What Exactly Is A CDL And Why You Might Need One

What is a CDL? A CDL stands for Commercial Driver’s License and is needed to drive specific commercial vehicles.

In the United States, a driver that wants to drive a commercial motor vehicle has to possess a legal CDL.

Every state must follow the CDL requirements that the federal government has set forth, and every state has their own requirements that each CDL seeker must comply with.

To drive a commercial motor vehicle, you must possess the skills, qualifications, and the necessary training.

In this article you will learn all the information that you need to know about a CDL.

What Does CDL Mean?

What does CDL mean?

A CDL stands for a Commercial Driver’s License.

To drive a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) you will have to have the necessary training, qualifications, and skills.

The federal government requires all drivers to possess a CDL to drive different types of commercial motor vehicles.

If you possess a CDL, you should know that you when you are driving any CMV (commercial motor vehicle) on public highways and roads, you are expected to have higher standards than just a person with an ordinary driver’s license.

It is a major responsibility to drive and operate a CMV. It should not be taken lightly.

Any CDL driver that commits severe traffic violations will have a hard time keeping their CDL license.

Commercial Driver’s License vs Driver’s License

What is the difference between a commercial driver’s license and a regular driver’s license?

Both of these licenses allow you to operate a vehicle in your state.

A CDL allows drivers to operate a vehicle with more gross weight of 26,001 pounds. A regular driver’s license does not.

A CDL license can also have different endorsements so the driver can haul hazardous materials, haul passengers, and double and triple trailers.

In most states, you have to be 21 years old to get a CDL.

A regular driver’s license allows you to operate a vehicle that weighs less than 8,000 pounds.

These types of vehicles are cars, vans, SUVs, and regular trucks.

Who Needs A CDL?

Who needs a CDL? A driver must have a CDL if they are wanting to drive these types of commercial vehicles:

1. A single vehicle that has Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR) of 26,001 pounds or more, and any vehicle that it is towing has a eight of 10,000 lbs or more. For this you will need a Class A CDL.

2. A vehicle that has a GCWR of 26001 or more pounds along with the vehicle that is being towed has a weight of less than 10,000 pounds. For this you will need a Class B CDL.

3. A single vehicle that has a GVWR that is less than 26,001 pounds, and the vehicle being towed cannot exceed 10,000 GVWR pounds, and a bus that transporting sixteen passengers along with the driver. For this you will need a Class C CDL.

4. Any vehicle that is transporting hazardous materials must be placarded as required by the federal government.

For more specific information about the difference between a Class A and Class B CDL you should read this article.

What Vehicle Drivers Are Not Required To Have A CDL?

There are some vehicles that don’t require drivers to have a CDL, and they would include:

Farm Equipment 

A CDL is not required to operate farm equipment

The farm equipment must be operated by the farmer, a family member, and/or an employee.

The farm equipment must be used within one hundred and fifty miles from the farm to the nursery and to other farming operations.

The farm equipment must be used to transport all farming products and supplies to and from the nursery and/or farm. +

All drivers of the farm equipment must be 21 years old.

All farm equipment must possess farm plates from the state.

Military Vehicles

All drivers operating a military vehicle are not required to have a CDL.

Recreational Vehicles

All drivers operating a recreational vehicle are not required to have a CDL if they are operating it for their own personal use.

Firefighting Equipment

All firefighters operating any firefighting equipment when they are responding to an emergency doesn’t have to have a CDL.

What Is A Commercial Vehicle?

A commercial motor vehicle is (CMV) any motor vehicle that is being used to haul or carry products or passengers for a profit for a business or person.

Any vehicle that is classified as commercial has been registered and is owned by a business.

The United States Department of Transportation states that all vehicles will be classified as a commercial motor vehicle if the vehicle:

1. Has the ability to hold more than fifteen passengers
2. Weighs more than 10,000 pounds with a towed unit
3. Weighs more than 26,001 pounds
4. Weighs more than 26,001 pounds alone
5. Transporting hazardous materials

All commercial motor vehicles are placed into a different class or category, which is determined on the size, weight, and role of the vehicle.

Each of the different class or category will require a different type of CDL such as a Class A CDL or Class B CDL. Learn more about the Class A and Class B cdl here.

Minimum CDL Requirements

If you are wanting to become a truck driver, then you will want to know what the requirements are for getting a CDL.

The Federal Commercial Driver’s License requirements are the same for all of the states. The minimum CDL requirements include:

1. Must have a valid driver’s license in your state.
2. Must be at least 18 years old in some states.
3. Be 21 years of age if you will be driving a commercial motor vehicle on the interstate. (traveling from state to state)
4. Driving a commercial motor vehicle that has hazardous materials
5. Depending on your state – Have 1-2 years experience driving a motor vehicle.
6. Be a permanent resident in your state.
7. Have a social security card.
8. Have your birth certificate or green card.
9. Pass any background checks.
10. Have no suspensions or revoked driver’s license in any of the states.
11. Read and speak English.
12. Doesn’t possess another driver’s license from another state.
13. Must possess and pass the medical and physical requirements.

CDL Medical And Physical Requirements

A truck driver must pass a physical exam.

The truck driver has other duties that they will perform other than just driving.

Some truck drivers will be required to load and unload their trailer, be able to lift heavy items, and other physical activities will be required.

Every truck driver must have a Medical Examiner’s Certificate or also known as a DOT card (Department of Transportation) to get their CDL.

This mandated certificate states that you have met all standards (physical and medical) that comes with operating a CMV.

You have to have the original or a copy of the DOT card with you when you are driving.

Truck drivers are obligated to have a “Self-Certify” done.

In 2014, it became a federal law that truck drivers will need to use only medical examiners who have been authorized and is certified by the FMCSA.

