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Class A B C D Drivers License: Exactly What These 4 Letters Mean

Last updated: July 26, 2021
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vector image showing the different types of class a b c d drivers license types laid out on background

If you’re interested in getting a one of the best driver jobs on the market, you might need a CDL.

And if you need a CDL license, there are a few rules and regulations that you should be aware of.

There are several classes of commercial licenses, and they all have different requirements.

We will inform you of what a commercial license is, and which vehicles you can operate depending on which class you fit into.

Additionally, we have the answers to some frequently asked questions not covered below.

Keep reading for an in-depth breakdown of class A-D licenses and how you can obtain one.

We’ll break down the differences between Class A B C D drivers licenses to get you on your way to earning one of your own.

What is a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)?

A commercial driver’s license, or CDL, is the type of license that you need to operate placarded, heavy, or large HazMat (hazardous materials) vehicles for commercial purposes throughout the country (U.S.).

There are several commercial motor vehicles (CMV) that require the driver to have a CDL license.

In certain places, you may have to get special endorsements to operate vehicles with air brakes, trucks carrying hazardous materials, trucks with tanks, or passenger vehicles.

These endorsements could include:

  • Hazardous materials
  • Air brakes
  • Tankers
  • Passenger vehicles

Regardless of the type of CDL license and endorsements that you acquire, you must pass a written test, and in some cases, a skills test as well.

Be mindful that some endorsements also have additional criteria.

For example, a HazMat driver has to get fingerprinted and pass a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) assessment.

This license shows that a driver is trained and prepared to safely operate large commercial motor vehicles.

What is a CDL Permit?

A driver has to obtain a CDL permit before they can be a truck driver.

This is the case even if you intend to work for a smaller trucking company.

Once you have passed the general knowledge test at the local DMV, you’re eligible to get your CDL permit.

The permit will allow the operation of a commercial vehicle, given that you’re riding with a passenger that has already gotten their CDL license.

The CDL permit is necessary for you to train for the CDL license.

It’s very similar to a learner’s permit or a temporary license that regular license holders must have as they are learning to drive, prior to taking the road test.

The CDL permit gets you that much closer to your dream of a CDL license.

CDL License Requirements 2021

Here are the steps that you must take in order to get a CDL license:

  • You must be 21 years or older; you only have to be 18 years old in order to drive intrastate
  • Turn in your state CDL application with the accompanying fee
  • Check the requirements in your state and provide the necessary documents for identity verification (social security card, birth certificate, ID card, etc.)
  • Provide evidence of your U.S. and state residency
  • Turn in a completed medical examiner’s certificate and medical examination report form
  • Take a pass the vision exam
  • Successfully complete the knowledge test
  • After you have finished these exams and provided the required documentation you will get a Commercial Learner’s Permit
  • You have to wait two weeks before you can go ahead and schedule your CDL road test
  • Once you pass this test you can pay the fees for your CDL

Note: You may need to submit your driving record from the past ten years, especially if you were licensed in a different state, or have any blemishes on your record.

Additionally, veterans that have experience driving military trucks or buses may be exempt from taking the following written exams:

  • Tanker
  • Passenger
  • HazMat
  • CDL General Knowledge

The exemption is dependent upon proof of the relevant experience during your military career.

What is the Difference Between Commercial and Non-Commercial Driver’s Licenses?

There are some notable differences between a commercial license and a non-commercial license.

For starters, a CDL lets drivers operate commercial vehicles for work.

If you don’t have a CDL, you can only drive private automobiles, with some exceptions.

A CDL may come equipped with an endorsement that allows the transportation of up to 15 people or more, depending on which type of CDL license you have.

You can only get a CDL license from your respective state.

A non-commercial license is not relegated to the state that you reside in, so it is a little more flexible in that regard.

Non-CDL drivers can operate any type of vehicle that does not exceed 8,000 lbs.

Some states allow children that are 15 years old and up to drive passenger vehicles, SUVs, vans, and trucks.

What Are The Driver’s License Categories? Class A B C D Drivers License Types

vector image showing the different types of class a b c d drivers license types laid out on background

There are four commercial license types that you can get.

