Driving commercial vehicles requires specialized skills and knowledge. Prior to 1986, there was no nationwide standard for obtaining or possessing a commercial drivers license (CDL). The Commercial Motor Vehicle safety Act of 1986 was signed into law on October 27, 1986 and was designed to help improve the highway safety by removing unsafe and unqualified drivers. Prior to enactment, many states had required no additional training for commercial vehicle operators. Drivers were able to obtain CDLs in multiple jurisdictions in attempts to hide traffic violations in order to remain behind the wheel. The Act addressed these problems directly by establishing minimum standards for the issuance of CDLs.
CLASSES OF COMMERICAL DRIVERS LICENSE
The act does not require drivers to obtain a separate federal CDL, but instead defines the minimum standards for each state’s CDL program. These standards allow states to issue CDLs only after the driver passes knowledge and skills test related to the type of vehicle the driver expects to operate. There are 3 classes of CDL depending upon the type of CMV.
Class A — Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined vehicle weight of 26,001 or more pounds provided the gross vehicle weight rating of the vehicle(s) being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
Class B — Any single vehicle with a vehicle weight rating of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle not in excess of 10,000 pounds vehicle weight rating.
Class C — Any single vehicle, or combination of vehicles, that does not meet the definition of Class A or Class B, but is either designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver, or is transporting hazardous material that is required to be placarded
A driver may qualify to operate specialized commercial motor vehicles (CMV) by obtaining endorsements on their CDL if they pass additional skills or knowledge test.
- 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 endorsements
- S – School Bus (Knowledge and Skills Tests)
States may have additional codes for additional grouping of endorsements, as long as such codes are fully explained on the license.
Similarly, states may further restrict a driver’s CDL by placing restrictions on the license.
“L” On a full air brake vehicle, if a driver fails either the air brake component of the general knowledge test, or performs the skills test in a vehicle not equipped with air brakes, then the driver will have an “L” air brake restriction placed on their license.
“Z” If the driver takes the test in a vehicle with an air over hydraulic brake system, then they will have a “Z” no full air brake restriction placed on their license. In either case the driver is not authorized to operate a CMV equipped with air brakes.
“E” If the driver takes the Skills Test in a vehicle that has an automatic transmission, then an “E” no manual transmission restriction is placed on their license.
“O” If the driver takes the Skills Test in a Class A vehicle that has a pintle hook or other non-fifth wheel connection, they will have an “O” restriction placed on their license restricting them from driving any Class A vehicle with a fifth wheel connection.
“M” If a driver possesses a Class A CDL, but obtains his or her passenger or school bus endorsement in a Class B vehicle the State must place an “M” restriction indicating that the driver can only operate Class B and C passenger vehicle or school buses.
“N” If a driver possesses a Class B CDL, but obtains his or her passenger or school bus endorsement in a Class C vehicle; the State must place an “N” restriction indicating that the driver can only operate Class C passenger vehicle or school buses.
OBTAINING A COMMERICAL DRIVERS LICENSE
When an individual applies for a CDL, the issuing state must check its own database, the Commercial Driver’s License Information System and the National Driver Register to ensure that the individual has not been disqualified from possessing a CDL and does not currently possess a license from more than one jurisdiction. If a driver possesses a license from another jurisdiction, they will be required to surrender that license before obtaining a new license. States are required to request additional documentation pertaining to the driver’s history including a driving record for the past 10 years and any necessary documentation for medical variances. Drivers applying for a hazardous materials endorsement will be required to provide proof of citizenship and/or immigration status.
States are required to administer, or use an authorized third party skills testing service to administer, a knowledge and skills test, which meets the minimum federal standard defined by the Act. States are authorized to waive the skills test for military service members who meet certain criteria.
If at any time, a State determines that the individual seeking a CDL has falsified information or documentation, the State will at a minimum suspend, cancel or revokes the individual’s CDL and disqualify them from operating a CMV for a minimum of 60 days.
Individuals operating CMV for military purposes are exempt from CDL requirements. There are also very limited circumstances in which the State can grant an individual an exemption to the CDL requirements provided certain requirements are satisfied.
POSSESSING A COMMERICAL DRIVERS LICENSE
As a condition of participation in the national CDL program, States are required to enact additional requirements on CDL holders and to impose minimum penalties for violations. Violations of these regulations can result in suspension, cancelation, revocation or disqualification.
A CDL holder is required to notify his/her employ within 30 days of conviction for any traffic violation (excluding parking). If a CDL is suspended, canceled, revoked or disqualified, the holder must notify his/her employer by the end of the next business day.
Using a CMV or non CMV in the commission of a felony involving manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing a controlled substance will result in a disqualification for life, without the possibility of reinstatement.
Most States have established a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of .08% as the level at or above which a person operating a non-commercial motor vehicle is deemed to be driving under the influence of alcohol. However, the FMCSA has established 0.04% as the (BAC) level at or above which a CDL commercial motor vehicle operator is deemed to be driving under the influence of alcohol and subject to the disqualification sanctions in the Federal regulations.