Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About A CDL

Courtesy of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

BEFORE THE COMMERCIAL DRIVER’S LICENSE PROGRAM

It is widely recognized that driving certain commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) requires special skills and knowledge. Prior to implementation of the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Program, in a number of States and the District of Columbia, any person licensed to drive an automobile could also legally drive a tractor-trailer or a bus. Even in many of the states that did have a classified licensing system, a person was not skills tested in a representative vehicle. As a result, many drivers were operating motor vehicles that they may not have been qualified to drive. In addition, many drivers were able to obtain driver’s licenses from more than one State and hide or spread convictions among several driving records and continue to drive.

COMMERCIAL MOTOR VEHICLE SAFETY ACT OF 1986

The Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 was signed into law on October 27, 1986. The goal of the Act is to improve highway safety by ensuring that drivers of large trucks and buses are qualified to operate those vehicles and to remove unsafe and unqualified drivers from the highways. The Act retained the State’s right to issue a driver’s license, but established minimum national standards which States must meet when issuing CDLs.

The Act addresses circumstances that existed prior to 1986 by:

  • making it illegal for CDL holders to possess more than one license;
  • requiring States to adopt knowledge and skills testing to ensure that individuals required to have a CDL are qualified to operate heavy trucks and buses
  • establishing minimum licensing standards and information requirements for the CDLs that States issue.

It is important to note that the Act does not require drivers to obtain a separate Federal license; it merely requires States to upgrade their existing testing and licensing programs, if necessary, to conform to the Federal minimum standards.

 

The CDL program places requirements on the CMV driver, the employing motor carrier, and the States.

THE DRIVER

Drivers have been required to have a CDL in order to drive certain CMVs since April 1, 1992.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has developed and issued standards for the testing and licensing of CDL holders. These standards require States to issue CDLs to certain CMV drivers only after the driver passes knowledge and skills tests, administered by the State and related to the type of vehicle the driver expects to operate. Drivers are required to obtain and hold a CDL if they operate in interstate, intrastate, or foreign commerce if they drive a vehicle that meets any of the classifications of a CMV described below.

Classes of License:

The Federal standard requires States to issue a CDL to drivers according to the following license classifications:

Class A — Any combination of vehicles with a GCWR of 26,001 or more pounds provided the GVWR of the vehicle(s) being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.

Class B — Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle not in excess of 10,000 pounds GVWR.

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 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.

Endorsements and Restrictions:

Endorsements:

Drivers who operate special types of CMVs must pass additional tests to obtain any of the following endorsements placed on their CDL:

  • 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.

Restrictions:

“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.

THE STATES

Certifications and Record checks:

When an individual applies for a CDL, or attempts to renew or update his or her CDL, the State must perform a check of its own database, the Commercial Driver’s License Information System (CDLIS), and the National Driver Register (NDR), to ensure the driver is not disqualified and does not possess a license from more than one jurisdiction. If the driver possesses a license from another jurisdiction, the State must require the driver applicant to surrender his/her driver’s license issued by that State before issuing a new license.

The State must request the complete driving record of the applicant from all jurisdictions where the driver was previously licensed in the past 10 years.

Beginning January 30, 2012, for each operator of a commercial motor vehicle required to have a commercial driver’s license, the current licensing States must:

  • Require drivers to certify the type of operation the driver expects to conduct and post the driver’s self-certification to the driver history record;
  • Retain the original or a copy of the medical certificate of any driver required to provide documentation of physical qualification for three years beyond the date the certificate was issued; and
  • Post the information from the medical examiner’s certificate within 10 business days to the CDLIS driver record.
  • Within 10 calendar days of receiving information from FMCSA regarding issuance or renewal of a medical variance for a driver, the State must
    • update the CDLIS driver record to include the medical variance information provided by FMCSA.
  • Within 10 calendar days of the driver’s medical certification status expiring or a medical variance expiring or being recinded, the State must:
    • Update the medical certification status of that driver as “not-certified.”
    • Notify the CDL holder of his or her CDL “not-certified” medical certification status and that the CDL privilage will be removed from the driver license unless the driver submits a current medical certificate and/or medical variance, or changes his or her self-certification to driving only in excepted or intrastate commerce (if permitted by the State).
    • Initiate established State procedures for downgrading the license. The CDL downgrade must be completed and recorded within 60 days of the driver’s medical certification status becoming “not-certified” to operate a CMV.

