As of 2020, there are 1.3 million CDL holders in the U.S., and over 172,000 of them are based in Texas. If you're looking to join this lucrative and critical profession, the first thing you need to do is earn a CDL.
What Is A Commercial Driver License (CDL)?
To operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) on public roadways in the United States, you need a professional driver's license known as a commercial driver's license (CDL).
There are several different types of CDLs, based on the type of vehicle you're allowed to operate. There are also six different endorsements you can earn on your CDL, which allow you to operate specialized types of vehicles or haul particular types of cargo.
When Do You Need A CDL?
The federal government requires you to hold a CDL to drive any commercial vehicle – any vehicle owned by a company or registered for the transportation of products or passengers. In most cases, commercial vehicles are heavier than standard automobiles and require special skills to maneuver.
When Do You Need a Class A CDL?
You need a Class A commercial driver's license to operate any combination of vehicles with a Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR) of 26,001 pounds or more, in which the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of the vehicle(s) towed exceeds 10,000 pounds. If you hold a Class A CDL, you're also allowed to operate Class B and C vehicles. You need an H or X endorsement to transport hazardous materials.
Examples include tractor-trailers, tractor-trailer buses, flatbeds, livestock carriers, double and triple trailers (only with a T endorsement), and tanker vehicles (only with an N or X endorsement).
When Do You Need a Class B CDL?
You need a Class B commercial driver's license to operate:
- any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more, OR
- any combination of vehicles where the GVWR of the vehicle(s) being towed is under 10,000 pounds, OR
- any vehicle designed to carry 24 or more passengers including the driver (only with a P endorsement)
If you hold a Class B CDL, you're also allowed to operate Class C vehicles.
Examples include straight trucks, large buses (including school buses, city buses, or tour buses), segmented buses, dump trucks with small trailers, box trucks (like couriers, delivery drivers, furniture/appliance delivery), and motor homes. School buses require an S endorsement.
When Do You Need a Class C CDL?
You need a Class C commercial driver's license to operate:
- vehicles that do not meet the criteria for Class A or B, AND
- are designed to transport either
- 16 to 23 passengers (only with a P endorsement)
- Hazardous materials that require the vehicle to be placarded (only with an H endorsement)
Examples include passenger vans and small, non-tanker HAZMAT vehicles.
What is a Class C Driver's License?
A Class C driver's license is your regular, non-commercial license, not to be confused with a Class C CDL.
Texas CDL Requirements
Before you can apply for a CDL license in Texas, you need to meet a few conditions.
CDL Age Requirements
According to federal law, you need to be at least 21 years of age for interstate driving or to haul hazardous materials.
If you're going to drive intrastate only, meaning within Texas borders, you just need to be 18 or up.
Other Texas Commercial Driver License Requirements
To get a CDL license in Texas, you need a valid non-commercial driver's license and a clean driving record. If your license has any active suspensions or revocations in any state, you're ineligible to apply.
You'll surrender your regular license when you earn your CDL, but you need to have regular driving experience first.
You also need to be a U.S. citizen or legal resident and have proof of Texas residency, along with a clean bill of health.
Commercial drivers are only allowed to hold a CDL in one state.
How To Get A CDL In Texas
Once you meet the prerequisites, including the CDL age requirements, you'll apply for a commercial driver's permit (CDP).
How to Apply for a CDL Permit in Texas
To apply for a CDL permit, you'll need to present the following at your local DMV:
- CDL application
- Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful presence
- Social Security card
- Two pieces of proof for Texas residency
- Photo ID
- Self-certification of medical status (and, if required, medical examiner's certificate)
- Texas vehicle registration and proof of insurance for each vehicle you own
You'll pay an application fee, provide a thumbprint for a background check, pass a vision exam, and have your picture taken.
You'll also take the written CDL exam, which is a mix of multiple-choice and matching questions. It has to be taken in the following order:
- Texas commercial rules
- General Knowledge
- Combination (for Class A CDLs only)
- Air Brake (if applicable)
- Endorsements (if applicable)
You need to get a score of at least 80% to pass the written exam and have your CDL permit issued. Like a regular learner's permit, your CDL permit allows you to legally practice driving a CMV that belongs within your license class, as long as there is a licensed CDL driver in the front seat.
How to Apply for a Texas CDL
Once you've held your CDL permit for 14 days, you're eligible to apply for your full CDL.
You'll submit more forms and the fee to the DMV, and you'll schedule a skills test. The skills test includes:
- Pre-Trip Inspection
- Parallel parking
- Offset backing
- Straight-line backing
- Upshifting (if applicable)
- Downshifting (if applicable)
- Lane change
- Use of lanes
- Traffic signs and signals
- Left and right turns
- Railroad Crossing
- Roadside Stop/Start
If you perform a dangerous or illegal maneuver at any time, the test will be immediately terminated and you'll fail. Your application will be held for 90 days from the initial application, and you'll be allowed to take the skills test two more times within that window. After 90 days or three failed attempts, you'll have to apply again.
How Long Is A CDL Good For?
Texas CDLs must be renewed every 5 years.
To maintain a CDL, you need a yearly physical exam to make sure you're healthy enough to drive a commercial vehicle safely. You'll also need to submit for drug and alcohol testing according to DOT/FMCSA rules.
Study for Your Written CDL Exam Online
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