Truck drivers can find authorized medical examiners by looking on the National Medical Registry list and reading this article

Every truck driver will need to self-certify the type of vehicle that they will be driving in with the categories below

Non-Excepted Interstate

This category means you can legally drive across state lines and you have met all the Federal Department of Transportation requirements for the medical card.

Excepted Interstate

This category means you have not met all of the Federal Department of Transportation requirements for the medical card and can legally drive across state lines.

 Non-Excepted Intrastate

This category means you have to meet the Federal Department of Transportation requirements for the medical card and you will only be driving in your state.

Excepted Intrastate

This category means you are not obligated to meet the Federal Department of Transportation requirements for the medical card and you will be driving in your state.

Commercial Truck Drivers Physical Qualifications

Medical examiners will be following the FMCSA form for the medical qualifications for all commercial truck drivers.

Each commercial truck driver is required to acquire a Medical Examiner’s Certificate.

The Medical Examiner’s Certificate will show that you are physically qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle.

The top medical qualification requirements that a truck driver must pass include:

1. Standard: You should have at the minimum of 20/40 vision in each eye (with/without correction). In each eye, at least 70 degrees peripheral in horizontal. The truck driver can wear glasses or contacts, but any corrective lenses will have to be written on the certificate.

2. Standard: No truck driver is permitted to be a diabetic that needs to inject insulin. Some drivers may be exempt from this.

3. Hearing Standard: Each driver must hear a forced whisper less than five feet, and this can be done with/without a hearing aid, and the driver must have average hearing in the ear that is better.

4. Blood Pressure: Each driver should not have any high blood pressure diagnosis that will interfere with their ability to drive a commercial motor vehicle.

5. Elevated Blood Sugar Levels: A 200 or more blood pressure is considered very ‘dangerous’, but this doesn’t mean the driver will be disqualified if there is no such evidence to support the elevated blood sugar levels.

6. Sleep Apnea: Sleep apnea is a condition that will disqualify a truck driver.

Written And Skill Tests

Every person who is wanting to get a CDL will have to pass written and skill tests.

There is a CDL manual that will assist in passing the exams in your state.

The CDL manual should not be a substitute for taking a training class or truck driving program.

The best way to learn all the skills for driving a commercial vehicle is with formal training.

Road Testing

When you are ready for your road testing you will need to be driving the commercial vehicle class that you need the CDL for.

The road testing is three parts, which include:

1. Pre-Trip Inspection: Each driver must need to be able to perform a pre-trip of the vehicle.

2. Basic Vehicle Control: Each driver must be able to control the vehicle. The driver will be asked to drive forward, backward, and other areas.

3. On-Road Driving: Each driver will have to drive the commercial vehicle on different types of roads and highways. The driver will have to perform a left turn, right turn, stopping, etc.

If you were in the military and you drove a commercial motor vehicle, then you can waive the skills test.

You can only do this within one year from being released from active duty.

Also, each state has their own CDL requirements as well.

What Are The 3 Types of CDL Licenses?

The United States Department of Transportation allows commercial truck drivers to choose from three types of CDL licenses.

The 3 types of CDL licenses include:

Class A CDL

The Class A CDL can operate a variety of vehicles that has a gross combined weight of 26,001 pounds or more, and if it is a vehicle being towed that is 10,000 pounds or more.

A Class A CDL allows drivers to operate these types of vehicles along with the proper endorsements:
• Semi tractor-trailer
• Truck and trailer combo
• Tank vehicles
• Livestock holders
• Flatbeds

Class B CDL

A class B CDL can operate a single vehicle that has a gross weight of 26,001 pounds or more or towing a vehicle that has less than 10,000 pounds.

A Class B CDL allows drivers to operate these types of vehicles along with the proper endorsements:
• Straight trucks
• Box trucks
• Dump trucks
• Busses
• Tractor trailers
• Passenger buses

Class C CDL

A Class C CDL can operate a vehicle that can transport sixteen people or more along with you the driver. A Class C CDL can also transport hazardous materials or also known as HazMat. A Class C CDL can operate these types of vehicles:
• Passenger vans/shuttle buses and small hazmat vehicles.

How Long Does It Take To Get A CDL?

The first question most people who are wanting to get their CDL ask is how long does it take to get a CDL?

Most of the truck driving programs are full-time and you will be spending forty hours a week.

Usually, most truck driving programs are generally around seven to eight weeks.

The truck driving program is five days a week and forty hours each week, which is approximately 160 hours of complete training.

The truck driving program is usually fifty hours in the classroom, twenty-four hours of basic driving, and seventy hours of highway driving with a professional driving instructor.

There are numerous professional driving companies that offer a CDL program.

The company will pay you while you are training.

Swift and Schneider are a couple of the trucking companies that offer their own in-house CDL training program.

You will want to make sure you read through your contract, because you will be obligated to work for the company for a length of time to pay back for your CDL training and license.

For some drivers having a contract with a company right away is a good decision, for others not so much. If you are unsure then you should read this article too.

Most Common CDL Jobs

The most common and popular CDL job is being an over-the-road truck driver.

An over-the-road truck driver is a job that is currently in high demand, but if you are interested in other CDL jobs, then there are plenty to choose from, which include:

1. Local Delivery Truck Driver
2. Bus Driver
3. Tractor Trailer Technician
4. Highway Maintenance
5. Construction Operator

What Next?

Having a CDL allows you to drive a truck over-the-road or locally. On average, a truck driver can make $35,000 in the first year. If you want to see the country and make an excellent wage, then you should consider getting a CDL.

Get started now by checking out our free job board for truck driving jobs that you won’t find anywhere else.