One of the most significant benefits of working as a truck driver is the wide variety of trucking job categories and specialized job types you can choose as an owner operator or apply for as a company driver. Your ability to perform within a job category or operate a specific commercial motor vehicle is primarily determined by your commercial driver’s license.
A commercial driver’s license (CDL) is required to drive a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) – some specialized trucking jobs require more. Further education, specialized training, and additional endorsements are needed to drive a school bus, haul hazardous material, tow double or triple trailers, and do various other specialty jobs. Other specialized trucking jobs simply require you to be interested in new responsibilities and willing to learn new skills. The specific class of commercial driving license and endorsements you need depends on the equipment you want to operate and the cargo you want to haul. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association describes a detailed set of commercial drivers’ licenses (CDLs), their endorsement codes and meanings, and limitations that may be applied.
Trucking is an industry where demand is constantly changing. Knowing truck driver job categories is essential to maximize the value of your trucking business. Understanding the specific licensing requirements associated with each category and type of job is essential to acquiring this valuable knowledge.
First, let’s take a quick look at CDLs–the varying classifications, endorsements, and restrictions that govern what type of vehicle and goods a driver is permitted to handle. Then, we’ll look at the long list of job categories available to professional truck operators.
A Quick Guide to Commercial Drivers Licenses (CDLs) – The Gateway to Choosing a Type of Commercial Truck to Run
There are many types of truckers that service the industrial, commercial & institutional (IC&I) sectors. To drive a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV), the operator must obtain a commercial driver’s license by passing the required skills and knowledge tests. A commercial driver’s license is required to operate a vehicle with a gross weight exceeding 26,001 pounds, is used to transport at least 16 passengers, or carries hazardous material. The classification of the CDL determines what kind of vehicle a commercial driver can operate.
Following are the three different classifications of CDLs:
- Class A: This classification permits drivers to operate a motor vehicle with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 pounds or more and towing equipment with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,000 pounds or more. This license class permits freight hauling using dry van, flatbed, and reefer trailers with more than one axle. With this truck driving license, you can cross state lines and operate along the interstate. This class is best for people looking for an over-the-road (OTR) career with high earning potential and job security.
- Class B: This classification permits drivers to operate a single vehicle with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 pounds or more and trucks with a detached towed cargo vehicle weighing less than 10,000 pounds. A Class B truck driver can only haul freight with a single axle trailer within state lines. This class is best for people looking for local trucking jobs within the service or utility industries.
- Class C: This classification is required for drivers operating commercial vehicles weighing less than 26,001 pounds or a truck towing another vehicle that weighs fewer than 10,000 pounds. Additionally, if the operator has the correct endorsements, they can operate vehicles designed to transport at least 16 passengers (including the driver) or to carry hazardous material. This class suits those wanting to operate school buses, airport limousines, small hazmat vehicles, etc.
Endorsements – Expanding Your Truck Driving Job Options
In addition to varying classifications, a CDL can be complemented with endorsements that govern the proper operation of vehicle type and goods hauled. These endorsements are needed to drive specialized vehicles such as buses or tank trucks or carry hazardous materials.
Drivers who operate particular types of CMVs must pass additional tests to obtain the required endorsements placed on their CDL. The following are a few of those endorsements and which kinds of trucks they’re necessary for:
- H Endorsement: Required for driving vehicles containing hazardous materials. Passing a written knowledge test is required to receive an H endorsement.
- N Endorsement: An N endorsement is required if you want to drive a Liquid Bulk Cargo or Tank Vehicle. This endorsement is designed to haul liquids from cargo tanks with a capacity of 119 gallons or a portable tank with more than 1,000 gallons capacity. An N endorsement requires a written knowledge test.
- P Endorsement: Permits drivers to drive vehicles that carry a specific number of passengers and requires a written test and a road test to receive the endorsement (actual number of passengers that can get carried varies by state).
- S Endorsement: Permits drivers to drive school buses which also requires the driver to take a written knowledge test, road skills test, submit entirely separate application forms, pass a complete background check, and have an acceptable driving record to receive the endorsement.
- T Endorsement: A T CDL endorsement means Towing of Double or Triple Trailers. This endorsement is required if your vehicle needs to tow more than one trailer. The driver must pass an additional knowledge test to receive this endorsement.
- X Endorsement: Permits drivers to drive vehicles that transport HAZMAT materials or vehicles that are tankers, and the driver must pass a knowledge test to receive this endorsement.
CDL Restrictions – Limits to Driving Permissions
CDL Restrictions are the final modifiers that affect the permitted use of a commercial driver’s license. CDL restrictions apply when a driver takes the skills test in a vehicle lacking the critical equipment used in certain types of commercial motor vehicles.
Examples of these restrictions are listed below.
- L Restriction: This restriction prohibits the driver from driving a vehicle with a full air brake system. This restriction occurs if: you fail the air brakes endorsement written test, the air brakes portion of the pre-trip vehicle inspection test, or complete the road driving test in a CMV that doesn’t have a full air brake system.
- Z Restriction: A driver taking the skills test in a vehicle with a partial air system or hydraulic system will have a “Z” no full air brake restriction placed on their license.
- E Restriction: A driver who takes the skills test in a vehicle with an automatic transmission will have an “E” no manual transmission restriction placed on their license.
