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What Is A Commercial Driver’s License?

Posted by Harlene Labrum | Jul 15, 2022

What Is A Commercial Driver's License?

In the United States, one of the requirements to operate a commercial vehicle is obtaining a commercial driver's license. But what is a commercial driver's license, and how can drivers in Tennessee obtain one? A commercial driver's license, also known as a CDL, is required to operate any large truck—semi-truck, 18-wheeler, tractor-trailer, etc.—bus, or vehicle that carries passengers. If you or someone you love has been involved in a traffic accident involving a commercial vehicle, consider contacting a knowledgeable car accident attorney to discuss your options. Speak with our attorneys at Labrum Law in Tennessee at (615) 338-9500 to discuss your particular case.

What Is a Commercial Driver's License (CDL)?

Commercial vehicles are the lifeblood of the country's economy. The trucking industry alone topped $700 billion in 2017, according to the American Trucking Associations.

Being the driver of a commercial vehicle is both challenging and dangerous, therefore a commercial driver's license is required for operators of certain vehicles. This special type of driver's license allows the holder to drive commercial trucks, buses, and trailers to carry passengers or transport materials. CDLs are issued by public authorities if the driver meets the established requirements and qualifications.

What Are the Different Classes of CDL in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, there are three classes of commercial driver's licenses that determine the kinds of vehicles the holder is permitted to operate. CDLs are divided into classes A, B, and C based on the size, weight, and functionality of the vehicle.

  • Class A. This class of commercial driver's license allows the holder to operate any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of at least 26,001 pounds. Vehicles that require a Class A CDL include tractor-trailers, flatbeds, tankers, and livestock carriers.
  • Class B. A Class B CDL allows the holder to operate single vehicles with a GCWR greater than 26,000 pounds. When towing another vehicle, the GCWR of the towed unit must not exceed 10,000 pounds. These vehicles may include straight trucks, trucks and trailers combined, tractor-trailers, box trucks, large passenger buses, and others.
  • Class C. This class of CDL allows the holder to operate single vehicles of no more than 26,000 pounds, to carry 16 or more passengers, or transport materials that are considered “hazardous” under federal regulations. These vehicles include passenger vans, small passenger buses, hazmat vehicles, and combination vehicles not included in Classes A and B.

If you or your loved one sustained injuries in an accident involving a commercial vehicle, the process of obtaining financial compensation could be confusing and challenging. Consider contacting an experienced car accident attorney at Labrum Law to understand your rights and options.

Requirements for Obtaining a Commercial Driver's License in Tennessee

An individual applying for a commercial driver's license in Tennessee must meet the following medical requirements to qualify for a CDL:

  • At least 20/40 vision in each eye (contact lenses and glasses are allowed)
  • The ability to distinguish colors
  • The ability to hear a forced whisper at not less than 5 feet
  • Blood pressure may not exceed 160/100
  • Diabetes, if diagnosed, must be controlled through medication or diet (applicants who control diabetes through insulin injections do not qualify for a CDL)
  • Blood sugar may not exceed 200
  • Applicants are not permitted to use amphetamines, narcotics, or any Schedule 1 drugs
  • Applicants diagnosed with certain cardiovascular diseases must submit to a stress test and provide a note from their physician stating that the applicant is capable of driving a commercial vehicle without restrictions

Drivers Under 21

In Tennessee, an individual must be at least 21 years of age to drive commercial vehicles in interstate commerce pursuant to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations Section 391.11.

However, a driver under the age of 21 would be permitted to obtain a CDL to operate commercial vehicles within the state of Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security, if the driver can provide the following:

  • A valid DOT medical card, also known as the DOT physical exam (government employees must hold a current DOT medical card when applying for a commercial driver's license with an H, P, or S endorsement)
  • Proof of Social Security Number (SSN)
  • A valid driver's license or ID issued by Tennessee or another state
  • Proof of citizenship or lawful permanent resident (LPR) status
  • Tennessee domicile proof
  • A passed fingerprint-based background check if applying for an H (hazardous materials) endorsement pursuant to Title 49 of Code of Federal Regulation 383.71(a)(9)


Losing a Commercial Driver's License

When answering the question, “What is a commercial driver's license?” you may want to know whether a driver can lose a CDL in the same way they can lose the regular Class D license. The answer is, of course, yes, a driver may lose their commercial driver's license if they commit certain violations. The loss of the CDL can be temporary or permanent depending on the severity of the violation.

Major Violations

In Tennessee, a holder of a CDL may lose their license for 12 months after committing a major violation for the first time. A second major violation can lead to a permanent loss of the license. For the purposes of disqualifying drivers from a commercial driver's license, major violations include:

  • Driving under the influence of a controlled substance or alcohol
  • Fleeing or attempting to flee the scene of a crash
  • Refusing to submit to alcohol testing
  • Driving a commercial vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .04% or higher
  • Using a commercial vehicle for the purposes of committing a felony
  • Driving a commercial vehicle with a suspended license

Serious Violations

If the violation is considered “serious,” the first violation will not result in the loss of the CDL. The first violation comes with a warning. However, if the CDL holder commits a second serious violation within three years after receiving the warning, the license will be suspended for 60 days. The length of the suspension increases to 120 days for three serious violations within the same period. Common serious violations include:

  • Making unsafe lane changes
  • Driving recklessly
  • Exceeding the speed limit by 15 mph
  • Tailgating
  • Driving a commercial vehicle without a valid CDL, driving without a CDL in the driver's possession, or driving with a wrong CDL class

Contact a Car Accident Attorney at Labrum Law

Commercial vehicles are often involved in devastating collisions. When a commercial motor vehicle, such as a tractor-trailer, semi-truck, dump truck, passenger bus, or another large vehicle, crashes into a smaller car, consequences can be catastrophic or deadly.

At Labrum Law, we represent injured victims involved in commercial vehicle accidents in Brentwood, Murfreesboro, and other parts of Tennessee. Our attorneys can answer the question, “What is a commercial driver's license?” and help you navigate the complex legal process after a crash involving a commercial vehicle. Call (615) 338-9500 to schedule a free consultation with our Tennessee car accident attorneys at Labrum Law to discuss your options.

About the Author

Harlene Labrum

Harlene is focused and passionate about helping those injured in car wrecks.  She earned her J.D. at Nashville School of Law and her Bachelor's degree at State University of New York at Albany, awarded with the highest GPA and high honors.  Harlene began her career in law as a personal injury par...

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