A Commercial Driver’s License is a special kind of license that allows you to drive a large vehicle in support of a business operation.
Until 1986, there was no such thing as a commercial driver’s license. Each state set their own rules about who could drive trucks, with many states allowing folks to drive big rigs with no more training than you receive to get a regular driver’s license. This meant that in some cases, people were driving tractor-trailer combinations who really should not have been driving at all – it was possible to have a criminal record or a history of driving under the influence and still be able to drive truck for a living.
Another problem before 1986 was that states did not share very much information about drivers from one to another. So if you lived in Vermont and had your license revoked because you were at fault in a string of crashes, DUIs, or speeding incidents, you could move to New Hampshire and apply for a new license there, which would carry none of your previous history and would be like having the slate wiped clean when you went to apply for trucking jobs.
As a result of these problems, the government enacted the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986. This act set up specific requirements that all states must meet when issuing commercial drivers licenses. The federal government did not take over licensing authority from the state – each state still has its own process and some have more stringent requirements than the government. That’s why it’s important to check with your local DMV when you begin thinking about getting a CDL.
The Federal government requires that you can only have one kind of license at a time, so when you go in to apply for a CDL instruction permit, you will have to turn in your driver’s license. The government also requires every state to test CDL applicants to make sure they have the skills necessary to drive a truck. States also have to do a basic background check on anyone applying for a CDL license to make sure they don’t fit into one of the categories that would keep them from being able to get a CDL. If you plan to get a CDL, you will also have to get a physical to make sure you don’t have any health conditions that would put you or other drivers at risk. TruckingJobFinder provides you with detailed information about requirements to get a CDL and what kinds of events from your past and medical conditions could keep you from getting one.
If you want to drive a vehicle that weighs 26,001 lbs. or more, you will need a CDL. That includes a single vehicle of that weight, like a straight truck, or a tractor-trailer combination if the trailer part weighs more than 10,000 lbs. If you plan to drive more than 15 passengers, you will need a CDL. Also, if you will be carrying hazardous materials requiring placarding – even if it’s in a small van – you will need a CDL.
CDL licenses come in three basic “flavors:” Class-A, B, and C. There are also extra endorsements that you can add on so that you can drive particular kinds of vehicles like tanker trucks, trucks with air brakes, school buses, passenger vans and hazardous materials.
You may be interested in working as a diesel mechanic or driving a passenger van for a church. Even though you aren’t a professional driver as such, you will still need to get a CDL to operate this type of vehicle.