Posted July 12, 2023

A Guide to CDL Licenses & Endorsements

By Gigi Tino

A Commercial Driver's License (CDL) is a specialized license required to operate certain types of commercial vehicles. Every professional truck driver needs to obtain a CDL license before diving into the career. However, just because you’ve achieved your CDL doesn’t mean you have to stop there. CDL drivers that earn further endorsements can earn more even money with their specialized hauls. CDL licenses are categorized into different classes, and there are various endorsements that can be added to a CDL to permit the operation of specific types of vehicles or the transportation of certain types of cargo.

There are three classes of CDLs recognized by federal standards. A Class A CDL license authorizes the driver to operate any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight of 26,001 lbs or more. The vehicles often in this category are tanker vehicles, tractor and trailer combinations, flatbeds, and most Class C and B vehicles. The Class B license authorizes the driver to operate any single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight of 26,001 lbs or more, as well as an attached trailer weighing up to 10,000 lbs. Class B vehicles can include straight trucks, box trucks, cement trucks, garbage trucks, large and/or segmented buses, and some Class C vehicles. Class B licenses are only authorized for the state they were issued in, unlike Class A, which is recognized nationally. However, an important caveat to a Class A license is that you must be 21 years of age or older to drive across state lines due to differing state regulations; drivers between 18 and 20 years of age with the license are limited to in-state. The third class is Class C, which authorizes operation of any vehicle that does not fall under Class A or B requirements, but is designed for transporting over 16 passengers or hazardous materials such as passenger vans or small tanker trucks. Class A and Class B CDLs are the most common for drivers in the supply chain side of transportation.

A CDL endorsement is further specialization that drivers can add to their CDL licenses to allow the holder to operate specific types of vehicles or perform certain tasks. These endorsements indicate that the driver has met the requirements for specialized skills or knowledge beyond the basic CDL. Endorsements require specialized training, applications, and exams before being issued. There are six types of CDL endorsements:

H - Hazardous Materials (Hazmat):

This endorsement allows drivers to transport hazardous materials, such as flammable, explosive, or toxic substances. All CDL classes are able to obtain a hazmat endorsement. This is one of the longer endorsements to obtain, even including an extensive background check, due to the dangerous nature of the goods in transport.

N - Tank Vehicle:

This endorsement is required for Class A and B drivers operating vehicles with a permanent or temporary tank attached to it. Most tankers transport liquids or gasses in bulk containers such as milk, water, or chemicals. Some tankers carry solid goods such as grain, but it is the non-solid cargo that poses the greatest challenge! Drivers with this endorsement will learn about weight distribution and the way it shifts in transport, and how this affects operating a vehicle.

T - Double/Triple Trailers:

This endorsement permits drivers to operate vehicles pulling two or three trailers simultaneously. These trailers need special training because they pose a greater risk of turning over and other challenges due to the weight and length of the trailers.

P - Passenger:

This endorsement is necessary for drivers who will be transporting passengers in a commercial vehicle, such as buses or vans. This type can be added to all CDL licenses.

S - School Bus:

This endorsement is specifically for drivers operating school buses and involves additional training and testing related to the transportation of students. This can be added to all CDL license classes.

X - Combination of Tank Vehicle and Hazardous Materials:

This endorsement combines the Tank Vehicle and Hazardous Materials endorsements. This endorsement opens up more opportunities to transport different types of hazardous materials requiring a tank. Only Class A and B CDLs can add this endorsement.

So, why consider obtaining an endorsement? Having endorsements on your CDL will open up a wider range of job opportunities. Many employers in the trucking industry require specific endorsements for certain positions. By obtaining endorsements, you increase your marketability as a professional driver. Not to mention, certain endorsements, such as Hazmat or Tank Vehicle endorsements, often come with higher pay rates because of the large amount of specialized training and technical skills required.

An endorsement is a great way to accelerate your trucking career. Endorsements demonstrate your commitment to professional development and a willingness to invest in your career as a truck driver to potential employers. It's important to note that endorsement requirements may vary by state or country. Additionally, there may be other endorsements available depending on the specific regulations and requirements in your area. Always consult your local DMV or licensing authority for accurate and up-to-date information!