Who Needs a CDL? Understanding the Requirements

Much like how flying a single-engine plane is different than piloting a jumbo commercial jet, driving a sedan with groceries in the backseat is different than operating an 18-wheeler with thousands of pounds of freight on the trailer.

Driving a commercial vehicle requires a different skill set, and in recognition of that fact the federal government created the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986. In short, the law created much-needed standards in order to remove unqualified drivers from the roads and reduce avoidable catastrophic truck accidents.

But what is a “commercial vehicle?” How does the law define one?

There are variances by state as to which vehicles require drivers to earn their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), but the federal government spelled out pretty clearly a set of standards that define CDL-class vehicles. A driver is required to carry a CDL if the vehicle he or she is operating meets one of the following Commercial Motor Vehicle types:

  • A Class A truck is any combination of vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or greater, with the vehicle being towed weighing in excess of 10,000 pounds. GVWR is a number that indicates the weight a truck can safely carry, not its actual weight.
  • A Class B truck is any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or greater, or a combination of vehicles weighing in excess of 26,001 pounds but with a trailer weighing less than 10,000 pounds.
  • A Class C truck is any single vehicle or combination of vehicles that does not qualify as a Class A or Class B truck, but is designed to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver) or is transporting hazardous materials.

In addition to the distinctions listed above, some individual states have added to CDL requirements. For example, numerous states require CDL certification for drivers of shuttle vans and limousines that transport as few as eight people. And in California, any person whose primary employment is driving, regardless of vehicle type, is required to have a CDL.

Were you involved in an accident with a commercial vehicle? Should the driver of the other vehicle been required to carry a CDL? For help getting answers, contact truck accident attorney Michael J. Leizerman at 419-243-1010.

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