The notification must be made by the end of the next business day following receipt of the notice of the suspension, revocation, cancellation, lost privilege or disqualification.

Employers cannot under any circumstances use a driver who has more than one license or whose license is suspended, revoked or canceled, or is disqualified from driving. Violation of this requirement may result in civil or criminal penalties.

CDL Training in United States

In the United States, training may be obtained by completing a qualified CDL training program through a truck driving school. These training programs specialize in teaching potential truck drivers the necessary skills and knowledge to properly and safely operate a truck, including map reading, trip planning, and compliance with Department of Transportation laws, as well as backing, turning, hooking a trailer, and road driving. The overall purpose of these training schools is to help truckers-to-be pass the CDL knowledge and skills tests as well as advanced driving techniques such as skid avoidance and recovery and other emergency actions for situations such as a break away trailer and hydroplaning. These classes usually go well beyond the training the typical non-commercial driver receives, such as the drivers education provided in high school.

There are a number of licensed CDL training schools around the United States, and many trucking companies operate their own schools as well.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom the PCV Licence (PCV stands for Passenger Carrying Vehicle) enables the holder to drive buses and/or minibuses, subject to what kind of Practical Driving Test the licence holder passes.

  • Category C+E Vehicles over 3500 kg with a trailer over 750 kg also known as Large Goods Vehicle normal max gross weight 44000 kg (97416 lbs): minimum age 21. 17 if in the Armed Forces & now 18 if you meet certain requirements regarding CPC
  • Category D1 allows the holder to drive a vehicle with between nine and sixteen passenger seats with a trailer up to 750 kg maximum authorised mass.
  • Category D1+E allows the holder to drive a vehicle with between nine and sixteen passenger seats with a trailer over 750 kg maximum authorised mass, provided that the maximum authorised mass of the trailer does not exceed the unladen mass of the vehicle being driven and the combined maximum authorised mass of both the vehicle and trailer does not exceed 12 t (12000 kg).
    • For example, a vehicle with an unladen mass of 2650 kg and a MAM of 4005 kg, with a trailer MAM of 2200 kg will give a combined MAM of 6205 kg - but the Unladen Mass of the vehicle being driven (2650 kg) is greater than the MAM of the trailer (2200 kg) so is acceptable. However, a vehicle with an unladen mass of 2650 kg and a MAM of 4005 kg, with a trailer MAM of 2700 kg will give a combined MAM of 6705 kg - but because the MAM of the trailer (2700 kg) exceeds the Unladen Weight of the vehicle being driven (2650 kg), you would need a Category D+E licence to drive that vehicle.
  • Category D allows the holder to drive a vehicle with more than eight passenger seats with a trailer up to 750 kg maximum authorised mass.
  • Category D+E allows the holder to drive a vehicle with more than eight passenger seats with a trailer over 750 kg maximum authorised mass.


All places in Australia have a mostly similar driver licence system, although some things can change in each state or territory (e.g. what classes of license are available).

Australian license classes

  • C Car: A 'Class C' licence covers vehicles up to 4.5 tonnes gross vehicle mass (GVM)

GVM is the maximum recommended weight a vehicle can be when loaded. A 'Class C' Licence allows the holder to drive cars, utilities, vans, some light trucks, car-based motor tricycles, tractors and implements such as graders. You can also drive vehicles that seat up to 12 adults, including the driver.

  • R Rider: Motorcycle riders require a 'Class R' licence.
  • LR Light Rigid: 'Class LR' covers a rigid vehicle with a GVM of more than 4.5 tonnes but not more than 8 tonnes. Any towed trailer must not weigh more than 9 tonnes GVM. This class also includes vehicles with a GVM up to 8 tonnes which carry more than 12 adult including the driver and vehicles in class 'C'.
  • MR Medium Rigid: 'Class MR' covers a rigid vehicle with 2 axles and a GVM of more than 8 tonnes. Any towed trailer must not weigh more than 9 tonnes GVM. This class also includes vehicles in class 'LR'.
  • HR Heavy Rigid: 'Class HR' covers a rigid vehicle with 3 or more axles and a GVM of more than 8 tonnes. Any towed trailer must not weigh more than 9 tonnes GVM. This class also includes articulated buses and vehicles in class 'MR'.
  • HC Heavy Combination: This licence covers heavy combination vehicles like a prime mover towing a semi-trailer, or rigid vehicles towing a trailer with a GVM of more than 9 tonnes. This class also includes vehicles in class 'HR'.
  • MC Multi-Combination: This licence covers multi-combination vehicles like Road Trains and B-Double Vehicles. It lso includes vehicles in class 'HC'.

Medical standards

The medical standards for drivers of commercial vehicles are set by the National Transport Commission and AUSTROADS, and are set out in 'Assessing Fitness to Drive' (available from the AUSTROADS website).

