Obtaining a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is an impressive undertaking. In addition to obtaining Class A, Class B, or Class C Commercial Driver Licenses, drivers should consider various endorsements that are available to advance their skills and their driving career. Having endorsements gives a driver a unique credential, a certified specialization, that is added to their license that increase the opportunities a driver has to move freight. It's an attractive proposition that can help accelerate your career or your trucking businesses.
What are CDL endorsements?
CDL endorsements and restrictions are placed on the front of a CDL next to the Class type. These endorsements allow commercial drivers to operate specialized commercial motor vehicles (CMV). These endorsements have additional tests which must be completed along with the standard Class A, Class B, and Class C CDL requirements.
States have specific CDL endorsements and restrictions, so drivers should research the requirements of the state where they are domiciled and operate. Below is a list of different CDL endorsements that drivers can obtain. Some endorsements are not available in all states.
What are different types of CDL endorsements?
The H Endorsement allows CDL drivers to operate vehicles that haul hazardous materials. To obtain an H endorsement, drivers must pass a written examination or what is often referred to as a knowledge test. These tests are designed to assess a driver’s knowledge and understanding of the vehicles they plan to operate once they have their CDL and a specific endorsement. The hazmat endorsement requires a background-check before you can apply. You must pass the Hazardous Materials Endorsement (HME) Threat Assessment Program. Like the TWIC application process, you will be fingerprinted and ask to present documentation showing you’re a legal U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.
The N Endorsement is required for CDL drivers to operate vehicles that transport gases or liquids (aka tankers). Drivers must pass a written knowledge test to obtain a tank vehicle endorsement.
A passenger or P endorsement is required to operate a vehicle that seats 16 or more people, including a driver. To gain this endorsement, drivers must pass both written exams as well as a road skills test. The number of people that are legally allowed on board may vary as this is determined by the state where you wish to operate.
An S endorsement is required to operate a school bus. A requirement to gain an S endorsement is previously gaining a P endorsement. Additionally, there are separate written tests, road tests, and background checks for school districts that must be passed by CDL holders before gaining an S endorsement.
Drivers seeking to haul double or triple trailers will need to acquire a T endorsement. The requirement for gaining this specific endorsement is a written knowledge test that CDL drivers must pass. Be aware that it may be illegal to operate a vehicle hauling triples or doubles in some states.
The X endorsement is a combination of the tank endorsement and the hazardous materials endorsement. To gain the X endorsement drivers must pass a written knowledge test. This allows CDL holders to acquire their tank and hazmat endorsements at the same time. Some states may not offer the combination, but instead require that you obtain N and H, separately.
An F endorsement on a farmer’s driver’s license allows them to drive CMVs used in their farming operation and business without having to comply with all of the federal safety regulations, like hours of service, that are imposed on commercial truck drivers. There are several conditions specified by the state that must be met to receive the farm endorsement. Typically, the commercial vehicle must be controlled and operated by the farmer, farmer’s employee, or family member. It must be used to transport agricultural products, supplies, or machinery to or from a farm. It cannot be used for-hire as if operating like a common carrier. Several states limit the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) to under 26,000 pounds or the combination vehicle with the GVWR under 26,000 pounds hauling any size trailer. Also, traveling can be restricted to within say 150 miles of the farm. Some states, like Michigan, require you to pass both the CDL General Knowledge test and the Combination Vehicles test.
How long are CDL endorsements active?
Drivers should monitor their endorsements closely to make sure they don’t expire so they can keep their wheels rolling on the road. Each endorsement has varying lengths of how long their active. Hazmat endorsements, for example, won’t expire for 5 years, and some states may require drivers to take and pass a recertification exam to renew their endorsement. Rules and regulations are subject to change.
What are CDL Restrictions?
CDL restrictions are used to limit drivers from operating certain CMV. Restrictions can be placed on a driver’s CDL. Drivers obtain a CDL with restrictions if they do not fulfill certain testing requirements. These restrictions are applied to your CDL after you take the knowledge test or skills test. You can receive a restriction if you fail to pass – or fail to take – a specific knowledge or skills test. Restrictions can also stem from the vehicle you operate for your CDL skills test. For example, if you test in a fully automatic vehicle, then you'll likely receive a restriction from operating manual vehicles. To avoid CDL restrictions, it is strongly recommended that you think about the type of vehicle and equipment you want to operate in the future and make a point to take your CDL test in that type of vehicle.
