Prior to 1992, if you pursued truck driving as a career, you didn’t need to worry about CDL classes; in most states all you needed was a driver’s license and you could hit the road in any legal vehicle. But driving tractor-trailer rigs and other commercial motor vehicles requires special skills and abilities.
So Congress passed the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986, which was signed into law by President Reagan on October 27, 1986. States still retain the authority to grant driver’s licenses, but the Act set certain standards and requirements for the states to follow when testing and issuing commercial driver’s licenses.
There are three CDL classes, as well as different endorsements and restrictions. If you are pursuing truck driving as a career, you want a class A CDL. Class A allows you to operate any combination of vehicles (a truck and a trailer) with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more, providing the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
Class B pertains to vehicles with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more, as long as the vehicle being towed is less than 10,000 pounds—like tow truck or dump truck. Class C is required to drive a vehicle designed to transport 16 or more people (including the driver) or for carrying hazardous materials, but which doesn’t fit in the description of Class A or B.
The law requires you to pass a road skills exam in the appropriate vehicle for each of the CDL classes. You cannot obtain a Class A license by taking your skills test in a dump truck, for instance. You would need to pass the exam by driving a truck pulling a trailer.
In addition to the skills test, you will need to pass a knowledge test of at least 30 questions. Each state creates its own skills test and knowledge test, following the requirements and guidelines issued by the federal government.
Regardless of which of the CDL classes you take, you will need to pass additional endorsement tests to haul certain cargo—such as passengers, hazardous material, or tanks for carrying liquids. Of course, having these additional endorsements often equates to higher pay for you.
The knowledge test will very likely ask you about the different CDL classes, so you are already one step closer to truck driving as a career. If you want to be a paid tourist for a carrier like Millis Transfer, you need a class A CDL.