For persons applying for a hazardous materials endorsement, require compliance with the standards for such endorsement specificed in Transportation Security Administration requirements, and provide proof of citizenship or immigration status. A lawful permanent resident of the United States requesting a hazardous materials endorsement must additionally provide his or her Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) Alien registration number.

 

If a State determines, in its check of an applicant’s license status and record prior to issuing a CDL, or at any time after the CDL is issued, that the applicant has falsified information or any of the required certifications, the State shall at a minimum suspend, cancel, or revoke the person’s CDL or his/her pending application, or disqualify the person from operating a commercial motor vehicle for a period of at least 60 consecutive days.

Knowledge & Skills Tests:

States develop their own tests which must meet the minimum Federal standards provided for in Subpart G and H of 49 CFR Part 383. Model driver and examiner manuals and tests have been prepared and distributed to the States to use, if they wish.

  • Each basic knowledge test, i.e., the test covering the areas referred to in 49 CFR 383.111 for the applicable vehicle group, shall contain at least 30 items, exclusive of the number of items testing air brake knowledge.
  • To pass the knowledge tests (general and endorsement), applicants must correctly answer at least 80 percent of the questions.
  • To pass the skills test, applicants must successfully perform all the required skills (listed in 49 CFR 383.113 through 49 CFR 383.123). The skills test must be taken in a vehicle representative of the type of vehicle that the applicant operates or expects to operate. Depending on the type of passenger vehicle used in the skills test, the following restrictions must be added to the license: except Class A bus or except Class A and Class B bus.
  • Require the driver applicant to surrender his/her driver’s license issued by another State, if he/she has moved from another State.

 

Third Party Skills Testing:

A State may authorize a person (including another State, an employer, a private driver training facility or other private institution, or a department, agency or instrumentality of a local government) to administer the skills tests, if the following conditions are met:

  • Tests must be the same as those given by the State.
  • The third party has an agreement with the State containing, at a minimum, provisions that:
    • Allow the FMCSA, or its representative, and the State to conduct random examinations, inspections, and audits without prior notice.
    • Require the State to conduct on-site inspection at least yearly.
    • Require that all third party examiners meet the same qualification and training standards as State examiners.
  • At least annually, State employees must evaluate the programs by taking third party tests as if they were test applicants, or by testing a sample of drivers tested by the third party and then comparing pass/fail rates.
  • Reserve unto the State the right to take prompt and appropriate remedial action against the third-party testers in the event that the third-party fails to comply with State or Federal standards for the CDL testing program, or with any other terms of the third-party contract.

 

Exemption of Skills Testing Requirements:

As of May 2011, States, at their option, are authorized to waive the Skills Test portion of the application for a Commercial Driver’s License to military service members who meet the qualification and experience criteria set forth in the new regulation. More information can be found under the “Military Skills Test waiver form. Click here to go to the page with more information

Commercial Driver’s License Document:

While FMCSA sets the minimum standards that States must meet regarding CDLs administration of the CDL program and issuance of the license itself remains the exclusive function of the States. States may determine the application process, license fee, license renewal cycle, renewal procedures, and reinstatement requirements after a disqualification provided that the Federal standards and criteria are met. States may exceed the Federal requirements for certain criteria, such as medical, fitness, and other driver qualifications.

Per Federal regulations, all CDLs must contain the following information:

  • The words “Commercial Driver’s License” or “CDL;”
  • The driver’s full name, signature, and mailing address;
  • The driver’s date of birth, sex, and height;
  • Color photograph;
  • The driver’sState license number;
  • The name of the issuing State;
  • The date of issuance and the date of the expiration of the license;
  • The class(es) of vehicle that the driver is authorized to drive;
  • Notation of the “air brake” restriction, if issued;
  • The endorsement(s) for which the driver has qualified;

Note: The Social Security Number must be provided on the application, but does not need to be printed on the CDL.

 

States may issue learner’s permits for purposes of behind-the-wheel training on public highways as long as the learner’s permit holder is required to be accompanied by someone with a valid CDL appropriate for the class and type of vehicle being operated. Further, the learner’s permits can only be issued for limited time periods. The permit holder cannot operate a commercial motor vehicle transporting hazardous materials as defined in §383.5. The permit holder must have a valid operators (non-CDL) driver’s license, or have passed such vision, sign/symbol, and knowledge tests as the State issuing the learner’s permit ordinarily administers to applicants for operator (non-CDL) drivers’ licenses.

Nonresident Commercial Driver’s License:

In certain circumstances, States are permitted to issue a CDL to an individual who is not domiciled within its jurisdiction. If doing so, the word “Nonresident” must be prominently displayed on the CDL, but does not have to be contiguous with “Commercial Driver’s License” or “CDL”. A Social Security Number is not required on the license.

