What is a CDL?
A person wishing to drive a tractor-trailer (a.k.a. "semi" or "big rig") is required to hold a valid Class A commercial driver’s license commonly referred to as a CDL. The CDL was created by an act of Congress known as The Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 which was signed into law on October 27, 1986.
“The goal of the Act is to improve highway safety by ensuring that drivers of large trucks and buses are qualified to operate those vehicles and to remove unsafe and unqualified drivers from the highways. The Act retained the State's right to issue a driver's license, but established minimum national standards which States must meet when licensing CMV drivers." - Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website, April 2006.
Want to learn more about the CDL process?
This link provides a good explanation of the different CDL license classifications.
The CDL ensures the truck drivers meet the minimum requirements for the safe operation of a tractor trailer through testing and licensing standards. The Act also makes it illegal for a driver to hold more than one type of license. Although the Act is a Federal law, each state retained the right to license drivers with the adoption of the standards. A CDL has been required to drive a tractor trailer since April 1, 1992. To obtain a CDL, the truck driver must pass a knowledge and driving skills test administered by his state. The skills test must be the type of vehicle which the driver intends to be licensed.
Truck drivers need a class A CDL in order to drive a tractor trailer. The class A vehicle type has been designated as “any combination of vehicles with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds provided the GVWR of the vehicle(s) being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.” – Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
In addition to the standard general knowledge test required for a CDL, truck drivers must also obtain endorsements on their CDL to legally operate a tractor trailer. Drivers need to pass the combination vehicle and air brake knowledge tests and skills test on a vehicle with these features. Failure to pass these components will result in a restriction on the driver’s CDL. Some of the more common endorsements for most professional truck drivers are:
- T - Double/Triple Trailers (Knowledge Test only)
- P - Passenger (Knowledge and Skills Tests)
- N - Tank Vehicle (Knowledge Test only)
- H - Hazardous Materials (Knowledge Test only)
- X - Combination of Tank Vehicle and Hazardous Materials