Do You Need A CDL To Drive A Vehicle With Air Brakes?

Rules can be tedious sometimes, but they are also necessary. You must have heard the famous saying that with great power comes great responsibility. This is true for CDL owners because they have a greater responsibility to ensure everyone’s safety. 

But the fact that CDL is required to drive a vehicle with air brakes is not a rule; it is a misconception. You can drive a vehicle with air brakes even if you don’t have a commercial driver’s license as long as the vehicle weighs  26,000 lbs or less. This is the minimum requirement; you need a CDL to drive any vehicle that weighs more than 26,000.

If you are curious to learn more about the purpose of the commercial driver’s license and in what situations it may be needed, this article is for you.

What Is A Commercial Driver’s License?

A commerce driver’s license is a special license that is required to drive vehicles that are needed to drive heavy, dangerous, hazardous, and large vehicles that are used in the commercial industry for transport or other purposes. These vehicles may include trailers, vans, buses, and trucks.

If you are curious to learn more, this video details all that you need to know about the commercial driver’s license.

Why Is A Commercial Driver License Needed? 

A CDL is necessary because a different level of skill and knowledge is required when driving commercial vehicles compared to passenger vehicles. Commercial vehicles also have much more potential to cause harm and require way more experience. 

Separate training and testing are needed to equip a person with the skills to handle a vehicle like that. 

How Are Commercial Vehicles Different From Passenger Vehicles?

Passenger vehicles weigh less than 4000-5000 lbs and have four wheels. They carry passengers from one place to another. Commercial vehicles transport goods for industrial purposes. 

What Are The Different Types Of CDL?

CDL is needed for vehicles surpassing a Gross Vehicle Weight rating level. This is the maximum loaded weight under which a truck can safely operate as the manufacturer prescribes.

There are three main types of Commercial driver’s licenses. 

Type A: Any vehicle with a GVWR of more than 26,000lbs with an added mass of 10,000lbs of towed units.

Type B: A vehicle with a GVWR of more than 26,000lbs or a vehicle towing a vehicle with a GVWR of no more than 10,000lbs.

Type C: Any single vehicle (or combination of different vehicles) that does not meet the definition of Class A or Class B but is designed to carry 16 or more passengers (with the driver also included) or is transporting material that has been designated as hazardous or material that’s been listed as a select agent or toxin

Why Does A Vehicle With Air Brakes Not Require A CDL?

Vehicles with air brakes use air pressure instead of the hydraulic brake system to stop a moving vehicle. Air brakes are used in vehicles carrying heavy loads because air is more reliable and can constantly be reproduced, whereas hydraulic fluid needs refills and requires time. 

There is also a potential for leakage, which can cause brakes to fail. A brake failing on a vehicle carrying a heavy load is more dangerous. 

But the CDL is not linked to air brakes in any way. The link is drawn because heavy vehicles that need a CDL may also need air brakes, but no correlation exists between the two. 

Air brake vehicles have a separate test called air brake testing, in which you need 80% to pass before driving the vehicle. 

What Is The Test Required To Drive Vehicles With Air Brakes?

The test is uniquely designed to test knowledge about the braking system. It involves a written test and a practical demonstration that tests a driver’s knowledge, skill, and practical use of the braking system and its various dimensions. 

This is necessary to drive vehicles with air brakes.

How To Get A Commerical Driver License?

Two main tests are administrated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The skills test and the knowledge test. The skills test involved being practically trained to drive, while the knowledge test is a written test. 

The training can take anything ranging from three weeks to six months. You must clear both tests to get the CDL. 

Are There Different Tests For Different Types Of CDL?

The tests differ slightly depending on where you live and what level of CDL you are applying for.

  • Class A: General CDL Knowledge Test, Combinations Knowledge Test, Air Brakes Knowledge Test, Road Skills Test in a Class A Vehicle
  • Class B: General CDL Knowledge Test, Air Brakes Knowledge Test, Road Skills Test in a Class B Vehicle
  • Class C: Genera CDL Knowledge Test, competition of all the requirements for one of the following endorsements: passenger or hazmat

What Happens If You Drive A Commercial Vehicle Without A CDL? 

There are serious penalties for breaking this law. It can result in having to stay in prison for 90 days. Depending on the severity of the crime, you may also have to pay a fine for anything ranging between 2500 dollars to 5000 dollars. 

How Much Is The Pay For Being A Commercial Driver?

The average pay for drivers can range from $0.58 to $0.78 per mile, providing an income average range of $1,140 up to $1,538 per week or more. 

A commercial driver works in two shifts, one driving while the other supervises and rests.

The Bottom Line

The misconception that airbrakes require a commercial driver’s license stems from the fact that airbrakes are often needed for vehicles that are heavy, and these vehicles are also commercial vehicles that require a CDL. There is no direct correlation between the two. But CDL is necessary if you want to become a commercial driver and ensure personal and public safety. 

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