A driver’s license is not a one-size-fits-all entitlement for all drivers to operate all types of motor vehicles. The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles issues licenses that are categorized by different classes, depending on the type of vehicle, the weight of the vehicle and the number of passengers in the vehicle. Some Texas drivers may have a Class B commercial driver’s license (CDL). Others may have a Class B non-commercial driver’s license if the driver is exempt from having to obtain a CDL.
Weight Is an Important Consideration
The weight of a vehicle, the weight of a towing unit and the weight of the towed cargo are primary considerations for pairing drivers with the appropriate licensing. Unlike merely weighing a vehicle on a scale, which reveals the vehicle’s actual weight, some vehicle weights are determined by the chassis manufacturer. Vehicle weights that consider more than the actual weight of a vehicle also consider additional loads such as the weight of passengers and cargo.
Three weight calculations that influence Class B driver licenses are Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW), Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) and Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR).
GVW, GVWR and GCWR
The actual weight of a vehicle and its payload at any given time is its Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW). A vehicle’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) is not synonymous with GVW. The GVWR is a vehicle’s maximum weight rating as established by the vehicle’s chassis manufacturer. The algorithm that manufacturers use to calculate GVWR is not simply an equation that adds the axle weights together, which was part of the configuration of the previous definition of a vehicle’s GVWR.
Technological advancements that enhance modern-day vehicle safety system standards, such as braking and vehicle stability features, make calculating the GVWR more difficult. Because of this, it’s possible for a vehicle’s axle weights to exceed 22,000 pounds, while its manufacturer-assigned GVWR is 19,500 pounds.
A vehicle’s Gross Combination Vehicle Rating (GCVR), as its name implies, is the combined weight of a vehicle plus a trailer it’s pulling and the trailer’s load. The GCVR is also governed by chassis manufacturers, according to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International protocols. Understanding the differences among GVW, GVWR and GCWR helps clarify the requirements of Class B driver’s licenses.
Class B Non-Commercial Driver’s Licenses
A Class B non-commercial driver’s license is one of four types of non-commercial licenses issued in Texas. A comparison of these four classes helps drivers determine which license they need.
- Class A. Authorizes a driver to operate a single vehicle that has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more or a combination of vehicles that have a gross combination weight rating (GCWR).
- Class B. Authorizes a driver to operate a single vehicle that has a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more; a single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more that is towing a vehicle with a GVWR that does not exceed 10,000 pounds; or a farm trailer with a GVWR that does not exceed 20,000 pounds; or a bus that has a seating capacity of 24 passengers or more, which includes the driver.
- Class C. Authorizes a driver to operate a single vehicle or a combination of vehicles not included in Classes A or B; a single vehicle that has a GVWR of less than 26,001 pounds, which is towing a farm trailer that has a GVWR not exceeding 20,000 pounds; a bus that is designed to transport 23 or fewer passengers, which includes the driver; or an autocycle. (Autocycles are something of a hybrid between an automobile and a motorcycle, generally defined as three-wheeled vehicles that have completely or partially enclosed driver/passenger compartments, which the driver controls by pedals and a steering wheel.) The Texas Department of Public Safety notes that vehicles rated for transporting 16‒23 passengers, including the driver, require the driver to have a Class C commercial driver’s license unless the driver has a CDL exemption.
- Class M. Authorizes a driver to operate a motorcycle.
Class B Commercial Driver’s Licenses
A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) authorizes a driver to operate certain commercial vehicles and buses. Drivers must undergo specialized training and testing before they are qualified to operate commercial motor vehicles. Texas issues three types of CDLs, and a comparison of these three CDL classes helps drivers determine which license they need.
- Class A CDL. Authorizes a driver to operate any combination of vehicles that have a total GCWR of 26,001 pounds or more if the GVWR of the vehicle(s) that are towed exceeds 10,000 pounds.
- Class B CDL. Authorizes a driver to operate a single vehicle that has a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more; a single vehicle that has a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more, towing a vehicle with a GVWR that does not exceed 10,000 pounds; or a vehicle that’s designed to transport 24 passengers or more, including the driver.
- Class C CDL. A Class C CDL in Texas authorizes a driver to operate a single vehicle, or a combination of vehicles, that is not a Class A CDL or Class B CDL if the vehicle is designed to transport 16 to 23 passengers (including the driver) or if the vehicle is used to transport hazardous materials, which require the vehicle to be placarded.
“Designed to Transport” Definition
The phrase, “designed to transport,” in the description of driver’s license classes has significant meaning. Code Section 383.5 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) regulations makes a distinction between a vehicle’s “original design” and “current design” as it relates to weight of the vehicle. Even if seats are removed from a vehicle, transforming it from carrying passengers to carrying cargo, it’s still the vehicle’s original design and not its current design that determines its designation as a commercial motor vehicle (CMV).
Class B CDL Exemptions
Some motor vehicles are technically classified as commercial vehicles, but drivers of these vehicles do not have to have a CDL. Instead, the drivers must have a Class A or Class B non-commercial driver’s license that corresponds to the GVWR or GCWR of the vehicle. Qualifying drivers must also certify these non-CDL exempt vehicles on their Texas driver license application.
