Commercial driver's license

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A commercial driver's license is required to operate a tractor-trailer for commercial use. Kenworth W900 semi in red.jpg
A commercial driver's license is required to operate a tractor-trailer for commercial use.

A commercial driver's license (CDL) is a driver's license required to operate large, heavy, or placarded hazardous material vehicles in commerce.


United States

In the United States, the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 established minimum requirements that must be met when a state issues a CDL. [1] In some states, a CDL may be required to drive a recreational vehicle or agricultural vehicle. However, such vehicles are federally exempt from having to obtain a CDL. The following types of CDL licenses are:

Class A – Allows the cardholder to operate combination of vehicles in commerce. This includes vehicles with a Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR) of 26,001 pounds (11,794 kg) or more provided the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of the trailer is more than 10,000 pounds (4,536 kg). Vehicle examples that fall under Class A are tractor trailers and trailer buses (Passenger endorsement required).

Class B – Allows the cardholder to operate heavy single vehicles in commerce. This includes vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds (11,794 kg) or more. If towing a vehicle, the GVWR of the towed unit must be 10,000 pounds (4,536 kg) or less. Vehicle examples that fall under Class B include box trucks, garbage trucks, dump trucks, cement trucks, and buses (Passenger endorsement required).

Class C – Allows the cardholder to operate single vehicles of 26,000 pounds (12,000 kg) or less when the operator plans transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver, or is transporting material that has been designated as hazardous under 49 U.S.C. 5103 and is required to be placarded under subpart F of 49 CFR Part 172 or is transporting any quantity of a material listed as a select agent or toxin in 42 CFR Part 73. [2]

Age requirements

The minimum age to apply for a CDL is 18 with exceptions in two states – New York requires a minimum age of 21 for a Class A license but allows the issue of a Class B or Class C license beginning at age 18. In Hawaii, the minimum age for a CDL is 21.

The minimum age for a CDL license distinguishes from the minimum age to drive a commercial vehicle in interstate commerce (to move goods across state lines). Currently, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires commercial vehicle drivers to be at least 21 years of age in order to cross state lines. Although most states allow a person to be issued a CDL before age 21, they may only drive a commercial vehicle within the state where the CDL was issued (this is sometimes referred to as intrastate commerce). Drivers must also be 21 years of age or older to transport hazardous materials when placards are required. Additional age requirements vary by state.

Regulation changes

Before 1992, driving commercial motor vehicles (CMVs), which are primarily tractor-trailers (or Longer Combination Vehicles (LCVs)), [3] required advanced skills and knowledge above and beyond those required to drive a car or other lightweight vehicle. Before the implementation of the commercial driver's license (CDL) in 1992, licensing requirements for driving larger vehicles and buses varied from state to state.

This lack of training resulted in a large number of preventable traffic deaths and accidents. [4]

In 1992, when the Act became law, all drivers have been required to have a CDL in order to drive a Commercial Motor Vehicle. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has developed testing standards for licensing drivers. U.S. states are able to issue CDLs only after a written and practical test have been given by the State or approved testing facility. A driver needs a CDL if the vehicle meets one of the following definitions of a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) listed above. [5]

A state may also require a driver to have a CDL to operate certain other vehicles legally. A driver licensed in New Jersey must have a CDL to drive legally a bus, limousine, or van that is used for hire, and designed to transport 8 to 15 passengers. [6] A driver licensed in New York must have a CDL to legally transport passengers in school buses and other vehicles listed in Article 19-A of the state's Vehicle and Traffic Law. [7] Drivers licensed in California must have a CDL if their primary employment is driving, whether or not they actually drive a commercial vehicle. California defines a commercial vehicle as one that transports for hire either people or products. [8] In addition, possession of a CDL in California changes the threshold for a Driving Under the Influence citation from 0.08% to 0.04% Blood Alcohol Content. [9]

Prospective licensees should verify CDL requirements by referencing their state specific CDL Manual. [10]

In most states, a driver's license (for cars) is required before a Commercial Driver's License can be issued.


The following endorsements listed are federal-level endorsements. States are free to enact endorsements at the state level. For example, in New York State, a W endorsement is required to operate a tow truck.

