What Types of Vehicles Need a CDL Licenses?

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A CDL license is required to drive a commercial motor vehicle.
A CDL license is required to drive a commercial motor vehicle. (Image: Semi image by Andrew Breeden from Fotolia.com)

Drivers are required by federal law to obtain and keep on their persons a commercial driver’s license (CDL) when operating commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). The state designates a vehicle “commercial” when registered or titled to a company. Many CMVs are heavier than passenger vehicles, more difficult to maneuver and require training and greater knowledge than is necessary for driving standard passenger vehicles.

Commercial Motor Vehicles

CMVs are often large trucks or buses used for business purposes and come in a variety of sizes and weights. A “large truck” is defined as a truck weighing more than 10,000 pounds. The term “commercial motor vehicle” refers to a motor vehicle that transports product or passengers. CMVs fall under Class A, B or C. A CDL is required to operate a CMV.

A CDL Class C license is required to drive a school bus.
A CDL Class C license is required to drive a school bus. (Image: school bus image by Lombok from Fotolia.com)

Class A License

“Class A” indicates a combination of a vehicle and trailer or trailing vehicle. It includes any vehicle that tows another vehicle or trailer where the gross combined weight of both is 26,001 pounds or more, specifically where the weight of the towed vehicle exceeds 10,000 pounds. “Gross weight” refers to the weight of the vehicle and trailer when both are fully loaded, including the driver. An example of a Class A CMV is a semi-truck and trailer loaded with goods where the gross weight of the trailer fully-loaded exceeds 10,000 pounds and the gross weight of both fully loaded is at least 26,001 pounds.

Semi-trucks hauling heavy trailer loads require a Class A license.
Semi-trucks hauling heavy trailer loads require a Class A license. (Image: Log semi truck image by max blain from Fotolia.com)

Class B License

A “Class B” vehicle is any vehicle weighing 26,001 pounds or more. If it tows another vehicle or trailer, the towed vehicle cannot weigh more than 10,000. Semi-trucks typically weigh between 15,000 and 17,500 pounds empty. Fully-loaded semi-trucks qualify as Class B CMVs as do semi-trucks with fully-loaded trailers that weigh no more than 10,000 pounds, as long as the gross weight of both is 26,001 pounds or more when fully loaded. Under this class, you may operate some buses, a standard-sized dump truck, motor home, passenger van, cement mixer, tow truck, garbage truck, delivery van and utility vehicle, as long as federal weight requirements are met.

Class C License

CMVs that do not meet Class A or Class B definitions usually fall under Class C CMVs. School and public transportation buses that transport 16 passengers or more fall under this class. Vehicles transporting hazardous material requiring a placard or materials listed by the federal government as toxins or select agents are considered Class C CMVs. For instance, a Class C CMV may be a semi-truck hauling a tanker of hazardous waste, oil or gasoline or hauling anything that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) classifies as “toxins” or “select agents.” The HHS considers certain viruses and biological products as toxins and select agents that require the transport of a Class C CMV.

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