Commercial Truck Licenses and Certifications

Commercial Truck Licenses and Certifications
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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation that sets the standards for commercial truck licenses and certifications in the United States. A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is required to drive commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) such as tractor-trailers, dump trucks and passenger buses.

Prior to 1986, all you needed was an automobile driver license to operate a CMV. As a result, many drivers throughout the country were driving CMVs without proper training.

On October 27, 1986, the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act was signed into law. This law made it mandatory for all drivers of commercial vehicles to have a CDL.

Consequently, truck driving on the roadways across the country became much, much safer.

State driver licensing agencies administer the minimum national CDL testing standards and licensing requirements established by FMCSA. A commercial truck driver is required to get and hold a CDL to drive CMVs.

States develop their own tests which must meet the minimum federal standards, but which also may have standards unique to the state.


To get a CDL, first you are required to obtain a commercial learner’s permit. States can only issue learner’s permits and CDLs to drivers after they undergo knowledge testing and skills tests. You must pass the CDL knowledge and skills tests for the class of license and type of endorsement required to operate the type of commercial vehicle you plan to drive. You must also take the skills test in a vehicle of the same type as the vehicle you plan to operate.

There are three classes of CDLs that determine the kinds of CMVs you’re permitted to drive: Class A, Class B, and Class C.

See below for a discussion of each:

Class A CDL Licenses

The law requires commercial drivers to have a Class A CDL to operate any combination of vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more if the towed vehicle weighs over 10,000 pounds.

Class A CDL licenses are typically required to operate many vehicles, including tractor trailers (also called big rigs, semi-trucks or 18 wheelers), flatbeds and livestock carriers.

Additionally, the Class A CDL license permits the holder to drive CMVs requiring Class B and Class C licenses.

Class B CDL Licenses

The law requires commercial drivers to have a Class B CDL to operate any vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more or a vehicle towing a trailer weighing less than 10,000 pounds.

A holder of a Class B CDL license may drive large passenger buses, such as tourist, and city buses. In addition, he or she may also drive straight trucks, tractor-trailers and dump trucks.

Similar to the Class A CDL, a Class B CDL holder may drive some CMVs requiring Class C licenses.

Class C CDL Licenses

The law requires commercial drivers to have a Class C commercial driver’s license to operate any vehicle designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver. A Class C license is also required for transporting federally classified hazmat (hazardous materials).

A holder of a Class C CDL may driver passenger vans and small hazmat trucks. The Class C CDL holder may also drive all commercial vehicles not requiring Class A or Class B licenses.


State governments issue CDL endorsements to allow commercial truck drivers to drive specific CMVs. These endorsements require additional testing after receiving Class A, B, or C CDLs, driving vehicles with a gross weight of 26,001 pounds or more.

Different states have different endorsements. However, every state has the following endorsements:

H Endorsement

The CDL H endorsement allows the truck driver to drive trucks loaded with hazardous materials. Getting an H endorsement to transport hazardous materials requires the truck driver to pass a written knowledge test.

N Endorsement

The CDL N Endorsement permits the truck driver to drive a tanker vehicle hauling gases and liquids.

P Endorsement

This endorsement allows the CDL holder to drive a bus or vehicle designed to carry 16 or more passengers, including the driver. Potential P endorsement holders include those that pass a road test and a written test. School bus driver candidates must pass a federal background check and get an S Endorsement while maintaining a P Endorsement.

S Endorsement

School bus drivers candidates must get this endorsement, undergo a comprehensive background check and pass a road skills test and written knowledge test.

T Endorsement

A CDL holder with this endorsement can drive a vehicle hauling double and triple trailers. However, getting the T Endorsement requires completing a written knowledge test.

X Endorsement

CDL holders with X Endorsements can operate tanker trucks hauling hazardous materials (hazmat). Passing a written knowledge test is necessary to get an X endorsement.

Consult the DMV website for your state to see additional endorsements and the availability of CDL classes.


Yes, they do. They must take a pre-employment dug test.

Additionally, they are randomly tested once per year.

Potential employers may also request a drug test.


If an 18-wheeler accident injures you, a close friend or a loved one in Indiana, you need an experienced Indiana 18-wheeler accident attorney. An accident involving an 18-wheeler, or any large commercial truck, is probably more complicated that an accident involving passenger cars. We will investigate the accident, determine who caused the accident and fight to get you the compensation you deserve.

Contact us at our Hammond office at (219) 200-2000 or online at for a free consultation.

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