Understanding the Different Types of Commercial Driving Licenses

We receive free products to review and participate in affiliate programs, where we are compensated for items purchased through links from our site. See our disclosure page for details.
Written By Randall Henson
In This Roundup
Our Team of Trucking Industry Veterans has been working to improve the Fleet management and trucking industry for over a decade with hands on knowledge of what it takes to run your business quicker, easier and more profitably. We work with leading brands to find the best tools for each business.

Commercial driving is a broad and diverse sector, encompassing everything from large-scale freight transport to shuttle bus services and everything in between. In the United States, the Department of Transportation (DOT) regulates the issuance of commercial driving licenses to ensure that drivers on the roads are well-trained and qualified. There are various classes of Commercial Driving Licenses (CDL) based on the size and type of the vehicle and the type of cargo it carries. Here’s a detailed look at these different licenses and what each allows you to do.

1. Class A CDL

Description: The Class A CDL is the most comprehensive commercial driver’s license and covers the operation of the largest and heaviest vehicles on the road.

Vehicle Examples: Tractor-trailers, truck and trailer combinations, tanker vehicles, livestock carriers, and flatbeds.

Endorsements Available:

  • T: Double/Triple Trailers (allows the holder to pull more than one trailer)
  • P: Passenger (permits carrying passengers)
  • N: Tank vehicles (for transporting liquids or gases in bulk)
  • H: Hazardous materials (HazMat)
  • X: Combination of tank vehicle and HazMat endorsement

2. Class B CDL

Description: This license is intended for driving larger vehicles that don’t necessarily pull a significant load behind them.

Vehicle Examples: Straight trucks, large buses (like city buses, tourist buses, and school buses), segmented buses, dump trucks with small trailers, and trucks with small trailers.

Endorsements Available:

  • P: Passenger
  • N: Tank vehicles
  • H: Hazardous materials
  • S: School bus

3. Class C CDL

Description: The Class C CDL is meant for vehicles not covered under Class A or B, but are still used for commercial purposes or transport a large number of passengers.

Vehicle Examples: Smaller transportation vehicles like shuttles, some hazmat vehicles, and smaller trucks that transport hazardous materials.

Endorsements Available:

  • P: Passenger
  • H: Hazardous materials
  • S: School bus
  • W: Tow truck (in certain states)

4. Endorsements

Besides the main classes, specific endorsements can be added to your CDL to show specialization in a particular area. Each endorsement often requires additional testing or certification.

  • T – Double/Triple Trailers: For those who wish to drive trucks with multiple trailers.
  • P – Passenger: Required if you intend to drive a vehicle that carries passengers, such as a bus.
  • N – Tank: This endorsement is needed for drivers transporting large amounts of liquid or gas.
  • H – Hazardous Materials (HazMat): This is mandatory for drivers transporting materials deemed hazardous. An extensive background check is also required.
  • S – School Bus: Specifically for school bus drivers, focusing on safety precautions necessary for transporting children.
  • X – Tank/HazMat Combo: A combination of the N and H endorsements.
  • W – Tow Truck (in certain states): For those looking to operate tow trucks.


Becoming a commercial driver can be a fulfilling and lucrative career choice. Whether you’re planning to drive a school bus, transport hazardous materials, or operate large tractor-trailers, there’s a specific license to fit your needs. Knowing the differences between these licenses and the endorsements available can help you chart your career path in the commercial driving world. Always remember to regularly update your credentials and keep abreast of any changes in transportation regulations. Safe driving!

Leave a Comment

Biz Owners: You May be Eligible for up to $26k Per Employee Kept During Covid