In order to drive commercial trucks, drivers are required to get a commercial driver’s license, called a CDL. This is because tractor-trailers handle much differently than passenger vehicles and drivers must undergo special training in order to operate a vehicle of such size and power. However, not every truck requires a CDL to drive it.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) provides guidelines on federal and state rules regarding CDLs, their type, and when they are required. Following is a basic breakdown of these rules, endorsements and restrictions, and what they mean.

Classes of Commercial Driver’s Licenses

The FMCSA lists three types of CDLs. Prospective truck drivers must pass a test in order to receive a CDL of any class.

  • Class A. Any combination of vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 or more pounds. An example of a Class A truck would be a tractor-trailer or semi-truck.
  • Class B. A single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds. Common Class B vehicles include school buses, garbage trucks, and limos.
  • Class C. Any single or combination of vehicles that don’t meet the definition of Class A or Class B, but are designed to transport 16 more passengers or hazardous materials and toxins.

To drive certain types of commercial trucks, drivers must take additional tests or face restrictions on their CDLs.

CDL restrictions and endorsements

If a driver wants to operate specific types of trucks, they must pass additional tests to receive approval on their licenses. For example, in North Dakota, a driver cannot operate a truck with air brakes unless they pass a test. If they fail that test, they’ll receive a restriction code on their CDL. If a driver’s CDL has an “L” restriction, it means they either did not take or failed the Air Brakes Knowledge Test. If they have a “Z” restriction, it means they took their test in a truck with an air over hydraulic system instead of air brakes and cannot operate a truck with full air brakes.

What about box trucks?

You likely often see box trucks out and about on the roads. These can include things like UPS trucks, dump trucks, and U-Hauls. Box trucks (sometimes called “straight trucks”) have a single frame, with the axel and cargo container attached. Many of these trucks have hydraulic brakes, which allows them to be rented to inexperienced drivers without CDLs.

This means that anyone can rent and drive a box moving truck – anyone. As long as a straight truck doesn’t exceed 26,001 pounds and doesn’t meet the requirements of a Class C CDL license, you don’t need a special driver’s license. Also of note, according to NHTSA statistics, accidents involving straight trucks rose 18.7 percent between 2016 and 2017.

However, many shipping companies and manufacturers use commercial straight trucks to move cargo of more than 26,001 pounds. The Hino trucking company, for example, uses these types of vehicles, even though they look similar to traditional tractor-trailers. Why does this matter? Because you could have a truck driver transporting cargo in a truck the size of a semi, who doesn’t have the same training as a CDL holder might have. That can be dangerous for truck drivers and for those who share the roads with them.

The Minot truck accident attorneys at Larson Law Firm, P.C. protects the rights of the injured in North Dakota. When you or a loved one is injured in an accident that wasn’t your fault, we investigate thoroughly and advocate for your right to compensation. To schedule a free consultation with an attorney in Minot or Bismarck at 701-484-HURT, or fill out our contact form.