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The Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 was signed into law on October 27, 1986. The primary intent of the Act was to improve highway safety by ensuring that truck drivers and drivers of tractor trailers and buses are qualified to drive Commercial Motor Vehicles (CMVs), and to remove drivers that are unsafe and unqualified from the highways. The Act continued to give states the right to issue CDLs, but the federal government established minimum requirements that must be met when issuing a CDL.
Driving commercial motor vehicles (CMVs), which are primarily tractor-trailers (or Longer Combination Vehicles (LCVs)), requires advanced skills and knowledge above and beyond those required to drive a car or other light weight vehicle. Before implementation of the commercial driver's license (CDL) Program in 1986, licensing requirements for driving larger vehicles and buses varied from state to state.
Many drivers were operating motor vehicles that they may not have been trained or qualified to drive. This lack of training resulted in a large number of preventable traffic deaths and accidents.
Since April 1, 1992, when this Act became law, all drivers have been required to have a CDL in order to drive a Commercial Motor Vehicle. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has developed testing standards for licensing drivers. U.S. states are able to issue CDLs only after a written and practical test have been given by the State or approved testing facility.
A driver needs a CDL if the vehicle meets one of the following definitions of a CMV:
A state may also require a driver to have a CDL to operate certain other vehicles legally. A driver licensed in New Jersey must have a CDL to drive legally a bus, limousine, or van that is used for hire, and designed to transport 8 to 15 passengers. A driver licensed in New York must have a CDL to legally transport passengers in school buses and other vehicles listed in Article 19-A of the state's Vehicle and Traffic Law. A driver licensed in California must have a CDL if their primary employment is driving, whether or not you actually drive a commercial vehicle. Basically, California defines a commercial vehicle as one that transports for hire either people or products. And possession of a CDL in California changes the threshold for a Driving Under the Influence citation from 0.08% to 0.04% Blood Alcohol Content (does not apply if operating their personal non-commercial vehicle).
Prospective licensees should verify CDL requirements by referencing their state specific CDL Manual.
The minimum age to apply for a CDL is usually 21, as required by the United States Department of Transportation, although some states allow drivers who are 18 to 20 to apply for a CDL that is valid only within the driver's state of residence. A single state CDL only restricts driving of CMVs within the holder's state (not non-commercial vehicles), and automatically converts to a 50 state CDL at the age of 21.
Additional testing is required to obtain any of the following endorsements on the CDL. These can only be obtained after a CDL has been issued to the driver:
T, P, S, N, H and X are Federal endorsements . Any other endorsements have been promulgated at the State level. i.e. New York DMV requires a "W" endorsement to legally operate a tow truck in New York.
Formal training is not mandatory to obtain a CDL. Although each state may add additional restrictions, there are national requirements in the United States . A prospective driver must pass a written test on highway safety and a test about different parts of a truck with a minimum of 30 questions on the test. To pass this knowledge test, student drivers must answer at least 80 percent of the questions correctly. To pass the driving skills test the student driver must successfully perform a set of required driving maneuvers. The driving skill test must be taken in a vehicle that the driver operates or expects to operate. For certain endorsements, such as Air Brakes, the driving skills test must be taken in a vehicle equipped with such equipment.
Employers, training facilities, States, governmental departments, and private institutions may be permitted to administer knowledge and driving test for the State. The test must be the same as those given by the State issuing the CDL and the instructors must meet the same professional certification as State instructors.
States are required to conduct an inspection of any testing facility and evaluates the programs by taking an actual test as if they were testing driver at least once a year, or by taking a sample of drivers tested by the third party and then comparing pass/fail rates.
In addition, the State's agreement with the third party testing centers must allow the FMCSA and the State to conduct random examinations, inspections, and audits without notice.
