The acronym CDL stands for commercial driver’s license and is typically associated with operating large commercial trucks. There are a few different types of these licenses available, with several types of specific endorsements that can be obtained once a driver has obtained their CDL. A commercial driver's license is not the same as a regular drivers license.
Prior to 1986, the requirements for obtaining a commercial drivers license varied from state to state. As some states were more relaxed than others, there was a lot of discrepancy in training and qualification. That year, a law was passed at the federal level that standardized CDL requirements. If you are looking to drive much of anything for a living, there is a good chance you will need a CDL to do it.
There are three classes of CDL available. One would need a Class A CDL in order the drive tractor-trailers, the big eighteen-wheel trucks often associated with commercial driving. By definition, a Class A CDL is needed to drive any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight of 26,001 pounds, including trailers with a weight over 10,000 pounds.
A Class B CDL is more typical for lighter motor vehicles with commercial applications, like a city bus or a garbage truck. Class B licensing restricts the holder to only driving a single vehicle with a weight up to 26,001 pounds, including any trailers weighing less than 10,000 pounds.
Lastly, there is the Class C commercial driver’s license, which is required for even lighter commercial motor vehicle applications. Specifically, it is required for any vehicle designed to transport sixteen or more people (including the driver) or for smaller vehicles transporting hazardous materials.
There are also endorsements that a driver can get that denote specific training in relation to the operation of commercial motor vehicles. Some, like an endorsement N, denote a driver's knowledge of driving a tank truck, and require the CDL holder to pass an additional written test. Other endorsement, such as the endowment H, means the CDL holder has passed a written test and a background check. Different endorsements require different training, but all require that the driver has already acquired a commercial driver license.
On top of the federal restrictions and requirements, individual states may require a CDL for other commercial driving positions, such as driving a limousine or a school bus. Anyone interested in pursuing driving as a professional career should research their state’s specific laws and regulations to ensure they acquire the correct CDL. Because of the skills test, getting a CDL is typically done through courses offered by either the state or potential employers.