Personal injury Library

What is a Commercial Driver?

Heavy vehicles that move passengers or cargo from place to place are generally classified as commercial vehicles. The operators of those vehicles must be specially trained and licensed to drive them due to their increased size and the complexities of driving them safely—and the rules they must follow differ from those for drivers of passenger vehicles. With that in mind, what exactly is a commercial driver?

Answer: A commercial driver is an individual specially licensed by a state to operate a commercial motor vehicle.

The Rule

Commercial driver's license (CDL) means a license issued to an individual by a State or other jurisdiction of domicile...which authorizes the individual to operate a class of a commercial motor vehicle.

49 CFR § 383.5

What Vehicles Can a Commercial Driver Operate?

A commercial driver may get one of three classifications of CDL depending on certain aspects of the vehicle they expect to drive.

Class A: Required to drive any combination of vehicles with a gross weight of 26,001 pounds or more, which includes towed vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds. This category includes:

  • Tractor-trailers
  • Truck/trailer combinations (including multi-trailers)
  • Flatbed trucks
  • Livestock transporters
  • Tanker vehicles

Class B: Needed for a single vehicle with a gross weight of 26,001 pounds or greater and/or that vehicle towing another weighing up to 10,001 pounds. The following are examples:

  • Straight trucks
  • Large buses (eg school/city/tour buses)
  • Segmented buses
  • Dump trucks with small trailers
  • Box trucks (Couriers, delivery trucks)  

Class C: Vehicles that do not meet the criteria for Class A or Class B licenses may require a Class C CDL. Class-C vehicles are meant to transport at least 16 passengers, including the driver, or hazardous materials. Examples include passenger vans and HAZMAT transport vehicles.

What Does This Have to Do with Truck Accident Lawsuits?

Speaking from experience after dealing with hundreds of truck accident lawsuits, I'd say knowing what kinds of vehicles each rating of driver can operate is mostly relevant when they fail to do so properly. That most commonly takes one of two forms:

First, some commercial drivers don't have the right kind of license for the vehicle they're driving. If a driver rated for a van gets behind the wheel of a big rig and crashes because they had no idea what they were doing, it's important to find out how they even got there. Maybe they didn't know they had the wrong license or maybe their employer just told them to drive and not ask questions, but whatever put them in that truck they and the company are likely responsible for any damage they caused.

The second thing we often see is a properly-licensed truck driver simply screwing up one way or another. In many ways this is just as bad or worse than the other problem since it means the driver who goofed should realistically have known better after all their training, practice, and road experience. None of those are magical shields against every accident, though, and it's important to help anyone hurt by the driver's mistake.

Not every commercial accident is caused by improper licensure or training, but it's one of many possible factors that must be investigated when learning the whole story. Doing that can often get complicated, but an experienced truck accident attorney can help. If you or a loved one were injured in a crash with an 18-wheeler and aren't sure what to do next, the attorneys of Grossman Law Offices would be glad to speak with you about your situation. Call any time for a free consultation.

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