In the United States, a disproportionate number of traffic fatalities involve commercial motor vehicles. Most CMV drivers must prove they are healthy enough to safely drive a truck. A valid medical certificate must be filled out by a medical professional listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners at the conclusion of an extensive physical exam, with a copy provided to the state Bureau (or Department) of Motor Vehicles compliance unit. Some examples of an impairment which disqualifies a driver include the inability to grasp a steering wheel or operate foot pedals, insulin use, certain cardiac and respiratory problems, markedly elevated blood pressure, epilepsy, some severe psychiatric disorders, certain color blindness, poor corrected vision in either eye (worse than 20/40), bilateral hearing loss, active alcoholism, and other conditions which significantly increase risk of an accident. See Physical qualifications for drivers page of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Not all medical providers are able to test and complete the medical certification form.
A CDL must contain the following information:
(a)(1) The prominent statement that the license is a “commercial driver’s license” or “CDL,” except as specified in §383.153(b);
(a)(2) The full name, signature, and mailing address of the person to whom such license is issued;
(a)(3) Physical and other information to identify and describe such person including date of birth (month, day, and year), sex, and height;
(a)(4) Color photograph of the driver;
(a)(5) The driver’s State license number;
(a)(6) The name of the State which issued the license;
(a)(7) The date of issuance and the date of expiration of the license;
(a)(8) The group or groups of commercial motor vehicle(s) that the driver is authorized to operate, indicated as follows:
(a)(8)(i) A for Combination Vehicle;
(a)(8)(ii) B for Heavy Straight Vehicle; and
(a)(8)(iii) C for Small Vehicle.
(a)(9) The endorsement(s) for which the driver has qualified, if any, indicated as follows:
(a)(9)(i) T for double/triple trailers;
(a)(9)(ii) P for passenger;
(a)(9)(iii) N for tank vehicle;
(a)(9)(iv) H for hazardous materials (which includes most all fireworks);
(a)(9)(v) X for a combination of the tank vehicle and hazardous materials endorsements;
(a)(9)(vi) S for school bus; and
(a)(9)(vii) At the discretion of the State, additional codes for additional groupings of endorsements, as long as each such discretionary code is fully explained on the front or back of the CDL document.
(b) If the CDL is a nonresident CDL, it shall contain the prominent statement that the license is a “nonresident commercial driver’s license” or “nonresident CDL.” The word “nonresident” must be conspicuously and unmistakably displayed, but may be noncontiguous with the words “Commercial Driver’s License” or “CDL.”
(c) If the State has issued the applicant an air brake restriction as specified in §383.95, that restriction must be indicated on the license. 
The Commercial Driver's License Information System (CDLIS) and the National Driver Register (NDR) exchange information on traffic convictions and driver disqualifications of commercial drivers. States have to use both CDLIS and NDR to check a driver's record before a CDL can be issued. To gain permission to access to the CDLIS and NDR databases one should visit the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Technical Support Web site for instructions on how this information is accessed and who can access it. Trucking companies can use a commercial service that has clearance for providing this information as a means of screening prospective employees.
An employer is also subject to a penalty of up to US$10,000, if they knowingly permit a driver to operate a CMV without a valid CDL.
States can reduce certain lifetime disqualifications to a minimum disqualification period of 10 years if the driver completes a driver rehabilitation program approved by the State. Not all states do this: it is available in Idaho and New York State but not California or New Jersey.
If a CDL holder is disqualified from operating a CMV they can not be issued a "conditional" or "hardship" CDL, but can continue to drive non-commercial vehicles.
Any convictions are reported to the driver's home State and Federal Highway Administration and these convictions are treated the same as convictions for violations that are committed in the home State.
The Commercial Drivers License Program collects and stores all convictions a driver receives and transmits this data to the home State so that any disqualification or suspension can be applied.
The FHWA has established 0.04% as the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level at or above which a CMV driver is deemed to be driving under the influence of alcohol and subject to lose his/her CDL. Additionally, an operator of a CMV that is found to have 'any detectable amount of BAC above 0.0%' will be put out of service for a minimum of 24 hours.