EndorsementLetterRequired Test(s)Class A?Class B?Class C?Notes
Doubles and triplesTKnowledge TestYesNoNoRequired to pull two or three trailers. Only 14 states allow triple trailers (three cargos) to be driven, including Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, and Utah. In all other states, only two trailers can be hauled thus triples are not permitted. [11] Furthermore, STAA doubles are permitted in all 50 states; Alaska allows triple 53' trailers, Kansas and Oklahoma allow turnpike doubles (double 53' trailers) other combinations are restricted in various states.
Passenger vehiclePKnowledge and Skills TestYesYesYesRequired to drive a bus or any vehicle that will transport 16 or more passengers. In most states, a CDL is not required if the driver will only transport family members for non-commercial purposes unless the vehicle weighs more than 26,000 pounds GVWR.
School busSKnowledge and Skills TestYesYesYesRequired to drive a school bus and/or to transport school students to or from school. A Passenger endorsement is required for this endorsement.
Tank vehicleNKnowledge TestYesYesYesRequired to drive a container that carries 1,000 pounds (450 kg) or more of liquid.
Hazardous materialsHKnowledge TestYesYesYesRequired to transport hazardous materials in commerce. This endorsement, by federal law, requires the driver to be at least 21 years of age, pass a medical background test, pass a TSA background test, and be fingerprinted for any prior criminal conviction.
Combination of tank vehicle and hazardous material.XKnowledge TestsYesYesYesA combination of H and N endorsements that replaces them.

Endorsements without codes

These are optional endorsements that do not carry an endorsement code, but may be required for certain CDL holders:

EndorsementRequired for:Restriction (if not taken):
Air brakesAny commercial motor vehicle with Air Brakes.The CDL Holder will be issued an L on their restrictions, indicating they are forbidden from operating any commercial motor vehicle equipped with Air Brakes.
Combination vehiclesAny combination vehicles. This endorsement is mandatory for all Class A applicants.Ineligible for the Class A CDL. Though, applicants may still apply for a Class B or Class C CDL without this endorsement.


M, X, E, K, L, V, N, O, and Z are federal restrictions. Any other restrictions have been promulgated at the state level.


Educational prerequisites vary by state. Some states, such as Ohio, for example require 160 hours of classroom and on the road training. Training may be obtained by completing a qualified CDL training program through a DMV-approved truck driving school. These training programs specialize in teaching potential truck drivers the necessary skills and knowledge to properly and safely operate a truck, including map reading, trip planning, and compliance with U.S. Department of Transportation laws, as well as backing, turning, hooking a trailer, and road driving. The overall purpose of these training schools is to help truckers-to-be pass the CDL knowledge and skills tests as well as advanced driving techniques such as skid avoidance and recovery and other emergency actions for situations such as a breakaway trailer and hydroplaning. These classes usually go well beyond the training the typical non-commercial driver receives, such as the driver's education provided in high school. There are a number of licensed CDL training schools around the United States and many trucking companies operate their own schools as well.


Although each state may add additional restrictions, there are national requirements which are as follows. [12] A prospective driver must pass a series of written exams for a learner permit, or to add endorsements. The General Knowledge Test, required for a commercial learner permit, consists of 50 questions, where 80 percent of questions must be answered correctly to pass.

The CDL Skills Test must be passed for the applicant to obtain their CDL license. It includes three different sections:

  1. The first is the Pre-Trip Inspection where the applicant must inspect their vehicle what they would inspect and why.

written test on highway safety and a test about different parts of a truck with a minimum of 30 questions on the test. To pass this knowledge test, student drivers must answer at least 80 percent of the questions correctly. To pass the driving skills test, the student driver must successfully perform a set of required driving maneuvers. The driving skill test must be taken in a vehicle that the driver operates or expects to operate.  For certain endorsements, such as air (pneumatic) brakes, the driving skills test must be taken in a vehicle equipped with such equipment. If the test is done in a vehicle equipped with an automatic transmission, a restriction of E will be placed on the license prohibiting the driver from operating a vehicle with a manual transmission. The student driver also needs to show they do in fact show the characteristics of an aware and fully operative driver. This does not exclude certain disabilities; however, standard requirements required by the safety operators must be met.

Employers, training facilities, states, governmental departments, and private institutions may be permitted to administer knowledge and driving test for the state. The test must be the same as those given by the state issuing the CDL, and the instructors must meet the same professional certification as state instructors.