Nonresident CDL means a CDL issued by a State under either of the following two conditions:

  • To an individual domiciled in a foreign country, other than Mexico and Canada, if the person obtained the license from a State which complies with the testing and licensing standards required for CDL drivers.
  • To an individual domiciled in another State while that State is prohibited from issuing CDLs, if the person obtained the license from any State which elected to issue nonresident CDLs and which complies with the testing and licensing standards required for CDL drivers.

 

Exemptions:

Each State must exempt from the requirements of 49 CFR 383 individuals who operate CMVs for military purposes. This exception is applicable to active duty military personnel; members of the military reserves; member of the national guard on active duty, including personnel on full-time national guard duty, personnel on part-time national guard training, and national guard military technicians (civilians who are required to wear military uniforms); and active duty U.S. Coast Guard personnel. This exception is not applicable to U.S. Reserve technicians.

A State may, at its discretion, exempt firefighters, emergency response vehicle drivers, farmers and drivers removing snow and ice in small communities from the CDL requirements, subject to certain conditions. The use of this waiver is limited to the driver’s home State unless there is a reciprocity agreement with adjoining States.

In addition, a State may issue a restricted license and waive the CDL knowledge and skills testing requirements for seasonal drivers in farm-related service industries and may waive certain knowledge and skills testing requirements for drivers in remote areas of Alaska. A State can also waive the CDL hazardous materials endorsement test requirements for part-time drivers working for the pyrotechnics industry, subject to certain conditions.

OTHER REQUIREMENTS

To participate in the national CDL program, States must also meet other requirements related to commercial driver’s license holders and motor carriers.

Penalties:

A driver who is convicted of violating an out-of-service order shall be subject to a civil penalty of not less than $2,500 for a first conviction and not less than $5,000 for a second or subsequent conviction, in addition to disqualification under §383.51(e).

An employer who is convicted of a violation of an out-of-service order shall be subject to a civil penalty of not less than $2,750 nor more than $25,000.

An employer who is convicted of a violation of a Federal, State, or local law or regulation, pertaining to railroad-highway grade crossings must be subject to a civil penalty of not more than $10,000.

Commercial Driver’s License Information System:

States must be connected to the Commercial Driver’s License Information System (CDLIS) and the National Driver Register (NDR) in order to exchange information about CDL drivers, traffic convictions, and disqualifications. A State must use both the CDLIS and NDR to check a driver’s record, and the CDLIS to make certain that the applicant does not already have a CDL. The State shall notify the operator of the CDLIS of the issuance, transfer, renewal, or upgrade of a license within the 10-day period beginning on the date of license issuance. Members of the enforcement community seeking access to CDLIS data should visit the FMCSA Technical Support Web site. Carriers needing CDLIS data should seek a commercial company that provides a clearinghouse service for this information, or contact the driver’s State of licensure.

BAC Standards:

The FMCSA has established 0.04% as the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level at or above which a CDL commercial motor vehicle operator who is required to have a CDL is deemed to be driving under the influence of alcohol and subject to the disqualification sanctions in the Federal regulations. Most States have established a 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 alochol.

Employer Notifications:

Within 30 days of a conviction for any traffic violation, except parking, a driver must notify his/her employer, regardless of the nature of the violation or the type of vehicle which was driven at the time.

If a driver’s license is suspended, revoked, canceled, or if he/she is disqualified from driving, his/her employer must be notified. 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 may not knowingly 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.

Notification of previous employment:

All employers shall request and all person’s applying for employment as a commercial motor vehicle operator shall provide, employment history information for the 10 years preceding the date the application is submitted. The request shall be made at the time of application for employment.

Major Violations while operating a motor vehicle

  1. Being under the influence of alcohol as prescribed by State law.
  2. Being under the influence of a controlled substance.
  3. Having an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater while operating a CMV
  4. Refusing to take an alcohol test as required by a State or jurisdiction under its implied consent laws or regulations.
  5. Leaving the scene of an accident.
  6. Using the vehicle to commit a felony other than a felony described in number 9 of this table.
  7. Driving a CMV when, as a result of prior violations committed operating a CMV, the driver’s CDL is revoked, suspended, or canceled, or the driver is disqualified from operating a CMV.
  8. Causing a fatality through the negligent operation of a CMV, including but not limited to the crimes of motor vehicle manslaughter, homicide by motor vehicle and negligent homicide.
  9. Using the vehicle in the commission of a felony involving manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing a controlled substance.

