by Pride Transport | Jan 12, 2024
Having a non-commercial driver’s license is essential for every truck driver — but if you want to drive professionally, you need a CDL. A commercial driver’s license, or CDL, allows drivers to legally operate a wide variety of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs).
Even after obtaining a CDL, what you can drive depends on whether you have a Class A, Class B, or Class C license. Each class includes specific trucks categorized by weight, build, and function. On top of that, drivers can obtain different classes and endorsements throughout their career, opening them up to driving even more vehicles and load types.
In this article, we’ll highlight some of the key distinctions between CDL classes, learn more about CDL Class B, and highlight why young drivers might want to start their careers with a Class B license.
What Each CDL Class Includes
While certain types of short-range driving jobs don’t require a CDL, this license gives drivers the chance to explore more opportunities in their driving career.
For example, the 18-wheeler semi trucks we see on major roadways are comprised of separate cabs and trailers, typically hauling heavy loads. If the gross vehicle weight rating, or GVWR exceeds 26,001 pounds and the towed vehicle exceeds 10,000 pounds, drivers are required to have a Class A CDL.
Drivers with a Class B CDL aren't permitted to operate a CMV that heavy. However, CDL Class B drivers can operate smaller types of tractor-trailers, and Class B covers plenty of other types of heavy-duty vehicles. A Class B CDL is required to operate any single vehicle that isn’t attached to a trailer, as well as smaller CMVs that meet a specific weight requirement. These include:
- Vehicles with attached cab and cargo areas that weigh in excess of 26,000 pounds combined.
- Vehicles with detached cargo trailers with a GVWR of less than 10,000 pounds. Remember: Class A CDL covers those tractor-trailers with a towed GVWR exceeding 10,000 pounds.
Here’s a breakdown of the major distinctions between the different CDL class types:
Image via driving-tests.org
What Can You Drive With a Class B CDL?
CDL Class B covers a range of vehicles often seen in everyday settings.
Straight trucks: A vehicle with a fixed trailer, like a Uhaul truck. While straight trucks might look similar to a semi truck, the key difference is that the trailer is fixed to the cab (i.e. it can’t be unhitched). Drivers must have a Class B CDL to operate any straight truck that exceeds a GVWR of 26,000 pounds. Different types of straight trucks include cube trucks, cube vans, dump trucks, and box trucks.
Large buses: A Class B CDL permits drivers to operate buses designed to carry a certain number of passengers (including the driver). Buses used for public transportation and tour buses are covered with a Class B CDL. School buses also qualify but require an S endorsement as well as a background check.
Segmented buses: Also known as articulated buses, segmented buses are a type of extended bus designed to maneuver more easily by way of jointed segments strategically placed in the bus’s body.
Box trucks: A type of straight truck, FreightWaves explains that box trucks “include a trailer with a cargo area separate from the van, which can’t be accessed from the interior. The rear of the cargo area usually has a sliding door.”
Dump trucks with small trailers: Whether transporting bulk commodities like grains, coal, gravel, etc. or transporting materials on a construction site, Class B CDL holders are permitted to operate dump trucks.
Endorsements to Enhance Your CDL - Class B
With the right endorsements, drivers holding a Class B CDL expands the range of vehicles they can legally operate. Certain endorsements require passing a road skills test in addition to a driving test, but every endorsement must be obtained through an FMCSA-verified training program.
Passenger (P): Required for driving vehicles that carry a specific number of passengers. The number varies by state, with some setting the minimum at 16 and others raising it to 24 passengers. Drivers must pass both a skills test and knowledge test to earn this endorsement.
School bus (S): In addition to the skills test and knowledge test after completing endorsement training, drivers interested in operating a school bus must also pass a background check.
Tank vehicle (N): Permits Class B CDL holders to drive CMVs with either temporary or permanently attached tanks. The tanks can include liquid or dry freight, but not hazardous materials, which requires a different endorsement.
Hazardous materials (H): Allows CDL holders to haul potentially dangerous chemicals, such as gas and oil. There’s also the option to get a combination Tanker/HazMat (X) endorsement. The X endorsement doesn’t mean drivers have to haul HazMat freight; it just opens up their options for different load types.
Some people might think that someone with a Class B CDL would be cleared to drive Class A vehicles, but that’s not necessarily true. Drivers test for specific CDLs and complete additional training to qualify for other licenses and endorsements.
For example, double/triple trailer (T) endorsement only applies to Class A CDL drivers. Also, Class B drivers can only drive in the state where they earned their CDL. This could seem limiting, but there’s actually an interesting opportunity: an 18-year-old could test for and earn their Class B CDL and begin getting professional driving experience leading up to testing for a Class A CDL at age 21.
Steps to Earning a Class B CDL
Drivers interested in earning a Class B CDL must be of age (18 or 21, depending on the state they live in), have a clean driving record, and be in good enough physical condition to pass the Department of Transportation (DOT) physical exam. Once they meet those requirements, they can follow these steps:
Obtain a commercial learner’s permit (CLP). Aspiring drivers can’t gain practical experience driving a CMV without a learner’s permit.
CLPs and CDLs are issued by individual states, and some (but not all) states will issue permits and CDLs for 18- to 20-year-old drivers for in-state driving. Check with your state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles to learn your exact requirements.
Complete CDL training. The FMCSA requires drivers to train with a verified provider, which can be found through their official Training Provider Registry.
Pass the CDL knowledge test. Drivers need to demonstrate their understanding of their vehicles, traffic laws, and other safety regulations before even getting behind the wheel.
Pass the DOT physical exam. Good physical health is important for safe driving; don’t take this part of driver prep lightly.
Pass the DOT skills test. The skills test is broken into three parts: vehicle inspection, basic controls, and a road test.
Put Your Class B CDL to Work
A Class B CDL offers drivers several different career options. Even without extra endorsements, someone with a Class B license could work as one of the following:
- Shuttle driver
- Short-haul delivery driver
- Dump truck driver
- Moving truck driver
- Furniture delivery driver
- Mail carrier
For those interested in obtaining endorsements, your job options expand to include:
- Tour bus driver
- School bus driver
- Public transit driver
- HazMat and/or tanker driver
And because many of these career options are short-haul routes, drivers with a Class B CDL are more likely to have regular hours and more time for their families, friends, and activities.
No matter what kind of driving you ultimately do, it’s good to know your options. Explore different driving opportunities with Pride Transport today!