What is a Commercial Driver’s License?

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A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is a specific type of driver’s license that is required for operators of certain types of large or heavy vehicles, or vehicles that are transporting hazardous materials. Commercial drivers are licensed through the state they reside in.

There are three types of Commercial Driver’s Licenses, each with its own set of privileges and restrictions.

  • Group A: Any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 pounds or more, provided the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of any towed vehicles is 10,001 pounds or more.
  • Group B: Any single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more, or, any such vehicle towing a vehicle with a GVWR of 10,000 pounds or less
  • Group C: Any single vehicle, or combination of vehicles, that meets neither the definition of Group A nor that of Group B, but is either designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver, or is used in the transportation of materials found to be hazardous and require the motor vehicle to be placarded under the Hazardous Materials Regulations.

Any driver who has a Group A license may also operate a Group B or C vehicle and any driver that has a Group B license may also operate a Group C vehicle, provided they have the required endorsements.

Who needs a CDL?

Operators of the following vehicles are required to carry a Commercial Driver’s License:

    • A vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more
    • A combination vehicle towing a trailer or other vehicles with a GVWR of 10,001pounds or more with a gross combination weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more.
    • Any vehicle with 16 or more passengers (including the driver)
    • Any vehicle carrying hazardous materials in amounts require placards

However, the following situations do not require a CDL:

  • Individuals operating motor homes or other vehicles used exclusively to transport personal possessions or family members for nonbusiness purposes.
  • Active-duty military servicemembers operating military vehicles with military licenses. This includes the National Guard.
  • Police or firefighters operating authorized emergency vehicles.

Licensing and Agriculture

In general, farmers are not required to have a CDL so long as the vehicle they are operating is within a 150-mile radius of their farm. They do, however, need a CDL with a hazardous materials endorsement if they are operating a vehicle that is carrying hazardous materials while having a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more or whose towing vehicles have a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more.

A farmer wishing to operate a vehicle with a towing vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more that does not carry hazardous materials can alternatively acquire an F-endorsement on their driver’s license. This endorsement requires its holders to pass a knowledge test but not a skills test.

Agri-business employees that have had a driver’s license for at least a year and a clean driver’s license for at least three years, can also apply for a seasonal restricted CDL. These licenses allow their holders to operate vehicles in groups B and C within 150 miles of their place of business and to transport hazardous materials including fertilizers in limited quantities. Seasonal restricted CDLs must be applied for each year and are only valid for either a 180-day period or valid for the seasonal periods from April 2 through June 20 and September 2 through November 20. These licenses do not allow their holders to operate buses.

CDL Endorsements

Some particularly large or danger types of vehicles require operators to have endorsements on their CDL. Endorsements signify that the operator has completed extra training in order to safely drive a certain type of vehicle. They appear as a single letter on their Commercial Driver’s License. Michigan CDL endorsements include:

  • T- Double or Triple Trailer. This allows drivers to operate vehicles with two or three trailers. Triple Trailer vehicles are not permitted in Michigan.
  • P- Passenger. This endorsement is required to operate a vehicle with 16 or more passengers (including the driver).
  • N- Tank. This permits drivers to operate vehicles designed to transport liquid and gaseous materials within a tank or tanks having an individual rated capacity of more than 119 gallons and an aggregate rated capacity of 1,000 gallons or more that are either permanently or temporarily attached to the vehicle or the chassis. This is only required for vehicles with tanks that contain more than a residue of liquid or gaseous material.
  • H- Hazardous Materials. This allows drivers to operate vehicles carrying hazardous materials in amounts requiring placards.
  • X- Combined Tank and Hazardous Materials. This endorsement permits drivers to operate vehicles hauling liquids, liquefied gases and hazardous materials
  • S- School Bus. This is required to operate a CMV that transports pre-primary, primary or secondary school students from home to school, school to home or to-and-from school-sponsored events

How can I get a Michigan CDL?

In order to obtain a Michigan CDL for non-hazardous, intrastate commerce (driving within Michigan only), applicants must be 18 years old. Those wishing to transport good across state lines or operate vehicles carrying hazardous materials must be 21 to obtain a license. Applicants must also pass meet medical requirements determined by the state.

When applicants are ready to apply for their first CDL, they should bring the following to their local Secretary of State office:

  • Their valid driver’s license.
  • Proof of their Social Security number. This can include a Social Security card, W-2 form, or payroll check stub.
  • Proof of legal presence in the United States. This could be a passport, birth certificate, certificate of citizenship for U.S. citizens. Forms of proof for non-citizens include a valid Permanent Resident Card, an unexpired foreign passport with an admission stamp, U.S. Visa, or I-94 Arrival/Departure form, or Refugee Travel Document with stamped I-94.

Applicants must then:

  • Fill out the CDL Certification Form.
  • Meet driver eligibility requirements.
  • Pass require knowledge and vision tests. This allows them to acquire a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) which allows to practice under a driver with the proper CDL and is required for the CDL skills test.
  • Schedule and pass a skills test at least 14 days after the issuance of their CLP.
  • Pay the proper CDL Group Designation and Endorsement fees.

After passing their skills test through an approved third-party testing service, applicants must:

  • Take their Michigan Department of State Driver Skills Test Certificate within one year of receiving it.
  • Pay a correction fee to receive a temporary CDL permit allowing them to operate a CMV for the CDL tests passed
  • Wait approximately 10-14 days to receive their photo CDL in the mail.

Michigan CDL Tests

In order to earn a Michigan Commercial Driver’s License, applicants must pass the following tests:

Physical Exam

Before taking a CDL skills test, candidates must present either a valid Medical Examiner’s Certificate (commonly known as a DOT card), FMCSA waiver, FMCSA exemption, or a DOT card and FMCSA Skills Performance Evaluation certificate.

For more information:

Drug Test

The FMCSA requires employers of those who operate CMVs to implement frequent, random drug testing.

Written Test

Most states, including Michigan, use a written test modeled after American Association of Motor Vehicle Administration guide. The number of questions in the exam is determined by the license group the candidate is testing for as well as any endorsements they might want. Candidates can also take a 25-question air brake knowledge test to be licensed to drive a vehicle with air brakes. These candidates must also take their skills tests in a vehicle with air brakes.

Road Skills Test

The CDL skills test includes a vehicle inspection test, basic controls test performed off the road, and on-road driving test. In order to earn Passenger or School Bus endorsements, drivers must complete additional skills tests. Those who wished to be licensed without a restriction against air brakes should remember to operate a vehicle with air brakes during their skills test.

Michigan CDL Violations

If a driver with a CDL is convicted of committing a major or serious traffic violation while operating a CDL or nonbusiness vehicle, their CDL may be subject to suspension or revocation. Common offenses include intoxication, fatigued driving, incomplete inspections, and other unsafe driving practices.

The presence of any traffic violations in a truck accident case is essential for proving negligence, especially is the truck driver denies fault. An experienced truck accident lawyer will be able to help determine who was at fault in a crash and if any traffic violations were committed.

More Information

To learn more about Michigan CDLs, refer to the official Michigan Commercial Driver’s License Manual.

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