The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's CDL Program
Everyone knows that it takes certain special skills and knowledge in order to properly drive certain types of commercial motor vehicles (CMV). However, before the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) implemented its Commercial Driver's License (CDL) Program, if you held a driver's license (for cars), you could legally operate any type of tractor-trailer or buses in many states, as well as in the District of Columbia.
The Commercial Vehicle Safety Act of 1986
With this new law, CDL holders could no longer possess multiple licenses. States were also required to adopt standardized knowledge and skills testing programs to verify the qualifications of license applicants wanting to drive heavy trucks and buses. It also established a set of minimum standards and information requirements for the CDLs that states issue. It did not, however require drivers to obtain a federal license. All it required was uniformity among the states in their license issuance practices.
Requirements Placed Upon the Driver by the Act
The Act was fully implemented on April 1st of 1992. On that date all drivers of CMVs were required to possess a CDL. All applicants wishing to have a CDL issued must pass tests that the Act standardized. These include a knowledge test that determines the applicants knowledge motor vehicle laws, especially those pertaining to the operation of the particular type of CMV they wish to drive.
If the applicant successfully passes the knowledge test, they are then required to pass a skills test that proves they have the requisite skills and abilities to drive that type of vehicle. This test is sometimes called the practical knowledge test and includes both the 7-point walk-around inspection and a behind-the-wheel test that takes about 30 minutes.
Commercial drivers are required by the law to obtain and keep valid a CDL if they wish to continue operating a CMV in interstate, intrastate, or foreign commerce, if their vehicle meets the requirements for the following vehicle classifications:
Class A vehicles-Any combination of vehicles with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more, provide the GVWR of the towed vehicle is more than 10,000 pounds
Class B vehicles-Any single vehicle of 26,001 pounds or more GVWR, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle of less than 10,000 pounds
Class C vehicles-Single vehicles and vehicle combinations not meeting the definition for Classes A or B, but is either designed to transport 16 passengers (including the driver) or more, or is transporting material that has been designated hazardous and requires placarding
For more information about the FMCSA's CDL Program and the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986, you can read the full document on the FMCSA site.