What Is a CDL Class B?

by Andy Pasquesi

In the United States, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) requires individuals who operate commercial motor vehicles (CMV) to possess a Commercial Drivers License (CDL). CDLs come in three separate classes: A, B & C, based on the total weight and design of the CMV you drive. Although CDL Class B is the second heaviest weight class (up to 26,001 pounds, including the weight any vehicles in tow), it still requires you to pass a written exam and road test. However, a CDL Class B license gives you excellent opportunities for local and flexible work in construction, shipping and public transit.

CMVs You Can Operate with a CDL Class B

A CDL Class B allows you to operate a CMV of a total weight up to 26,001 pounds. Typically, straight trucks such as delivery vans (e.g. Fedex, UPS, Peapod, DHL), dump trucks (e.g. sand, gravel, aggregates, asphalt, mulch), garbage/recycling trucks, cement mixers, buses (e.g. school, chartered, tour, Greyhound), tow trucks, small tank trucks (e.g. airport refueler, septic service, industrial chemicals, milk transport) and food service trucks (e.g. ice cream, construction site catering). CDL Class B also lets you drive a CMV pulling a separate trailer, so long as the combined weight is under 26,001 pounds and the trailer weighs no more than 10,000 pounds.

CMVs You Cannot Operate with a CDL Class B

CDL Class B does not allow you to operate CMVs weighing over 26,001 total pounds or pulling trailers weighing over 10,000 pounds. This includes tractor-trailer trucks (e.g. semi trucks, auto-transporter, 18-wheelers, Big Rigs), which haul massive loads (e.g. up to three trailers in tandem, gas station fill tankers, multiple tractor units, extra-long flatbed trailers).

License Endorsements

A CDL Class B alone doesn't allow you to operate all types of Class B CMVs. Rather, you must pass additional written exams and road tests to add a specific "endorsement" to your existing CDL. Currently, there are six different endorsements (signified by single letters): H (for transporting hazardous materials), N (for operating tank vehicles), P (for operating passenger transport vehicles like tour buses or trolleys), X (for a transporting hazardous materials in a tank vehicle), L (for operating a CMV with air brakes) and S (for driving a school bus).

How To Prepare For The CDL Class B Test

You must be at least 21 years of age, no revoked driving licenses and no traffic accidents (where you were at fault) within the past two years. If you are 18, you can still get a CDL Class B, but you will only be allowed to operate within your home state. At 21, you can operate across state lines. First, you will need a Department of Transportation (DOT) Medical Certificate. Visit the D.O.T. website to download the paperwork and find a health care provider to conduct the examination. Second, visit your state's Department of Motor Vehicles website and download "CDL Permit" forms and study materials. There will be a brief written exam for the permit, so study. Once you've done this, bring the certificate, the completed CDL permit application forms, birth records, drivers license and proof of residency to your local Department of Motor Vehicles to get your permit. The CDL permit is good for two years. If you have a friend who has a CDL Class A or B, you can practice driving if they are in the vehicle with you. However, you'll probably want to take a CDL drivers education course as well.

Taking the Test

In most states, the written exam is first. It takes about 60 minutes for the general exam and an additional 25 minutes for each endorsement section test you want to take. The road test breaks into three parts: pre-trip inspection, basic controls and on-road performance. For the pre-trip inspection, you'll walk around the entire vehicle with the examiner, explaining what you're looking for and why. For basic controls, the examiner will join you in the vehicle while you steer the CMV around cones and perform basic maneuvers. Finally, the on-road section requires you to take the CMV out onto the road (with real traffic), while the examiner directs you through different traffic scenarios. If you pass the written and the road tests, the license is yours. If you fail either one, you must wait 30 days before retaking it.

About the Author

A Chicago-based copywriter, Andy Pasquesi has extensive experience writing for automotive (BMW, MINI Cooper, Harley-Davidson), financial services (Ivy Funds, William Blair, T. Rowe Price, CME Group), healthcare (Abbott) and consumer goods (Sony, Motorola, Knoll) clients. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Harvard University but does not care for the Oxford comma.