Knowing the Differences in Commercial Licensing

by Joshua on August 13, 2013

Driving for a living can be an exciting and fun career with a more than rewarding paycheck. Just as you are required to apply for and complete an application process to receive your personal license, the same is true when you make the decision to begin a career in commercial driving. Even if you have a standard license for your state, you will still need to receive your commercial license or CDL if you wish to operate specific vehicles for a living.

There are a few types of driving careers that will NOT require a CDL and can be preformed with the use of a standard valid license. These careers include those in delivery services such as pizza delivery or grocery services. Certain types of commercial vehicles do not require a Commercial driver’s license such as Ice Cream Trucks and portable lunch vehicles. Performing such jobs as paper delivery and smaller baked good or catering trucks will simply require a valid drivers license and of course insurance.

So a Commercial Drivers License is by definition the ability to operate specific types of vehicles for commercial use and it is important to understand the differences before you begin the license process. A CDL can be costly if acquiring on your own so save yourself the money and time and be sure you need a commercial license and if so, which one you will be required to obtain.

Larger vehicles for Commercial Use

Each state will determine its class names for commercial vehicles but the class used is based on the vehicles size and other key factors. If you have already secured employment in this field your employer can guide through which of the classes in your state you will need to do your job but in many cases you must have your license before applying to a position.

There are several questions you must answer in order to determine which CDL you may need to apply for including:

What the intended use of the license will be- Perhaps you have an idea of what you would like to do for a career in commercial driving or have already been hired. The uses of the license make a difference in the type. Ask yourself the following:

  • Will I be transporting passengers or materials? Many states have a different class of CDL for passenger vehicles such as public transportation buses and school buses. Others require you to apply for an endorsement as well as the basic CDL to carry passengers.
  • If transporting goods, what type of goods will I be moving? When hauling certain materials such as chemicals or other hazardous types an additional endorsement will be required.
  • What is the type of vehicle I will be using to work? This size and specific type of commercial vehicle is one of the main determiners of license type. Most vehicle sizes requiring a CDL will begin at a gross weight of 26,001 pounds combination and continue to advance in size though exceptions exist in some states. Other factors that will determine license type include:
  • How many wheels are on the vehicle?
  • How many trailers will I be hauling?
  • Will my trailer contain hazardous materials?
  • Where do I intend to drive? There are differences regarding a CDL license if you intend to operate short distances within the state or enjoy the open road with long distance and cross country runs. Intrastate driving involves operating your vehicle over more than one state and usually has an older age requirement of 21 while interstate involves local or within state operation. You must know the difference when applying for a CDL.

Testing process for each commercial vehicle

The testing process is similar among all commercial license classes and will involve tests at several stages in the process. This will include a written test to acquire a learner’s permit, a vision and written test at the time of licensing and a drivers test in the vehicle type for your license. Each endorsement added to your basic CDL will also involve written testing in addition to the regular exam.

  • A vision test is required at the time of application for a learners permit
    In addition, you may need to repeat the test when applying for your CDL license.
  • A Written knowledge test “”: is administered based on your specific CDL type when you apply for a permit and the full license. The test will consist of materials specific to your class and can be found in the CDL handbook as well as cheat sheets and practice tests offered through Information found on testing will involve aspects of your specific vehicle type you must know to safely drive, road signs and special traffic laws that pertain to a commercial driver.
  • Endorsement tests- these are additional written tests with materials regarding your endorsement. You can find many manuals and pamphlets with important aspects of your special situation you must know to pass.
  • Many private companies offer testing for the drivers test portion of licensing and some provide the vehicle. You must take the road test in your specific class of vehicle and this includes those testing for school buses. An examiner licensed to perform commercial road tests will evaluate your ability to operate your vehicle type correctly and obey traffic laws.
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