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When is a CDL Required?

The world of truck enforcement is a world of never ending questions. Most people will agree the second heaviest regulated industry in the United States needs rules and regulations. Most people will also agree there is a great deal of discontinuity in the dissemination of these laws, how they are to be interpreted and how they are to be enforced. This level of discontinuity gives birth to such organizations as the Illinois Truck Enforcement Association. The article this week will cover one of these laws – the Uniform Commercial Driver’s License Act.

Over-the-road truck drivers can attest from experience how laws seem to change from state to state. Most local drivers will also affirm laws seem to change from town to town, even within the same state. There are some laws, however, which the federal government institutes and decrees all fifty states must abide by uniformly.

There are 3.8 million square miles in this great nation. Whether the road takes you to Lubec, Maine in the east or Cape Wrangell, Alaska in the west, the requirements for needing a commercial driver’s license (CDL) are the same. Gross Vehicle Weight Rating

The manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) provides the definitive answer as to whether a CDL is required or not. If a single vehicle has a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more, a CDL class B is required. In combinations, if the vehicle being towed (trailer) has a GVWR of 10,001 pounds or more, and the gross combined weight rating (GCWR) exceeds 26,001 pounds or more.

Are there exceptions? Of course, but this is the basic premise of CDL law. This information can be found on the Illinois Secretary of State’s website HERE. In the event the manufacturer’s GVWR is not available, there is only one other option to determine if a CDL is required, which is discussed in this next section.

Actual Vehicle Weight

Regardless of the manufacturer’s GVWR of the vehicle, the actual physical weight of the vehicle on the scale may require the driver to have a CDL. For instance, a dump truck with a GVWR of 26,000 pounds or less would not require a CDL to operate. It would require a CDL class B if the actual weight on the scale is 26,001 pounds or more. This is a true comparison, and the higher of the two (manufacturer’s GVWR vs actual weight on the scale) determines the necessity for a CDL.

In older trucks, it is common for the manufacturer’s stickers to fade and wear off. In these situations, police officers must use the vehicle’s actual weight. Police officers may also combine actual weight with one vehicle in a combination and the GVWR of the other. When combined, police officers will always use whichever number is greater. Vehicles Requiring Endorsements

A Ford F-150 with a manufacturer’s GVWR of 8,000 pounds does not require a CDL to operate. Its GVWR and actual weight on the scale are both well below the 26,000 pound threshold. However, if the same Ford F-150 is used to haul demolition explosives, and if by federal definition the explosives are a hazardous material requiring placards, a CDL is required. This is because a CDL is required to add the haz mat endorsement. The Illinois Secretary of State does not have the authority to endorse a non-CDL with hazmat, passengers, double-triples, tankers, etc.

These line items requiring a driver to have a CDL seem relatively simple but many truck drivers have found themselves in trouble because they did not have a CDL when required. This is not a good place to be in Illinois because not having a CDL when required is a class-A misdemeanor. A class-A misdemeanor can carry a jail sentence and heavy fines.

Unfortunately, police officers have also made costly mistakes when enforcing CDL laws. This can be attributed to poor training or lack thereof. One erroneous method of instruction is to use the registered weight (license plate) of the vehicle(s) when the manufacturer’s GVWR is not available. This is 100% wrong. It’s also incorrect to use weight specifications listed in owner’s manuals or online VIN decoders.

As mentioned before, it’s the manufacturer’s GVWR or actual weight on the scale. That’s it.

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