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A Primer on the Commercial Driver’s License – Part II

Last year we took an initial look at what it takes to get your commercial driver’s license (CDL). In this installment we are going to dig a little deeper into certain aspects of the process. There’s a lot to know, so we want to help make sure you are well prepared.

Let’s dive right in.

The Commercial Learner’s Permit

Before you can obtain your CDL, you have to get a commercial learner’s permit (CLP). Your CLP will be issued to you by the state, just as your CDL will be.

When you are doing behind-the-wheel training, the CLP is as good as a CDL. You are clear to drive on public roads and highways with it.

You may also be required to take and pass other written tests if you plan on adding an endorsement to your CDL.

Additional requirements may include:

  • Certifying you are not subject to any disqualifying factors;
  • Providing proof of citizenship;
  • Completing the CDL/med card merger.

When a CLP holder is operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) they must be with a holder of a valid CDL at all times. Keep in mind that if you are getting an endorsement (tank, for instance), the CDL driver who accompanies your drive must hold the same endorsement.

The CDL holder must sit in the front passenger seat next to the truck driver and must directly supervise the CLP holder as they go about the business of driving the CMV.

A CLP is valid for 180 days, but can be renewed for another 180 days if it expires. A CLP holder is not eligible to go for his or her CDL test within the first 14 days of the issuing of the CLP. They want to make sure you know what you’re doing, after all!

CDL Classes

In order get your actual CDL, you will need to pass a driving or skills test. Your driving test will be in the vehicle you intend to operate. So if you want to run tractor-trailers that require a Class A CDL, you will need to be completing your skills training in a tractor-trailer.

Much like when you obtained your CLP, there will be various forms of paperwork and documentation you will have to provide in order to get your CDL. Consult your state’s CDL manual to find out what is required from your state’s licensing agency.

Federal regulations outline three distinct vehicles groups for the purposes of a CDL license. These groupings are referred to as Classes. For more details, they are covered under Sec. 383.91 of the FMCSRs.

They are as follows:

  • Class A – Combination Vehicle: Any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight exceeds 26,001 pounds or more, provided the vehicle – or combination thereof – is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Class B – Heavy Straight Vehicle: Any single vehicle with has a gross combination weight rating in excess of 26,001 pounds, or any such vehicle towing another vehicle that itself is not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Class C – Small Vehicle: Any single vehicle or combination of vehicles that does not meet the requirements for either Class A or B, but is designed to transport 16 or more passengers or is used in the transportation of hazardous materials.


If you are intending on driving a CMV that necessitates an endorsement on your CDL, you will have to take additional tests and meet skill requirements.

If you plan on operating any of the following, you will need a special endorsement on your CDL:

  • Double or triple trailers (T);
  • Tank (N);
  • Hazardous material (X);
  • School bus (S);
  • Passenger(s) (P).

For the first three endorsements, you are required to take a written test. For the last two, you will be required to take a written and road/skills test in addition to the written test.

Are you looking to become a truck driver and are just now learning about getting your CDL? Join us next week when we did deeper into driver qualifications and what they should mean to you.

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