CMV Law: The Commercial Driver’s License


The stated purpose behind the requirement of the CDL, as set forth in the FMCSRs, is “to help reduce or prevent truck and bus accidents, fatalities, and injuries by requiring drivers to have a single commercial motor vehicle driver’s license and by disqualifying drivers who operate commercial motor vehicles in an unsafe manner.”  Thus, the CDL regulations discussed in this  have been calculated to achieve that purpose. Moreover, when seeking a jury charge on a CDL-related regulation, the direct language of the purpose statement above could be helpful in making a proximate cause argument to the trial judge.

Who Must Possess a CDL and Exceptions: Overview

The CDL rules in the FMCSRs generally apply to every person who operates a CMV “in interstate, foreign, or intrastate commerce,” to all employers of such persons, and to all States. There are exceptions, however. This section sets out in detail who must possess a CDL and who may avoid, either to a certain extent or entirely, that requirement.
The USDOT’s interpretations have fleshed out many of the questions left open by the regulation. Certain significant exceptions are left up to the several states to apply or not apply as they see fit. Some of the more common requirements and exceptions will be spelled out here. This is an evolving list, and a check of the most current regulation and DOT interpretations is suggested if any question arises.

Requirements and Exceptions

1. Military drivers, including active-duty personnel, members of the military reserves, active-duty national guard (full-time, part-time, and while while training), national guard technicians, and active-duty coast guard personnel are not required to possess a CDL while operating a CMV.  Other exceptions apply to firefighters, farmers performing certain localized farm activities not involving common or contract carriage, emergency response and law enforcement personnel, and operators of snow/ice removal machinery.

2. However, the CDL requirement applies to school and church bus drivers, drivers of van pools transporting sixteen or more persons and mechanics if they test drive on the highway. . Operators of off-road construction equipment which may only occasionally operate on a highway do not need a CDL, ) nor do RV drivers, so long as the RV is used “strictly for non-business purposes.” However, a state is permitted to require operators of non-business RVs to obtain a CDL.

3. A student at a tractor trailer driving school must possess a CDL before driving a CMV on the highway. .

4. A driver’s license examiner who drives truck or buses infrequently and for short distances must possess a CDL. .

5. A person who operates a CMV wholly on private property is not required to possess a CDL.

6. Operators of concrete pumps or motorized cranes at a construction site is required to possess a CDL, because such vehicles are designed to be driven on public roads. This appears to refine the exception of construction equipment which may occasionally operate on a roadway.

7. Non-military amphibious landing craft primarily used in water but occasionally used on public highways are considered CMVs if they are designed to transport sixteen or more people. Therefore, their operators must possess a CDL.  This rule appears intended to address popular land/water “duck tours” offered at various tourist attractions.

8. Military personnel who are exempt from the CDL requirement need not be in uniform and may be driving a rented truck or leased bus so long as they are on active-duty at the time. This would include vehicles owned or leased by the US Department of Defense.

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