States are required to conduct an inspection of any testing facility and evaluates the programs by taking an actual test as if they were testing driver at least once a year, or by taking a sample of drivers tested by the third party and then comparing pass/fail rates.

In addition, the state's agreement with the third party testing centers must allow the FMCSA and the State to conduct random examinations, inspections, and audits without notice.

Medical certification

In 2014, the law regarding drivers in pursuit of a CDL was modified and requires a DOT medical examiner to authorize a person with a medical issue to be able to drive. Prior to the change, a private doctor was able to authorize a driver to obtain a CDL. [13] Most CMV drivers must prove they are healthy enough to safely drive a truck. A valid medical certificate must be filled out by a medical professional listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners at the conclusion of an extensive physical exam, with a copy provided to the state Bureau (or Department) of Motor Vehicles compliance unit. Some examples of an impairment which disqualifies a driver include the inability to grasp a steering wheel or operate foot pedals, insulin use, certain cardiac and respiratory problems, markedly elevated blood pressure, epilepsy, some severe psychiatric disorders, certain color blindness, poor corrected vision in either eye (worse than 20/40), bilateral hearing loss, active alcoholism, and other conditions which significantly increase the risk of a medical emergency behind the wheel. See Physical qualifications for drivers page of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Not all medical providers are able to test and complete the medical certification form.


A CDL must contain the following information:
  • (a)(1) The prominent statement that the license is a “commercial driver’s license” or “CDL,” except as specified in §383.153(b);
  • (a)(2) The full name, signature, and mailing address of the person to whom such license is issued;
  • (a)(3) Physical and other information to identify and describe such person including date of birth (month, day, and year), sex, and height;
  • (a)(4) Color photograph of the driver;
  • (a)(5) The driver's State license number;
  • (a)(6) The name of the State which issued the license;
  • (a)(7) The date of issuance and the date of expiration of the license;
  • (a)(8) The group or groups of commercial motor vehicle(s) that the driver is authorized to operate, indicated as follows:
  • (a)(8)(i) A for Combination Vehicle;
  • (a)(8)(ii) B for Heavy Straight Vehicle; and
  • (a)(8)(iii) C for Small Vehicle.
  • (a)(9) The endorsement(s) for which the driver has qualified, if any, indicated as follows:
  • (a)(9)(i) T for double/triple trailers;
  • (a)(9)(ii) P for passenger;
  • (a)(9)(iii) N for tank vehicle;
  • (a)(9)(iv) H for hazardous materials (which includes most all fireworks);
  • (a)(9)(v) X for a combination of the tank vehicle and hazardous materials endorsements;
  • (a)(9)(vi) S for school bus; and
  • (a)(9)(vii) At the discretion of the State, additional codes for additional groupings of endorsements, as long as each such discretionary code is fully explained on the front or back of the CDL document.
  • (b) If the CDL is a nonresident CDL, it shall contain the prominent statement that the license is a “nonresident commercial driver’s license” or “nonresident CDL.” The word “nonresident” must be conspicuously and unmistakably displayed, but may be noncontiguous with the words “Commercial Driver’s License” or “CDL.”
  • (c) If the State has issued the applicant an air (pneumatic) brake restriction as specified in §383.95, that restriction must be indicated on the license. [14]

CDLIS Clearinghouse

The Commercial Driver's License Information System (CDLIS) and the National Driver Register (NDR) exchange information on traffic convictions and driver disqualifications of commercial drivers. States have to use both CDLIS and NDR to check a driver's record before a CDL can be issued. To gain permission to access to the CDLIS and NDR databases one should visit the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Technical Support Web site for instructions on how this information is accessed and who can access it. Trucking companies can use a commercial service that has clearance for providing this information as a means of screening prospective employees.


A conviction for driving while using an electronic device incurs a US$2750 fine for the driver and a US$11,000 fine for the employer.

An employer is also subject to a penalty of up to US$10,000 if they knowingly permit a driver to operate a CMV without a valid CDL.

States can reduce certain lifetime disqualifications to a minimum disqualification period of 10 years if the driver completes a driver rehabilitation program approved by the State. Not all states do this: it is available in Idaho [5] and New York State [7] but not California [8] or New Jersey. [6]

If a CDL holder is disqualified from operating a CMV they cannot be issued a "conditional" or "hardship" CDL, but can continue to drive non-commercial vehicles.