Serious Violations while operating a motor vehicle

  1. Speeding excessively, involving any speed of 24.1 kmph (15 mph) or more above the posted speed limit.
  2. Driving recklessly, as defined by State or local law or regulation, including but, not limited to, offenses of driving a motor vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.
  3. Making improper or erratic traffic lane changes.
  4. Following the vehicle ahead too closely.
  5. Violating State or local law relating to motor vehicle traffic control (other than a parking violation) arising in connection with a fatal accident.
  6. Driving a CMV without obtaining a CDL.
  7. Driving a CMV without a CDL in the driver’s possession.
  8. Driving a CMV without the proper class of CDL and/or endorsements for the specific vehicle group being operated or for the passengers or type of cargo being transported.

Railroad Highway Grade Crossing Violations while operating a CMV

  1. The driver is not required to always stop, but fails to slow down and check that tracks are clear of an approaching train.
  2. The driver is not required to always stop, but fails to stop before reaching the crossing, if the tracks are not clear.
  3. The driver is always required to stop, but fails to stop before driving onto the crossing.
  4. The driver fails to have sufficient space to drive completely through the crossing without stopping.
  5. The driver fails to obey a traffic control device or the directions of an enforcement official at the crossing.
  6. The driver fails to negotiate a crossing because of insufficient undercarriage clearance.

Violation of Out-of-Service Order while operating a CMV

Violating a driver or vehicle out-of-service order transporting hazardous or non-hazardous materials or while operating a vehicle designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver.

Disqualifications:

Disqualifications apply to CDL holders and persons required to have a CDL:

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.

Disqualification for major offenses. The first violation for a Major violation, in a CMV or a non-CMV, results in a 1-year disqualification or a 3-year disqualification if transporting hazardous materials required to be placarded. The second violation for a Major, in a CMV or a non-CMV, results in a lifetime disqualification. The driver may be eligible for reinstatement under certain conditions after 10 years.

Disqualification for serious traffic violations. The first violation for a serious violation does not result in a disqualification. A second serious violation within 3 years, results in a 60 day disqualification, and a third serious violation within 3 years, results in a 120 day disqualification. Serious disqualifications must be served consecutively. All serious violations in a CMV are included. Serious violations in a non-CMV must not be included, unless it results in the revocation, cancellation, or suspension of the CDL holder’s license or non-CMV driving privileges.

Disqualification for railroad-highway grade crossing (RRHGC) offenses, while operating a CMV. The first violation of a RRHGC results in a disqualification of not less than 60 days. The second violation, within 3 years, results in a disqualification of not less than 120 days. The third and subsequent violations, within 3 years, results in a disqualification of not less than 1 year.

Disqualification for violating out-of-service orders (OOSO), while operating a CMV. Category 1 describes a driver who was transporting placarded hazardous materials or operating a vehicle designed to transport 16 or more passengers. Category 2 describes drivers not in Category 1.

Category 1: The first violation results in a disqualification of no less than 180 days or more than 2 years. The second and subsequent violations within 10 years, results in a disqualification of no less than 3 years or more than 5 years.

Category 2: The first violation results in a disqualification of no less than 180 days or more than 1 year. The second violation within 10 years, results in a disqualification of no less than 2 years or more than 5 years. The third and subsequent violations result in disqualifications of no less than 3 years or more than 5 years.

If a CDL holder is disqualified from operating a CMV, the State may issue him/her a license to operate a non-CMV. Drivers who are disqualified from operating a CMV can not be issued a “conditional” or “hardship” CDL or any other type of limited driving privileges to continue driving a CMV.

For disqualification purposes, convictions for out-of-state violations will be treated the same as convictions for violations that are committed in the home State. Convictions and disqualifications for 60 days or longer a driver receives outside his or her home State are transmitted to the State of Record (SOR) so that the convictions and disqualifications can be applied to the driver’s history record (DHR).

Implied consent to alcohol testing.

Any person who holds a CDL is considered to have consented to such testing as is required by any State or jurisdiction in the enforcement of being under the influence of a controlled substance or using alcohol, be under the influence of alcohol, or have any measured alcohol concentration or detected presence of alcohol, while on duty, or operating, or in physical control of a commercial motor vehicle. Consent is implied by driving a commercial motor vehicle.

CDL From a Decertified STATE

A CDL issued by a State prior to the date the State is notified by the Administrator that the State is prohibited from issuing CDLs, will remain valid until its stated expiration date.

 

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