Each of them has a different set of guidelines that you must adhere to.

You have to meet the requirements for at least one of the following classes to get your CDL license.

1. What is a Class A Driver’s License?

A Class A license permits the driver to operate vehicles with a semi-trailer or a trailer with two or more axles.

Additionally, this license allows the driver to operate vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) greater than 26,000 pounds.

That is only possible if the weight of the towed vehicle is more than 10,000 pounds.

A Class A CDL is for:

  • Drivers that are towing trailers over 10,000 pounds of GVWR
  • having this license allows you to operate Class B and Class C vehicles as well

Since privileges can vary from state to state, you’ll find that some drivers may be able to operate truck and trailer combinations, tractor-trailers, double and triple trailers, tanker vehicles, tractor-trailer buses, flatbeds, and livestock carriers.

2. What is a Class B Driver’s License?

A Class B license will afford the driver the ability to operate any vehicle with a GVWR over 26,000 pounds.

Moreover, a driver can operate any vehicle towing a trailer that does not have a GVWR greater than 10,000 pounds.

You will need a Class B CDL for the following:

  • A driver towing a trailer less than 10,000 pounds of GVWR; this license allows you to operate Class C vehicles.
  • You cannot drive Class A vehicles with this license

The kinds of vehicles you can drive with a Class B license include large buses, small trailers, dump trucks, straight trucks, and box trucks.

3. What is a Class C Driver’s License?

To operate a vehicle that can carry 16 or more passengers, including the driver, requires a Class C CDL license.

A Class C license is also necessary to transport hazardous equipment or materials.

Such materials include any material that is rated dangerous by law.

Having a Class C license allows you to operate the following vehicles:

  • Passenger Vans
  • Small HazMat vehicles
  • Combination vehicles not covered by a Class A or B license

4. What is a Class D Driver’s License?

A Class D license will allow you to operate trucks towing trailers over 10,000 pounds as long as the combined weight is not over 26,000 lbs gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR).

Additionally, you can drive a vehicle towing a travel trailer being used only for personal purposes.

Active military professionals can operate a camper or a vehicle for military purposes with a Class D license.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below we have the answers to the most commonly asked questions regarding driver’s licenses and the class types.

1. What are Class C vehicles?

A Class C vehicle weighs less than 26,000 lbs.

Such vehicles may get used to transport and deliver hazardous substances and materials or an ordinary school bus.

These vehicles can seat 16 people and include any tank vehicle, pickup trucks, school buses, passenger vans, small loading trucks, and the like.

2. Are Class B trucks automatic?

Virtually all 750,000 trucking companies in the United States operate using manual transmissions.

If you have an automatic transmission restriction on your CDL license, you would be limiting yourself tremendously.

It is best to learn how to drive a manual transmission as well as an automatic.

3. What is the Most Common Driver’s License Class?

A Class D license is the most common of the license types.

That is the license a typical person will have while operating a vehicle on the road.

4. What is the Most Common CDL License?

Class A CDL licenses are the most common type of commercial license.

With this license, you can drive a big rig, otherwise known as a Class 8 tractor.

Class A CDL licenses are available to people over 21 years of age.

This license allows you to cross state lines and operate along the interstate.

Wrapping Up

If you are thinking about getting any of these licenses, be sure that you pursue the correct type to compete for the job that you want.

The recap:

  • To operate a single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,000 pounds or less and to operate a car or truck towing a vehicle 10,000 pounds or less, you need at least a Class D license.
  • To operate a vehicle that can carry 16 or more passengers, including the driver, and transport hazardous materials, you need a Class C CDL license.
  • A Class B license will afford the driver permission to drive any vehicle with a GVWR over 26,000 pounds. You can also tow a trailer of fewer than 10,000 pounds, such as a bus or a small truck. Can operate Class C vehicles.
  • A Class A license lets the driver operate vehicles with a semi-trailer or a trailer with two or more axles. You can drive a vehicle with a GVWR greater than 26,000 pounds. You can also drive Class B and Class C vehicles.

Research which kind of CDL license you need to perform the job that interests you, and find your nearest driving school to secure your CDL as soon as possible.

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