A commercial driver’s license is required to operate vehicles like tractor-trailers, straight trucks, and buses. The commercial license you need will depend on the vehicle you will be driving.
Commercial driver’s license types are highly regulated at either the federal level, the state level, or the provincial level. In Canada, The National Safety Code sets the standard for provincial and territorial CDL regulations. In the United States, commercial driving is regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
The regulations for both Canada and the United States are very similar. This is great news for driver’s who frequently cross borders.
Canadian Commercial Driver’s License
Overall regulations in Canada are governed by Transport Canada’s National Safety Code. The National Safety Code is the standard each province and territory are to follow when regulating their drivers. However, each province has their own classes of commercial vehicle licenses and their own requirements for obtaining a license.
These licenses generally cover vehicles like passenger buses and heavy trucks. They also include vehicles like taxis, limos, dump trucks, fuel tankers, and large snow plows.
Toronto for example requires all operators to have a Private Transportation Company (PTC) License. Although this is not a provincial license type it is still required to operate as a rideshare (commercial) driver in the city of Toronto.
Driver’s can go through additional testing to have endorsements added to their licenses. Endorsements enable to the driver to use special equipment that requires knowledge and training to operate.
Trucks with air brakes will require an Z-endorsement in Ontario and an F-endorsement in New Brunswick.
To drive a school bus, the province of Saskatchewan requires you to have an S-endorsement on your license.
Check your provinces set of endorsements to see which ones you might benefit from holding.
The minimum age to drive a commercial vehicle in Canada is between 18 and 19, depending on the province. If you are planning on driving a bus you must be between 19 and 21, again depending on the province.
All provinces require you to pass a medical examination. The examination will ensure that you do not have any conditions that may render you unsafe to drive. A doctor must sign off on your health before applying for your commercial license.
You will need to have a standard driver’s license with a clean driving background and a criminal record check is also required.
Know your stuff
All license types require a passing mark on a written test and a practical test. The written tests are generally multiple choice questions based on the information in your provinces hand book.
After you have passed your written test, you will be given a learners permit. This permit gives you the opportunity to practice with a fully licensed driver.
Behind the wheel
Experience behind the wheel is the best way to learn how to drive your vehicle. A good trucking school will teach you the important skills you need. Some provinces have made it mandatory to complete an approved course before completing your tractor trailer license.
Once you have been trained in your vehicle you can book a road test. The road test is where you will prove your skills. Your examiner will ask you to complete various driving maneuvers and will grade you as you perform.
After a successful road test, you will be awarded with your commercial driver’s license.
United States Commercial Driver’s License
Commercial licenses in the United States are governed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The general requirements and definitions of the license types are regulated at the federal level. Age requirements and the application process are set at the state level.
The commercial license class needed is determined by a vehicles Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR).
Class A commercial licenses cover any vehicle combination weighing more than 26,001lbs. Drivers of this class are also permitted to carry a towed vehicle that weighs 10,000lbs or more. Tractor-trailers, tankers, and trains are examples of vehicles covered by the Class A license.
Class B commercial licenses allow drivers to operate single vehicles weighing 26,000lbs or more with a towed vehicle which weighs no more than 10,000lbs. Driver’s with a Class B license can operate straight trucks, buses, dump trucks, and other similar vehicles.
Class C commercial license holders can drive any vehicle that is used to transport 16 passengers (including the driver) or is used to transport hazardous materials. This license type also covers vehicles that do not fit the description of Class A or Class B. Examples of Class C vehicles are small trucks with trailers, HAZMAT trucks or passenger vans.
A TNC (Transportation Network Company) license is required to operate as a rideshare driver in some American cities. Transportation Network Company licenses are given to companies providing a taxi or rideshare service. Check with your jurisdiction to see if you need a TNC license.
In some states like California, drivers are required to hold a CDL if their primary employment is driving, regardless of their vehicle type.
Some types of commercial vehicles may require an endorsement on your driver’s license. A T-endorsement allows the driver to pull a double or a triple trailer. A P-endorsement permits drivers to operate a vehicle used to carry 16 or more passengers. An N-endorsement will allow the operator to pull a tanker trailer.
There are also restrictions which can be placed on the driver’s license. An L-restriction is placed on the commercial license when the driver is not licensed with air brakes.
See all the endorsements and restrictions at the FMCSA drivers page.
To obtain your commercial driver’s license in the United States you must be 21 years old. In some states a restricted license can be obtained if you are between 18 and 21 years old. A restricted commercial driver’s license limits you to intrastate travel only. You must get your CDL license in your home state and it is illegal to carry more than one commercial driver’s license.
A Department of Transportation (DOT) medical exam is required to apply for a commercial driver’s license. The examination will determine if you are physically fit to operate a commercial vehicle. If you pass the examination you will be giving a DOT medical card and will be able to apply for a commercial license.
Your driving history for the past 10 years will be checked when applying. Having a clean driving history means a smoother ride towards your full commercial driver’s license.
Know your stuff
To obtain a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP), you must pass a written knowledge test. The tests are multiple choice and around 50 questions long. If you are writing a test for an endorsement or other add-on there will be an addition 25 questions.
Once you pass the written test you will be granted a commercial learner’s permit. Then, you can begin to get some on the road training with a friend or at a driving school.
Behind the wheel
Now that you have a learner’s permit, you will need to get some driving experience. Although you can take your road test 14 days after passing the written test, it is wise to spend some more time getting to know your vehicle. A trucking school is a great way to get the experience and knowledge that you will need to pass the road test.
There are 3 parts to the practical skills test, the vehicle inspection test, the basic controls test, and the road test. Once you pass the test you will either receive your CDL the same day or you will receive your CDL a few days later in the mail.
Time to get started!
The commercial driver’s license types in Canada and the United States are pretty similar. Both countries require that you be a minimum age of 18 to apply and both require that you pass a medical examination.
The application process is also on par between the two countries:
- Apply for the licese
- Complete the written test
- Training and practice
- Pass the road test
Make sure to look up the exact requirements for your province or state before applying.
Ready to apply for your truck license? Check out our guide to becoming an AZ Driver in Ontario!