The Shipper’s Guide to Licenses and Endorsements

Feb 15, 2023

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has required drivers operating commercial motor vehicles to be in possession of a commercial driver’s license (CDL) since 1992. However, depending on the type of cargo being transported (and where it’s being transported to), a CDL alone may not be enough to stay compliant with FMCSA regulations.

Here’s our summary of the licenses and endorsements which may be required to ship different types of cargo.

What types of CDL Licenses Are There?

Though the FMCSA regulates the shipping industry as a whole, individual states are responsible for issuing Commercial Learner’s Permits and CDLs to qualified drivers. The process of applying for a CDL varies by state, but generally includes two parts: a written test and a general skills test, both of which must be passed in order to obtain the license or permit.

There are three CDL License classes:

  • Class A – authorizes a driver to operate any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight of 26,001 pounds (11,794 kg) or more. This class is usually issued to drivers of semi-trucks, tanker vehicles, livestock carriers, and other truck and trailer combinations.
  • Class B – authorizes a driver to operate a single vehicle with a gross weight of 26,001 pounds (11,794 kg) or more. This class is usually issued to drivers of box and delivery trucks, dump trucks, and other large vehicles that aren’t hitched to a trailer.
  • Class C – authorizes a driver to operate any other type of vehicle or combination of vehicles that don’t fall under Class A or Class B and are designed to either transport 16+ passengers or move hazardous materials. This includes HazMat vehicles, double trailers and buses.

What are Endorsements?

In addition to obtaining the proper class of CDL, commercial drivers who move specific types of cargo may also need to earn an endorsement. Endorsements are supplemental certifications that are added to a driver’s CDL to show they’re legally qualified to transport certain types of freight. Put simply, an endorsement indicates what type of cargo a driver is authorized to haul while the CDL Class specifies what type of vehicle they can use to move it.

Endorsements can be earned from the state by taking additional exams and skills tests. There are six types of endorsements recognized by the FMCSA:

1. (T) Doubles and Triples

If a driver plans to haul two or three trailers at a time, they’re required to have a Doubles and Triples (T) endorsement. Only Class A CDL holders can earn this type of endorsement and certain states prohibit double and triple loads entirely. Drivers should always check their state’s regulations before applying for this endorsement and be familiar with the regulations for any other states they may be transporting cargo through.

Requirements: Written knowledge test.

2. (H) HazMat or Hazardous Materials

Flammable liquids, combustible gasses, oil, explosive materials, and other dangerous chemicals all fall under the hazardous materials umbrella. Any driver with a Class A, B, or C license who will be transporting hazardous materials must also earn a HazMat (H) endorsement before being able to safely ship hazardous materials.

Requirements: Written knowledge test, completing a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security threat assessment, and submitting fingerprints and two forms of ID. Drivers with this endorsement are also subject to periodic retests of their written knowledge exam and must pass the exam to maintain their endorsement.

3. (N) Tank Vehicle

This endorsement is required for drivers with a Class A and Class B CDL who will be operating any type of tank vehicle. It doesn’t matter if the tank is permanently or temporarily attached to the vehicle; if a tank is involved, a Tanker (N) endorsement is required. Tanks can be used to transport liquids like milk or chemicals, as well as bulk dry materials like sand or grain.

Requirements: Written knowledge test.

4. (X) Tanker / Hazardous Material Combination

The Tanker/Hazardous Material Combination (X) endorsement permits Class A and Class B CDL holders to haul hazardous materials in a tank. Some states view an (X) endorsement as a combination of (H) and (N) endorsements, meaning drivers who earn only an (X) endorsement would be authorized to haul both hazardous and non-hazardous materials in a tanker truck.

Requirements: Written knowledge test.

5. (P) Passenger Transport

The Passenger Transport (P) endorsement is required of all CDL Class holders who operate a vehicle that can transport 16 or more passengers at once.

Requirements: Written knowledge test and a road skills test.

6. (S) School Bus / Passenger Transport

A School Bus (S) endorsement is a secondary endorsement required by all school bus drivers. All drivers must first hold a (P) endorsement before they can apply for this additional endorsement.

Requirements: Written knowledge test, road skills test, background check, and physical examination. Specific states may have their own requirements in addition to these.

What About Sensitive Freight?

On top of the FMCSA’s regulations for licenses and endorsements, drivers also have to be prepared for the many challenges that come with hauling sensitive freight like pharmaceuticals and dangerous chemicals.

When handling sensitive materials that could react if exposed to other materials or be damaged by changes in temperature, safe practices have to extend beyond the time the freight is actually in transit. Everyone involved from production and warehouse storage personnel to the workers loading and unloading the cargo at its various locations must work together to maintain cold chain integrity from start to finish.

One of the many benefits of working with a reliable 3PL provider like First Call Logistics is the pre-established relationships with certified carriers who are legally authorized to transport all types of cargo. No matter what you’re shipping or where you’re shipping it to, we can help ensure you stay compliant, avoid fines or fees from violations and get your product safely to its final destination.

Simplify your Next Shipment with First Call Logistics

Building and managing cost-efficient supply chains is a full-time job. First Call’s rare combination of in-house assets, expert problem-solving and track record of stellar customer service makes us the 3PL of choice for business partners with a wide range of shipping needs.

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