“Okay, Google: Do I need a CDL to operate…”

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Updated May 8, 2019
Photo: KenworthPhoto: Kenworth

If you are reading this article, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve Googled the phrase, “Do I need a CDL to operate…” For those on your crew tabbed to transport heavy equipment or operate a dump truck, a commercial driver’s license (CDL) is required.

While it may not be required to actually operate the machinery, excluding dump trucks, it’s still important to have that license in case it’s ever needed.

While some companies choose still to lean towards the ignorance is bliss theory when CDLs are mentioned, some have already begun taking proactive approaches to this matter by offering CDL training and certification classes onsite to help their employees get a leg up. Ultimately, being in the know can help save your company and employees some major pain down the road.

The commercial truck driving industry is governed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and has undergone many regulatory and process changes over the last couple of decades to help increase the safety of motorists. The FMCSA partners with the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Transportation Safety Authority (TSA) to maintain a framework of federal minimum regulations that govern safety, professional development, licensing and discipline for commercial truck drivers.

Obtaining the license

The basic steps for obtaining a CDL are the same in each state, and are in accordance with FMCSA regulations to get a commercial learner’s permit and driver’s license. You must first take the test for and successfully obtain the commercial learner’s permit (CLP), then you must hold this permit for a minimum of 14 days before you take the road skills test for your commercial driver’s license.

In most states, applicants can be 18 years old with one or two years of personal driving experience, and to drive intrastate (within the state), you must be at least 18. Federal rules state that to drive interstate (out-of-state) or to transport hazardous materials, you must be 21 years old and have no prior disqualifying criminal offenses, as certain criminal felonies could disqualify you from eligibility.

Additional endorsements can be added after the proper testing occurs, and these additions can allow drivers to operate trucks with tanks, trucks with double or triple trailers, a truck carrying hazardous material or a passenger vehicle. The CDL Manual can be found in field locations, as well as downloaded and printed from your state’s Law Enforcement Agency website.

There are three classes for the CDL, depending on what additions you want on it and what vehicle you intend to operate, and all have specialized qualifications that need to be met.

Class A

According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Transportation Services, a Class A License allows you to drive commercial vehicles where the Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR) is more than 26,001 pounds, and the rear portion must weigh more than 10,000 pounds.

Class B

A Class B License allows you to operate commercial vehicles that are ‘straight’ or combination, where the GCWR must be 26,001 pounds or more, but any towed portion must weigh less than 10,000 pounds.

Class C

A Class C License allows you to operate a single vehicle less that 26,001 pounds GVWR, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle not in excess of 10,000 pounds that falls within the FMCSA regulatory framework, such as vehicles designed to transport 16 people or more plus the driver. It also includes vehicles that must be placarded for hazardous materials, select agents, toxins and waste.

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