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Truck Driver Laws

What is a CDL? Commercial Driver’s License Guide

A CDL is a commerical driver’s licence and every truck driver is required to be licensed with one in his state of principal residence, with a driving record kept in a centralized computer for access by each state. According to federal law, each state is required to adopt uniform testing standards for commercial drivers prior to being issued a commercial driver’s license.

A CDL is required to operate the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the GCWR of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds;
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more people, including the driver; and
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded with transporting hazardous materials.

However, a State may waive CDL requirements for the following vehicles:

  • Farm equipment operators;
  • Vehicles used to transport farm products, equipment or supplies to and from a farm;
  • Vehicles used within 150 air miles of a farm;
  • Vehicles not used in operations of a contract carrier;
  • Individuals operating motor homes or other vehicles used exclusively to transport personal possessions or family members for non-business purposes;
  • Police and firefighters operating authorized emergency vehicles; and
  • Firefighting equipment operators, military vehicle operators and recreational vehicle operators, if the vehicle is primarily used for personal use.

For certain vehicles, special endorsements are required:

  • Double/triple tractor-trailers,
  • Passenger vehicles,
  • Tank vehicles,
  • Semi-trucks carrying hazardous materials,
  • Combination tank and hazardous materials, and
  • Vehicles with air brakes.

Commercial driver’s license (CDL) violations

A commercial driver’s license is normally valid for four years, but there are a number of CDL violations that can cause a truck driver to lose his or her privileges. Most safety violations will involve alcohol and drug abuse, fatigued driving, not following a proper pre-trip inspection, and general unsafe truck driving practices.

Proving these safety violations is an important part of any truck accident case in Michigan, especially when a truck driver who has negligently caused a crash denies responsibility.

Careful questioning by an experienced truck accident lawyer during the deposition of a truck driver or company safety director and access to the driver file will often prove negligence and cause many defense attorneys and insurance companies to re-evaluate their positions.

About Commercial Driver’s Licence Tests

There are several steps involved in obtaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL) in Michigan.

1. Physical exam

The truck driver must pass a physical examination by a qualified medical practitioner on the national registry to prove that he has the physical capability to handle a large truck without medical restrictions.

2. Drug test

The driver must also take a drug test. If the driver passes the exam, he receives a medical certificate that’s valid for two years.

3. Written test

The next part is a written test modeled after the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administration guide. Most states, including Michigan, use this written test.

4. Additional certifications

There are additional tests a truck driver may be required to take for combination vehicles, air braked vehicles, double or triple tractor-trailers or hazardous materials.

5. Road skills test

Once the written exam is completed, the driver then takes a road skills test, which consists of three parts:

  1. Understanding the pre-trip inspection.
  2. Learning about basic vehicle controls.
  3. Successfully completing the actual road skills test.

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