What Types of CDL Licenses Are There?

From hauling hazardous materials to driving a school bus, there are many different kinds of commercial driving, each with its own set of necessary skills, hence there are many different types of commercial driver licenses.

A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is necessary to operate commercial motor vehicles like tractor trailers and passenger buses. There are three different classes of CDLs that relate to various types of vehicles: Class A, Class B, and Class C. Classification is determined by gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) and specific vehicle features.

Driving specialized vehicles may require earning of a type of certification called an endorsement. To acquire an endorsement, you have to pass an exam, possibly a specialized driving exam and/or a background check.

Normally, you must be 21 to apply for a CDL. However, a few states do let drivers between the ages of 18 and 20 apply for an intra-state CDL. If a driver has a single-state CDL, it automatically converts to a nationally valid CDL when the driver turns 21.

There are stringent federal guidelines for acquiring a CDL, and each state has its own guidelines. The license requires passing a written test and a driving exam, both of which are designed at the state level.

Below is a short list of the types of CDLs that are available.

Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP)

The first step towards earning a CDL is earning a CLP, which allows a driver to learn on public roads with a CDL holder next to them in the vehicle.

To be qualified, a CLP applicant must have a clear driving record and be medically qualified to operate a large vehicle. Most kinds of commercial driving require passing a physical exam outlined by the DOT. Some states also ask for an applicant to provide documents pertaining to identity and residency.

Class A CDL

A Class A CDL permits the legal operation of single or combined vehicles with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more, given the towed vehicle weighs more than 10,000 pounds.

Provided the holder of a Class A CDL has the proper endorsements, it allows for the operation of tractor-trailers; tanker trucks; truck and trailer combinations; livestock vehicles; and large flatbed trucks. With the right endorsements, a Class A CDL may allow the holder to drive some Class B and Class C vehicles.

Class B CDL

A Class B CDL permits the operation of a single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more; or the towing of a vehicle weighing less than 10,000 pounds.

With the right endorsements, a Class B CDL allows for the operation of straight trucks; box trucks; dump trucks with small trailers; large passenger buses; segmented buses; and tractor-trailers.

Class C CDL

A Class C CDL is needed to operate a vehicle designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver, or transport materials that are officially classified as hazardous under federal guidelines.

With the right endorsements, a Class C CDL allows the holder to drive small hazardous material (HazMat) vehicles, large passenger vans and vehicles not covered by Classes A or B.

Get Started on Your Commercial Driving Career with NSC!

At NSC, we regularly help folks get into rewarding commercial driving careers. Please contact us today to find out how we can help you get started on yours.


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