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What Is A Commercial Driver’s License?

An aspiring commercial truck driver in the seat of a semi-truck, preparing for CDL test.

Not all driver’s licenses are the same. The most familiar type of driver’s license allows the individual to whom it is issued to operate cars, SUVs, and trucks. However, there is another type of license for commercial vehicles: a commercial driver’s license. What is a commercial driver’s license? Here are a few facts that you will want to know. If you have any other questions about CDLs or other permits, consider scheduling a consultation with Friedman & Bresaw, PLLC, by calling (603) 707-4800.

The Basics of a Commercial Driver's License

What is a commercial driver’s license? A commercial driver’s license (CDL) is a license needed to operate certain vehicle types. These vehicles are larger and heavier than standard passenger cars. They can include tow trucks, tractor-trailers, and buses. A CDL is required for operating any vehicle that: 

  • Has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 26,001 lb (11,794 kg) or more
  • Is used for commercial purposes
  • Transports quantities of hazardous materials that need warning placards 
  • Is designed to 15 or less passengers, including the driver. 

CDL testing is intended to make sure that drivers have the necessary skills and knowledge to operate these larger vehicles on public roads safely.

Testing Requirements

Drivers will need to pass a series of tests to receive a CDL. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration‘s program is designed to make sure that they have the skills and knowledge to handle heavy commercial vehicles safely. The CDL testing system helps maintain a high road safety standard. Consequently, the testing process for obtaining a CDL is much more stringent than a standard driver’s license. Most of the time, it involves written and driving exams covering topics such as: 

  • Vehicle inspection
  • Basic control skills
  • On-road driving

Also, drivers may need to acquire additional endorsements to their CDL if they want to operate vehicles carrying hazardous materials or transporting passengers. Passing these rigorous requirements to receive a CDL license helps maintain a safe and reliable transportation system throughout the United States. 

Medical and Health Standards

Along with a driving test and a written exam, potential drivers need to pass a complete medical examination to obtain a license. The medical standards for CDLs are set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). They are created to make sure the drivers are physically able to operate a commercial vehicle. Some of the key medical requirements include:

  • Vision Test: Applicants for a CDL must pass a vision test. Corrective lenses (glasses or contacts) are permitted.
  • Hearing Test: Adequate hearing is essential for CDL drivers.
  • Blood Pressure/Heart Rate: Drivers must meet specific blood pressure and heart rate standards.
  • Urinalysis: A urinalysis is usually required.
  • Physical Examination: A licensed “medical examiner” from the FMCSA National Registry must conduct a DOT physical examination.
  • Medical Examiner’s Certificate: All commercial drivers must have a valid Medical Examiner’s Certificate (ME Certificate).

Those are just a few of the health requirements for CDL drivers. If you would like to learn more about these licenses, please contact the legal team at Friedman & Bresaw, PLLC

What Is a Class B CDL?

The Class B CDL is a category within the CDL system. This license is designed for drivers who operate single vehicles with a GVWR exceeding 26,000 pounds, which can include city buses, tour buses, school buses, delivery trucks, dump trucks, garbage trucks, utility repair vehicles, and other heavy vehicles that do not tow trailers exceeding 10,000 pounds. The “single vehicle” restriction means that a driver holding a Class B CDL can operate any vehicle that does not pull a trailer or vehicle over 10,000 pounds, but they are not permitted to operate combination vehicles, a vehicle attached to another vehicle or trailer. The driver would need to get a Class A CDL in those cases.

What Is a Class A CDL?

A Class A license lets the driver operate a vehicle with a GVWR exceeding 26,000 pounds and tow a trailer or vehicle exceeding 10,000 pounds. A driver with a Class A license is permitted to drive the large tractor-trailers that individuals holding commercial licenses in the Class B category cannot. The Class A license therefore has a broader scope than the Class B CDL. Both types of license allow their holders to operate a wide range of large, heavy vehicles.

What Is a Class C CDL?

The Class C CDL is another category in the commercial driver’s license system. Drivers with Class C licenses can operate vehicles that do not fall into either of the other classifications. Vehicles operable under a Class C license are generally smaller than those whose operation is permitted with Class A or B licenses. However, Class C vehicles are often used for specific purposes that require special training and regulations.

With this license, holders can drive vehicles designed to transport fewer than 16 passengers and those that transport some hazardous materials. Like Class A and B licenses, obtaining a Class C CDLrequires passing a series of written and driving exams. Again, these requirements test the driver’s knowledge of road safety, vehicle operation, and relevant laws and regulations. However, since Class C vehicles are often used in the transport of hazardous materials, drivers may also need to pass additional safety exams to handle hazardous cargo of various kinds.

Do I Need a Commercial Driver's License?

The necessity of a CDL is determined by the weight and intended use of the vehicle the driver needs to operate. A driver must get this specialized license if they will be operating a vehicle that falls within the parameters outlined in the CDL requirements. Drivers are responsible for ensuring they have the proper license for any vehicle they are operating, and trucking companies have an obligation to make sure that any drivers they employ are properly licensed for the equipment and cargo they will need to handle on the job. Failure to obtain the appropriate CDL can lead to severe legal consequences, including hefty fines, suspension of driving privileges, and even jail time in some cases.

A CDL is more than complying with regulations; it protects the roads’ safety. Due to their size and the nature of their cargo, commercial vehicles can cause major damage in the event of an accident. Accordingly, drivers of the large commercial vehicles that require CDLs are held to a higher standard than are individuals driving ordinary passenger vehicles. Remember that driving is a responsibility, not just a right. Every driver on the road has a duty to ensure their actions do not endanger others.

Reach Out to a New Hampshire Personal Injury Lawyer Today

What is a commercial driver’s license? Commercial driver’s licenses are issued in distinct classes according to the weight, structure, and function of the vehicles the driver will be operating. The rigorous standards applied in issuing a CDL help to ensure that those operating large commercial vehicles do so under the most stringent guidelines. Commercial drivers and trucking companies owe others on the road a duty of care. If you want to learn more about CDLs or other licenses, please contact Friedman & Bresaw, PLLC, by calling (603) 707-4800 to arrange a consultation.


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About the Attorney
Jesse Friedman

Jesse has personally represented thousands of clients throughout the State - from juvenile delinquency offenses through homicides. He has extensive trial and litigation experience and has obtained favorable outcomes for thousands of clients throughout the years.

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