- O Restriction: A driver taking the skills test in a Class A vehicle with a pintle hook or other non-fifth wheel connection will have an “O” restriction placed on their license; this restricts them from driving any Class A vehicle with a fifth-wheel connection.
- M Restriction: A driver possessing a Class A CDL but obtained their passenger or school bus endorsement in a Class B vehicle must have an “M” restriction placed on their license. A driver with an M Restriction can only operate Class B and C passenger vehicles or school buses.
- N Restriction: A driver possessing a Class B CDL but obtains their passenger or school bus endorsement in a Class C vehicle must have an “N” restriction placed on their license. A driver with an N Restriction can only operate Class C passenger vehicles or school buses.
- V Restriction: A V restriction is issued when a driver has a medical variance, reported by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). A medical variance includes diabetic, hearing, seizure, or vision impairments. This code indicates information about the medical variance on the CDLIS record.
To avoid these CDL restrictions, drivers should take the skills test in the same type of vehicle(s) for which they plan to operate.
The Ultimate List of Commercial Trucking Job Categories
With the proper licensing, both owner operators and company drivers can be in the following categories of truck drivers:
- Auto haulers haul cars on specially built trailers and require specific skills in loading and operating.
- Boat haulers move 10-foot (3.0 m) bass boats to full-size yachts up to 60 feet (18 m) on a specialized low-boy trailer. Boats wider than 8.6 feet (2.62 m) or taller than 13.5 feet (4.11 m) are considered oversized loads and require a permit.
- Bullrack haulers (“cattle haulers”) move livestock (cows, calves, pigs, bulls, etc.) locally, regionally, or nationally. The term “bullrack” comes from a double-deck trailer used strictly to haul cattle.
- Crane truck drivers perform crane operator duties, including planning lifts, operating cranes, and assisting in rigging and blocking.
- Drayage drivers move cargo containers (aka “piggybacks”) lifted on or off the chassis at designated intermodal stations.
- Dry van drivers load and unload perishable or non-perishable goods, make multiple stops along a route, track deliveries, and inventory items delivered.
- Dry bulk pneumatic drivers (commonly known as “Flow Boys” among truckers) haul bulk salt, sand, and cement, among other materials. To unload their products, they use specialized trailers that use pressurized air.
- Flatbed drivers haul an assortment of large and potentially bulky items. A few examples are lumber, steel, and construction vehicles. Drivers are required to have the knowledge & skill set to balance the load safely to the intended destination.
- Lease purchase truck drivers are independent owner-operators in the process of purchasing their tractor via lease payments. The responsibilities and duties of a lease purchase truck driver are similar to those of a company driver – delivering freight safely and on time. During the leasing period, the leasing company will often assign truck driving jobs. For your part, you lease the truck, pay fuel costs, provide insurance, and pay for any necessary repairs.
- LTL drivers (location-to-location) or “less than truckload” are often more localized jobs where goods are delivered by the driver to multiple locations, which sometimes can involve the pulling of double or triple trailer combinations.
- Reefer drivers haul refrigerated, temperature-sensitive, or frozen goods in a reefer trailer. Reefer truck driving jobs include additional responsibilities above and beyond the average duties of other trucking jobs. These additional duties are one reason refer drivers are paid more:
- Reefer Motor Operation: You’ll be responsible for ensuring the unit is continuously operating correctly.
- Temperature Control & Monitoring: It is also your responsibility to control the temperature according to the load they are carrying.
- Liquid/Tanker drivers (tank truck drivers) haul liquids, such as diesel fuel, gas, milk, crude oil, and dry bulk materials, such as sugar, flour, plastics & cement, in tanks. Liquid tanker drivers need special driving skills to compensate for the changing load balance of fluid in motion. Particularly true for food-grade tankers, which do not contain baffles and are single compartments (due to sanitation requirements).
- Local drivers work only within the limits of their local areas. Crossing state lines may be part of these areas, but most drivers return home on a daily basis.
- Household goods drivers haul personal effects for families moving freight from one home to the next.
- Regional drivers haul a variety of freight locally, but may work over many states near their homes. Occasionally, they may have to spend time away from home.
- Interstate drivers (otherwise known as “over-the-road,” “OTR drivers,” or “long-haul” drivers) often haul over thousands of miles and are away from home for days to months on end. For time-critical loads, companies may opt to employ team drivers who can cover more miles than a single driver.
- Oversized load drivers haul oversized loads that exceed the standard regulations set by the FMCSA. Special permits are required to transport oversize shipments.
- Team drivers are two or more drivers who take turns driving the same truck in shifts or several people in different states that split up the line haul to keep from being away from home for such long periods.
- Vocational drivers drive a durable work truck built to handle a specific trucking job or tasks, such as pick-up & delivery, garbage collection, concrete mixing, distribution, tree trimming, firefighting, and much more. These trucks are custom-built on a truck chassis with self-propelled or trailer-mounted configurations.
Operating within the trucking job category with the most demand at a given time will ultimately lead to making the best money as an owner operator. As a company driver, it will assist in negotiating additional benefits such as increased salary, healthcare, retirement benefits, and paid vacation time.
Your independence as a professional truck driver to operate within a job category is primarily determined by your license. The type of vehicle to be operated and the types of goods to be transported within the category will determine which commercial driver’s license and mandatory endorsements you need to obtain. To maximize your earning potential, ensure to have the correct licensing credentials required to operate within high-demand job categories.
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