For those applying for heavy vehicle licence classes MR (Medium Rigid), HR (Heavy Rigid), HC (Heavy Combination) or MC (Multi Combination), it is strongly recommended that the applicant ensure they meet the medical requirements before commencing any training or tests for a heavy vehicle licence.

Paying passengers

The driver of a vehicle carrying paying passengers (such as a school bus or tourist coach) requires an appropriate driver licence and a 'Public Passenger Vehicle Driver Authority' which is issued by the Ministry of Transport.

New Zealand

In New Zealand, driver licensing is controlled by the New Zealand Land Transport Safety Authority (LTSA). Broadly there are six classes of motor-vehicle licence. Class 1 governs vehicles with a GLW less than 4500 kg, and Class 6 governs motorcycles. Classes 2–5 govern heavy vehicles.

A Class 2 licence allows the holder to drive:

  • any rigid vehicle (including any tractor) with a GLW of more than 4500 kg but less than 18,001 kg
  • any combination vehicle with a GCW of 12,000 kg or less
  • any combination vehicle consisting of a rigid vehicle with a GLW of 18,000 kg or less towing a light trailer (GLW of 3500 kg or less)
  • any rigid vehicle with a GLW of more than 18,000 kg that has no more than two axles
  • any vehicle covered in Class 1.

Class 3 allows the holder to drive:

  • any combination vehicle with a GCW of more than 12,000 kg but less than 25,001 kg
  • any vehicle covered in classes 1 and 2.

Class 4 allows the holder to drive:

  • any rigid vehicle (including any tractor) with a GLW of more than 18,000 kg
  • any combination vehicle consisting of a rigid vehicle with a GLW of more than 18,000 kg towing a light trailer (GLW of 3500 kg or less)
  • vehicles covered in classes 1 and 2, but not Class 3.

Class 5 allows the holder to drive:

  • any combination vehicle with a GCW of more than 25,000 kg
  • vehicles covered by classes 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Before getting a Class 2 licence, a driver must be at least 18 years of age and have held an unrestricted Class 1 licence for at least six months. Gaining a Class 5 is not dependent on holding a Class 3. Once a driver has a Class 2 they can progress straight through to Class 4 and Class 5. Each progression (2 to 3, 2 to 4, or 4 to 5) requires having held an unrestricted licence of the preceding class for at least six months. For drivers aged 25 or over the minimum period for holding the unrestricted time is reduced to three months, or waived entirely on completion of an approved course of instruction.

Additional endorsements on an NZ driver's licence govern provision of special commercial services. The endorsements are:

  • D - Dangerous Goods: transporting hazardous substances. Must be renewed every five years
  • F - Forklift operator
  • I - Driving Instructor: An "I" endorsement is awarded for a specific Class of licence, e.g.: 5-I
  • O - Testing Officer: Driving assessors who test a person prior to being granted a particular class of licence
  • P - Passenger: Transport of fare-paying passengers (bus and taxi drivers, limo-for-hire drivers, and dial-a-driver services)
  • R - Roller: Special vehicle equipped with rollers
  • T - Tracks: Special vehicle equipped with tracks
  • V - Vehicle recovery: Operating a tow truck
  • W - Wheels: Special vehicle equipped with wheels, other than fire appliances, buses, tractors, vehicle-recovery vehicles, or trade vehicles.

The F, R, T and W endorsements are for operating special types of vehicle on the road. Where the holder also has a heavy vehicle (Class 2 or Class 4) licence, they are permitted to drive heavy special vehicles. Otherwise the limits for Class 1 (4500 kg) apply.

Being granted a I, O, P and/or V endorsement requires that the applicant pass a "fit and proper person" check, to screen for people with criminal convictions or serious driving infringements. These endorsements are issued for one or five years, at the option of the applicant at the time of purchase.

See also


  1. ^ "Commercial Drivers License or CDL Required in US". Retrieved 2006-08-14. 
  2. ^ "Commercial Driver's License Program". Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Retrieved 2009-03-15. 
  3. ^ "Part 391: Qualifications of drivers and longer combination vehicle (LCV) driver instructors (subpart 391.65)". Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA). Retrieved 2009-03-12. 
  4. ^ "Commercial Driver's License (CDL) Program". Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Retrieved 2009-03-12. 
  5. ^ a b "CDL Class Definitions". Retrieved 2006-08-20. 
  6. ^ a b "New Jersey Commercial Driver License Manual". Retrieved 2006-10-25. 
  7. ^ a b c "New York State Commercial Driver's Manual". Retrieved 2006-10-25. 
  8. ^ "Directory of State CDL Manuals". Retrieved 2009-04-11. 
  9. ^ a b "California Commercial Driver Handbook". Retrieved 2006-10-25. 
  10. ^ "Appendix C to Part 658". Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Retrieved 2008-02-04. 
  11. ^ "US CDL Requirements by State". Retrieved 2010-08-13. 
  12. ^ "Part 383: Commercial driver's license standards; requirements and penalties". Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association. Retrieved 2009-03-12. 

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