CDL exemptions include:
- Military vehicles and commercial vehicles that are operated by military personnel for military purposes.
- Vehicles that are operated by farmers, which are used to transport agricultural supplies, products or machinery within 150 miles of the driver’s farm.
- Emergency and firefighting vehicles that are used to preserve life or property or to execute emergency governmental functions. Operators may be volunteer firefighters or employees of political subdivisions.
- Recreational vehicles that are driven for personal use. Even though a CDL is not required to drive these vehicles, the operator must have proper licensing based on the vehicle’s weight class.
- Vehicles that are owned, leased or controlled by “air carriers” as defined in the Texas Transportation Code Section 21.155. These vehicles must only be operated or driven by an air carrier’s employee on the “airport” premises (defined in the Texas Transportation Code Section 22.001), and the vehicles can only be operated or driven on service roads that are not open to the public.
- Vehicles that are only used to transport cotton burrs or seed cotton modules.
- Former military vehicles that were manufactured to be used in the military forces of any country, maintained with their military designs and markings intact, operated intrastate only and not driven to promote a commercial enterprise or for compensation.
- Covered farm vehicles that are used to transport livestock, agricultural commodities, supplies or machinery to or from a ranch or farm but not used in for-hire motor carrier operations. Covered farm vehicles that have a GVWR of 26,000 pounds or less are eligible for the farm vehicle exemption in all U.S. states. Covered farm vehicles that have a GVWR greater than 26,001 pounds are eligible for the farm vehicle exemption anywhere in the state in which it’s registered or outside the state of registration within 150 air miles of the ranch or farm.
Class B Farm-Related Service Industries
Some drivers in certain farm-related service industries qualify for a restricted CDL, which waives the knowledge and skills test requirement of standard CDLs. These waivers are only issued for vehicles with Class B or Class C designations. Farm-related service industries include farm suppliers and retail outlets, agri-chemical businesses; customer harvesters, such as cotton modular operators; and livestock feeders. Applicants must apply for Restricted Commercial Driver License (CDL-1F) certification on their Texas Commercial Driver License Application, and they must meet other CDL requirements.
Class B CDL Endorsements
Drivers who have a Class B CDL may need additional documentation, called “endorsements,” which qualifies drivers to drive certain types of vehicles and/or transport certain types of items. Drivers must undergo additional testing to receive endorsements, and existing CDL holders may also be required to have a commercial learner permit for a specific endorsement for a period of at least 14 days before adding the endorsement to their CDL.
All endorsements require drivers to pass a knowledge test, and some endorsements also require drivers to pass a driving test. For example, a hazardous materials (H) endorsement does not require a driving test, but a school bus (S) endorsement requires both a knowledge test and a driving test.
Types of CDL Endorsements
CDL endorsements are categorized by an alpha designation, many of which represent the initial letter of the type of vehicle that drivers are authorized to operate:
- Double/triple trailer endorsement (T). Authorizes a driver to tow a double or triple trailer.
- Passenger endorsement (P). Authorizes a driver to operate a vehicle carrying a specific number of passengers.
- Tank vehicle endorsement (N). Authorizes a driver to operate a tank vehicle for the safe transport of liquid of liquefied gaseous materials.
- Hazardous materials endorsement (H). Authorizes a driver to transport hazardous materials, including flammable or combustible liquids, gases or explosives. Drivers applying for an H endorsement must complete comprehensive federal and state background checks.
- School bus endorsement (S). Authorizes a driver to operate a school bus.
- Combination N and H endorsement (X). Authorizes a driver to operate a tank vehicle that transports hazardous materials.
Commercial CDL Learner Permits
Drivers who apply for their CDL for the first time, as well as drivers who want to upgrade their existing CDL (for example, upgrading Class C to Class B or Class B to Class A) or add certain endorsement to their existing CDL, are required to have a Commercial Driver License Permit (CLP) for at least 14 days prior to obtaining their first-time CDL, upgrading their CDL or adding an endorsement to their CDL. This 14-day period is required to give drivers sufficient time to have behind-the-wheel experience before they take their driving test.
Requirements for obtaining a CLP:
- Drivers must already have a valid Texas driver’s license; CLPs are not valid without a base Texas driver license, and CLPs cannot be used as identification.
- Drivers can practice on public roads in a CMV with a licensed CDL operator (seated next to them) who is at least 21 years old and who holds a CDL license in the same class for the vehicle the CLP driver is operating.
- Drivers cannot take a skills exam before first holding their CLP for at least 14 days.
- Expiration dates on CLPs are 180 days from the date of issue or the date the holder’s Texas driver license expires, whichever date is earliest.
- Texas Department of Public Safety: Classes of Driver Licenses
- NTEA: The Role of GVWR and GCWR in Specifying Work Trucks
- Autotrader: What is an Autocycle?
- Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration: Section 383.5 - Definitions
- Texas Department of Public Safety: How do I Apply for a Commercial Driver License?