Legendary golfer Arnold Palmer once said “golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated”. Many times when confronted with understanding a dynamic concept, our brain over-complicates things. Instead of just standing back and looking at the big picture, we make a puzzle out of it and try to fit pieces into places they do not belong. A common place to see this manifested is figuring how airbrakes play into commercial driver’s licenses.
Braking is obviously a critical system on heavy trucks. Those who are going to drive trucks requiring CDL’s need to demonstrate their ability to understand these systems in a vehicle representative to what they will be driving in the real world…and herein lies the confusion.
It is not uncommon to hear someone say “that truck has airbrakes…you need a CDL to operate it” or “you can’t drive that truck without an airbrake endorsement”. Both of these statements are incorrect. Airbrakes do not make a truck CDL worthy and there is no such thing as an airbrake endorsement.
If a driver desires a Class-B CDL, he will need to test in a representative straight truck. If he wants to obtain his Class-A, then he will need to test in a representative combination of vehicles. But he is NOT required to test in vehicles with airbrakes. However, if the testing vehicles are representative of the class of CDL desired, but neither vehicle has airbrakes, the Secretary of State will put an “L” restriction on the license.
Here’s an example: picture a large 2-axle dump truck commonly used by landscapers that only requires a Class-C non-CDL license…like an International 4700 series. Sometimes these trucks pull larger tag trailers that now put the combination in the Class-A CDL category…yet neither vehicle has airbrakes. A potential CDL driver can use this combination of vehicles to test for his Class-A CDL. If he is successful, he will obtain his Class-A with the “L” restriction. However, he cannot use his new found CDL to drive other CDL vehicles that have airbrakes simply because he has a CDL. If he would like to lift the “L” restriction and lawfully operate a CDL worthy truck with airbrakes, he must go back to the SOS and pass a battery of tests in a representative vehicle to prove his operational knowledge.
The “L” restriction for airbrakes only applies when the CDL holder is operating a vehicle requiring a CDL. There are trucks manufactured with airbrakes that do not require a CDL at all. In these cases, a CDL holder with an “L” restriction may operate this vehicle because the restriction does not apply.
Why is this an issue deserving discussion? In the event a driver is operating a CDL vehicle without a being classified or endorsed properly, the Illinois Vehicle Code prescribes a misdemeanor charge (625 ILCS 5/6-507-A-3). Many local police departments require officers to make a custodial arrest of the driver for misdemeanor traffic offenses. This may include towing and impounding the truck, fingerprinting, mug shots, and assignment of criminal State and Federal ID numbers. That is big deal. However, if a CDL driver is indeed violating an airbrake restriction, it is only a petty offense (625 ILCS 5/6-113).
A minor traffic offense can easily become an unlawful arrest situation due to a lack of understanding. There’s no need to complicate things.