Any convictions are reported to the driver's home State and Federal Highway Administration and these convictions are treated the same as convictions for violations that are committed in the home State.

The Commercial Drivers License Program collects and stores all convictions a driver receives and transmits this data to the home State so that any disqualification or suspension can be applied.

The FHWA has established 0.04% as the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level at or above which a CMV driver is deemed to be driving under the influence of alcohol and subject to lose his/her CDL. Additionally, an operator of a CMV that is found to have 'any detectable amount of BAC above 0.0%' will be put out of service for a minimum of 24 hours.

A driver must report any driving conviction within 30 days, except parking, to their employer regardless of the nature of the violation.

Employers must be notified if a driver's license is suspended, revoked, or canceled. The notification must be made by the end of the next business day following receipt of the notice of the suspension, revocation, cancellation, lost privilege or disqualification.

Employers cannot under any circumstances use a driver who has more than one license or whose license is suspended, revoked or canceled, or is disqualified from driving. Violation of this requirement may result in civil or criminal penalties.

Occupational outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 2% employment growth rate in Heavy and Tractor-trailer Trucking from 2019 to 2029, slower than the average growth rate of 4% across all professions. [15] Scholarships are being awarded to military veterans at CDL-A schools and truck driving companies. [16] [17]

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom the PCV Licence (PCV stands for Passenger Carrying Vehicle) enables the holder to drive buses and/or minibuses, subject to what kind of Practical Driving Test the licence holder passes.


All places in Australia have a mostly similar driver licence system, although some things can change in each state or territory (e.g. what classes of license are available).

Australian license classes

GVM is the maximum recommended weight a vehicle can be when loaded. A 'Class C' Licence allows the holder to drive cars, utilities, vans, some light trucks, car-based motor tricycles, tractors and implements such as graders. You can also drive vehicles that seat up to 12 adults, including the driver.

Medical standards

The medical standards for drivers of commercial vehicles are set by the National Transport Commission and Austroads, and are set out in 'Assessing Fitness to Drive' (available from the Austroads website).

For those applying for heavy vehicle licence classes MR (Medium Rigid), HR (Heavy Rigid), HC (Heavy Combination) or MC (Multi Combination), it is strongly recommended that the applicant ensures they meet the medical requirements before commencing any training or tests for a heavy vehicle licence.

Paying passengers

The driver of a vehicle carrying paying passengers (such as a school bus or tourist coach) requires an appropriate driver licence and a 'Public Passenger Vehicle Driver Authority' which is issued by the Ministry of Transport.

New Zealand

In New Zealand, driver licensing is controlled by the NZ Transport Agency. There are six classes of motor-vehicle licence [18] and nine licence endorsements. Class 1 governs vehicles with a GLW (gross laden weight) or GCW (gross combined weight) of less than 6,000 kg, and Class 6 governs motorcycles. Classes 2–5 govern heavy vehicles.

A Class 2 licence allows the holder to drive:

Class 3 allows the holder to drive:

Class 4 allows the holder to drive:

Class 5 allows the holder to drive:

Before getting a Class 2 licence, a driver must be at least 18 years of age and have held an unrestricted Class 1 licence for at least six months. Gaining a Class 5 is not dependent on holding a Class 3. Once a driver has a Class 2 they can progress straight through to Class 4 and Class 5. Each progression (2 to 3, 2 to 4, or 4 to 5) requires having held an unrestricted licence of the preceding class for at least six months. For drivers aged 25 or over the minimum period for holding the unrestricted time is reduced to three months, or waived entirely on completion of an approved course of instruction.

Additional endorsements on an NZ driver's licence govern provision of special commercial services. The endorsements are:

The F, R, T and W endorsements are for operating special types of vehicle on the road. Where the holder also has a heavy vehicle (Class 2 or Class 4) licence, they are permitted to drive heavy special vehicles. Otherwise the limits for Class 1 (6,000 kilograms (13,000 lb)) apply.