States will have specific restriction codes, so it is important to check with the nearest state Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV), state Department of Transportation, or Secretary of State’s Office (SOS) before applying for an endorsement and learn about any restrictions. Here are a few restriction codes that are commonly used throughout the states.
An E restriction on a CDL will prohibit drivers from operating CMVs with manual transmissions. If drivers take their skills test with an automatic transmission, then an E restriction code will be placed on the CDL.
Per Federal Regulation, you must be 21 years of age or older to operate a CMV across state lines (interstate). With a K restriction, people between 18 and 21 years of age are restricted to only driving within the state (intrastate). The K restriction will be placed on the CDL to indicate that a CDL is restricted from interstate operation and that it is limited to intrastate travel only.
An L restriction is placed on a CDL to prohibit the use of vehicles with full air brake systems. If a driver does not take their skill test with a full air brake system, the brake system isn’t properly checked, or if all the parts of the air brake system are not properly identified during skills testing, the L restriction code will be placed on the drivers CDL. Drivers must also pass their air brake knowledge test, or they will receive an L restriction.
An M restriction is a designation that indicates drivers can only operate Class B or Class C passenger vehicles or school buses. If a driver has a Class A CDL but obtains their P or S endorsement in a Class B vehicle, then the state may issue an M restriction, which again indicates the driver can only operate a Class B or Class C passenger vehicle or school bus.
N restrictions are placed on a CDL if a driver has a Class B CDL but completes the passenger vehicle or school bus skills test in a Class C vehicle. The state will designate an N restriction which will only allow the driver to operate Class C vehicles.
If a CDL driver takes the skills test in a Class A vehicle that has a pintle hook or some other non-fifth wheel connection, they will have an "O" restriction put on their CDL that restricts them from driving any Class A vehicle with a fifth wheel connection.
A V Restriction indicates that a medical variance has been recorded in the Commercial Driver License Information System (CDLIS). If the FMCSA records any medical variance such as diabetes, hearing impairments, vision complications, or seizures, for example, then a V restriction will be placed on the driver’s CDL.
CDL drivers who test in a vehicle with an air-over-hydraulic-brake system will have a "Z" (no full air brake) restriction listed on their CDL and is restricted from operating a CMV that is equipped with full air brakes.
How to get CDL endorsements?
CDLs and endorsements are administered by the state (not FMCSA!), which means you have to get them in the state you reside in or call home. If you’re new to trucking and are in the processes of obtaining a new CDL, then it makes practical sense to test for endorsements at the same time so you're not making multiple trips to everyone's "favorite" state office. But if you already have your CDL, then the steps to obtain an endorsement are simply:
Study for the test by reading up on the subject, watching related videos, and taking practice tests.
When you’re ready, make an appointment at your state’s nearest DMV or Secretary of State’s office.
Pay the fee for the endorsement you’re pursuing.
Take the corresponding knowledge test(s).
Schedule a road skills test when required for the specific endorsement.
Once you’ve passed the test(s), just wait for your CDL with your new endorsement(s) to arrive.
TIP: You can find your State's Commercial Driver's License (CDL) Manual here.
What are some of the costs associated with getting CDL endorsements?
The costs of getting CDL endorsements vary state to state. For instance, a written knowledge test in New York will be $5 but the same exams in West Virginia will be $10. Other costs may include paying for study guides, taking additional tests, and even paying for state-mandated tests. There is a lot of information on how to obtain endorsements that’s available on a state DMV website, so drivers should review this information before applying for their endorsements.
As a CDL driver or trucking business owner, you should always check with your state to find out their requirements and procedure for adding an endorsement and to learn about certain restrictions that could impact your CDL. Restrictions limit drivers from operating certain vehicles until they have demonstrated they have the knowledge and skills that authorize them to do so. Endorsements are certifications that are added to your commercial driver’s license. Endorsements are a state’s way of confirming you possess the knowledge and skills to legally operate specialized CMVs, such as tankers or school buses. Many endorsements are quick, affordable, and worth investing in, especially if you are looking for ways to differentiate yourself and your trucking business from others out there on the road or in your service area. The more you learn, the more you can earn!
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Soshaul Logistics LLC and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. It is meant to serve as a guide and information only and Soshaul Logistics, LLC does not assume responsibility for any omissions, errors, or ambiguity contained herein. Contents may not be relied upon as a substitute for the FMCSA's published regulations. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction or operation.