A driver must report any driving conviction within 30 days, except parking, to their employer regardless of the nature of the violation.
Employers must be notified if a driver's license is suspended, revoked, or canceled. The notification must be made by the end of the next business day following receipt of the notice of the suspension, revocation, cancellation, lost privilege or disqualification.
Employers cannot under any circumstances use a driver who has more than one license or whose license is suspended, revoked or canceled, or is disqualified from driving. Violation of this requirement may result in civil or criminal penalties.
In the United States, training may be obtained by completing a qualified CDL training program through a truck driving school. These training programs specialize in teaching potential truck drivers the necessary skills and knowledge to properly and safely operate a truck, including map reading, trip planning, and compliance with U.S. Department of Transportation laws, as well as backing, turning, hooking a trailer, and road driving. The overall purpose of these training schools is to help truckers-to-be pass the CDL knowledge and skills tests as well as advanced driving techniques such as skid avoidance and recovery and other emergency actions for situations such as a break away trailer and hydroplaning. These classes usually go well beyond the training the typical non-commercial driver receives, such as the drivers education provided in high school.
There are a number of licensed CDL training schools around the United States, and many trucking companies operate their own schools as well.
In the United Kingdom the PCV Licence (PCV stands for Passenger Carrying Vehicle) enables the holder to drive buses and/or minibuses, subject to what kind of Practical Driving Test the licence holder passes.
All places in Australia have a mostly similar driver licence system, although some things can change in each state or territory (e.g. what classes of license are available).
GVM is the maximum recommended weight a vehicle can be when loaded. A 'Class C' Licence allows the holder to drive cars, utilities, vans, some light trucks, car-based motor tricycles, tractors and implements such as graders. You can also drive vehicles that seat up to 12 adults, including the driver.
The medical standards for drivers of commercial vehicles are set by the National Transport Commission and AUSTROADS, and are set out in 'Assessing Fitness to Drive' (available from the AUSTROADS website).
For those applying for heavy vehicle licence classes MR (Medium Rigid), HR (Heavy Rigid), HC (Heavy Combination) or MC (Multi Combination), it is strongly recommended that the applicant ensure they meet the medical requirements before commencing any training or tests for a heavy vehicle licence.
The driver of a vehicle carrying paying passengers (such as a school bus or tourist coach) requires an appropriate driver licence and a 'Public Passenger Vehicle Driver Authority' which is issued by the Ministry of Transport.
In New Zealand, driver licensing is controlled by the New Zealand Land Transport Safety Authority (LTSA). Broadly there are six classes of motor-vehicle licence. Class 1 governs vehicles with a GLW less than 6,000 kg, and Class 6 governs motorcycles. Classes 2–5 govern heavy vehicles.
A Class 2 licence allows the holder to drive:
Class 3 allows the holder to drive:
Class 4 allows the holder to drive:
Class 5 allows the holder to drive:
Before getting a Class 2 licence, a driver must be at least 18 years of age and have held an unrestricted Class 1 licence for at least six months. Gaining a Class 5 is not dependent on holding a Class 3. Once a driver has a Class 2 they can progress straight through to Class 4 and Class 5. Each progression (2 to 3, 2 to 4, or 4 to 5) requires having held an unrestricted licence of the preceding class for at least six months. For drivers aged 25 or over the minimum period for holding the unrestricted time is reduced to three months, or waived entirely on completion of an approved course of instruction.
Additional endorsements on an NZ driver's licence govern provision of special commercial services. The endorsements are:
The F, R, T and W endorsements are for operating special types of vehicle on the road. Where the holder also has a heavy vehicle (Class 2 or Class 4) licence, they are permitted to drive heavy special vehicles. Otherwise the limits for Class 1 (6,000 kg) apply.
Being granted a I, O, P and/or V endorsement requires that the applicant pass a "fit and proper person" check, to screen for people with criminal convictions or serious driving infringements. These endorsements are issued for one or five years, at the option of the applicant at the time of purchase.