Commercial Driver Licensing

Truck Driver Licensing Covers the Basics

Commercial vehicles are typically large, heavy, and much more difficult to control than passenger vehicles. Some of this is due to the simple physics of operating a 2-ton passenger car as compared to a 40-ton, fully-loaded tractor-trailer — it takes much, much longer to get the bigger vehicle up to speed and correspondingly longer to bring it to a stop. But commercial vehicles are typically much more complicated to maneuver and control, as well. It has long been recognized that these differences result in a much greater need to certify that commercial vehicle drivers have been properly trained and prepared to be on our roadways. Commercial driver licensing, as implemented under federal and state requirements and certification, is the first step in validating the skills of new truck drivers and in monitoring the driving records of experienced drivers. If a truck accident occurs and results in injuries or even death, an experienced personal injury attorney will know to review the status of the commercial driver’s licensing and license record as one important element in determining liability on the part of the truck driver or trucking carrier if problems are found.

What Does Commercial Driver Licensing Cover?

The current commercial driver licensing process in the United States is based in the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act (CMVSA) from the 1980s. It covers all drivers of “commercial motor vehicles” as defined in the CMVSA as vehicles used to transport passengers or property where:

  • The vehicle weighs 10,001 or more in either gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or actual gross vehicle weight (GVW);
  • The vehicle is transporting more than eight passengers (including driver) for compensation;
  • The vehicle is transporting more than fifteen passengers (including driver), not for compensation; or
  • The vehicle is transporting hazardous material in quantity sufficient to require placards.

This applies to all drivers of commercial vehicles in the United States, and the CMVSA sets minimum licensing standards for the individual states that issue commercial driver’s licenses. Licenses come in three different classes, with some additional specific endorsements:

  • Class C Licenses cover the transportation of passengers and of hazardous materials in vehicles that do not fall under Class B or Class A descriptions.
  • Class B Licenses cover the operation of vehicles with GVWR of 26,000 pounds or more, as well as trailers with GVWR of 10,000 pounds or less, so long as those vehicles don’t fall under Class A specifications. Class B licenses also allow operation of Class C vehicles.
  • Class A Licenses cover the driving of vehicle or vehicle combination with GVWR of 26,000 pounds or more and including trailers with GVWR of more than 10,000 pounds. Drivers with a Class A license can also operate Class B and Class C vehicles.

Endorsements are additions to the basic licensing allowances, and include:

  • Passenger carrier endorsement.
  • Double or triple trailer endorsement.
  • Tank vehicle endorsement.
  • School bus.
  • Hazardous materials.

What Are the Licensing Requirements?

The CMVSA establishes minimum licensing requirements for the issuance of commercial driver’s licenses, and individual states may choose to add additional requirements for the drivers they license. The federal requirements include a written exam testing the applicant’s knowledge, as well as a practical skills test. These tests cover categories including:

  • Knowledge of safe vehicle regulations.
  • Safety control systems.
  • Basic driving and control.
  • Shifting and backing.
  • Visual search, including use of mirrors.
  • Controlling speed and vehicle spacing.
  • Driving at night, in poor weather, and in the mountains.
  • Perceiving hazards and reacting with emergency maneuvers.
  • Using air brakes.
  • Operating combination vehicles.

There are additional tests covering the endorsements. Beyond the written test and skills tests, the CMVSA has a number of additional requirements for holders of commercial licenses, including penalties or periods of disqualification for various violations and requirements that the CDL holder provide prior employment information to new employers.

The Commercial Driver’s License and Personal Injury Claims

Truck drivers and other commercial drivers and the commercial carriers who employ them have legal obligations to only put properly licensed drivers behind the wheel of large and challenging to operate commercial vehicles. While laws like the CMVSA at the federal level and other laws at the state level that implement commercial licensing are a starting place, they are dependent upon the active cooperation of drivers and carriers to keep licensing information up to date to ensure a minimum level of driver competence. When a commercial vehicle accident results in injuries, one of the first places that a personal injury attorney will investigate is the status of the truck driver’s commercial license and any relevant endorsements, whether the driver and employer properly communicated any problems with the licensing to each other, and whether they properly notified licensing regulators of these problems. This may be key for establishing and strengthening liability for personal injury claims and litigation.

View this video from the California DMV on commercial driver licensing:

California Truck Accident Lawyers

Hello, I’m Ed Smith, a Truck Accident Lawyer in California. Experienced personal injury attorneys know the importance of proper truck driver training and skills validation, and that the commercial driver’s license is an important element in this.  If you or a loved one has sustained a serious injury due to negligence of a commercial truck driver, please contact us today at (916) 921-6400 or toll-free at (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly advice. You can also reach us through our online contact form.

We are proud to be members of the National Association of Distinguished Counsel and the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.

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