Being granted an I, O, P and/or V endorsement requires that the applicant passes a "fit and proper person" check, to screen for people with criminal convictions or serious driving infringements. These endorsements are issued for one or five years, at the option of the applicant at the time of purchase.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, Transport Department is responsible for issuing driver licences. Private light bus (class 4), public light bus (class 5), taxi (class 6), private bus (class 9), public bus (class 10), franchised public bus (class 17), medium goods vehicle (class 18), heavy goods vehicle (class 19), articulated vehicle (class 20) and special purpose vehicle (class 21) are vehicles requiring commercial driving licences., [19] whereas private car (class 1), light goods vehicle (class 2), motorcycle (class 3), and motor tricycle (class 22) are considered non-commercial vehicles.

To apply for a commercial driving licence, a driver must: - be of age 21 or above; - have obtained a private car or light goods vehicle full driving licence for at least 3 years (2 years if converted from probationary licence) immediately before the application; - be a Hong Kong permanent resident or not subject to any condition of stay other than a limit of stay; - have not been convicted of some serious driving offences specified in law within 5 years before the application; and take a driving test of the class of vehicle the driver is going to apply.

In Hong Kong, driving licences are issued separately for each class of vehicle and printed on the licence, although passing a driving test of a heavier vehicle automatically gives the driver the right to apply for corresponding lighter vehicles:

See also

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A semi-tractor-trailer truck, also known as simply a semi-trailer truck, semi-tractor truck or tractor-trailer truck, is the combination of a tractor unit and one semi-trailer or more to carry freight. A semi-trailer attaches to the tractor with a type of hitch called a fifth-wheel.

Truck Commercial or utilitarian motor vehicle

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Large goods vehicle

A large goods vehicle (LGV), also called a heavy goods vehicle (HGV), is the European Union (EU) term for any truck with a gross combination mass (GCM) of over 3,500 kg (7,716 lb). Sub-category N2 is used for vehicles between 3,500 kg and 12,000 kg (26,455 lb) and N3 for all goods vehicles over 12,000 kg as defined in Directive 2001/116/EC. The term medium goods vehicle is used within parts of the UK government to refer to goods vehicles of between 3,500 and 7,500 kg which according to the EU are also "large goods vehicles".

Truck driver Person who earns a living as the driver of a truck

A truck driver is a person who earns a living as the driver of a truck.

Bus driver

A bus driver, bus operator, or bus captain is a person who drives buses for a living.

Professional Truck Driver Institute

The Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) is a non-profit organization that provides certification of training courses for drivers of commercial motor vehicles. It was formed in 1986 during the standardization of commercial driver's licensing by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in the United States. Its management was taken over by the TCA in 1996. PTDI is the first nonprofit organization to develop uniform skill performance, curriculum, and certification standards for the trucking industry and to award course certification to entry-level truck driver training courses and motor carrier driver-finishing programs.

Truck classifications are typically based upon the maximum loaded weight of the truck, typically using the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) and sometimes also the gross trailer weight rating (GTWR), and can vary among jurisdictions.

Drivers licenses in the United States

In the United States, driver's licenses are issued by each individual state, territory, and the District of Columbia rather than by the federal government due to federalism. Drivers are normally required to obtain a license from their state of residence and all states recognize each other's licenses for non-resident age requirements. There are also licenses for motorcycle use. Generally, a minimum age of 16 is required to obtain a drivers/M1 license. A state may also suspend an individual's driving privilege within its borders for traffic violations. Many states share a common system of license classes, with some exceptions, e.g. commercial license classes are standardized by federal regulation at 49 CFR 383. Many driving permits and ID cards display small digits next to each data field. This is required by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators’ design standard and has been adopted by many US states. According to the United States Department of Transportation, as of 2018, there are approximately 227 million licensed drivers in the United States.

Drivers licences in Canada

In Canada, driver's licences are issued by the government of the province or territory in which the driver is residing. Thus, specific regulations relating to driver's licences vary province to province, though overall they are quite similar. All provinces have provisions allowing non-residents to use licences issued by other provinces and territories, out-of-country licences, and International Driving Permits. Many provinces also allow non-residents to use regular licences issued by other nations and countries. Canadian driver's licences are also valid in many other countries due to various international agreements and treaties.

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Driving licence in Russia

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Driving licence in Sweden

Swedish driving licences adhere to a standard set in the European Economic Area. 18 years is the minimum age to obtain a licence for cars.

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Trucking industry in the United States

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In the Republic of Lebanon, a driving licence is the official document which authorises its holder to operate various types of motor vehicles on highways and some other roads to which the public have access and are issued by each individual district(Arabic: قضاء‎, Kadaa).

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