CDL Endorsements & Restrictions – What They Mean & Why They Matter

CDL Endorsements & Restrictions – What They Mean & Why They Matter
Mariah Barr
11 mins read

Whether you’re a seasoned trucker or you’re considering a new career in trucking, you know that earning your commercial driver’s license (CDL) is the first step toward a promising career as a truck driver. But did you know that a lack of endorsements or having restrictions on your license could be holding you back from various truck driving jobs? 

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The demand for commercial truck drivers is at an all-time high. Having certain endorsements and removing said restrictions can enhance your chances of being hired by a great company where you want to build a lifelong career. License endorsements also allow you to transport special types of goods as opposed to simply running general freight. As you continue driving a commercial motor vehicle (CMV), you should continue to earn endorsements and have restrictions removed. 

CDL Classes 

Let’s start with the three different CDL classes you can earn before you can consider adding endorsements. 

Class A CDL 

This is the most commonly issued CDL. With a Class A CDL, you have the authority to operate a vehicle with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, including a towed object/vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) over 10,000 pounds. 

You can operate the following vehicles with a Class A CDL: 

  • Tractor-trailers and flatbeds 
  • Livestock carriers 
  • Tankers 
  • Truck and trailer combinations  
  • Tractor-trailer buses 
  • Semi-truck with flatbed trailer 

If you’ve earned the appropriate Class A endorsements, you can even be authorized to operate some Class B and Class C trucks.  

Class B CDL 

You can operate a vehicle at or in excess of 26,001 in GCWR with a Class B commercial license. If you are using the vehicle for towing purposes, the GCWR cannot exceed 10,000 pounds.  

Vehicles you can drive with a Class B CDL include: 

  • Straight trucks  
  • Public transport and tourist passenger buses  
  • Segmented buses  
  • School buses  
  • Delivery service box trucks  
  • Dump trucks with small trailers  
  • Tractor-trailers  

Just like you’re allowed to operate different vehicles with a Class A CDL, you can operate some Class C vehicles with the right Class B endorsements. 

Class C CDL 

You must obtain a Class C CDL to drive a vehicle with a GVWR of less than 26,001 pounds, a vehicle towing another vehicle that has a GVWR that does not exceed 10,000 pounds, as well as a passenger vehicle with 16 (including the driver) or more people.  

You must also hold this CDL class to drive a truck carrying hazardous material (HAZMAT) under federal guidelines.  

With a Class C CDL (and the right endorsements), you can drive: 

  • Small trucks equipped to transport HAZMAT 
  • Passenger vans 
  • Small trucks towing trailers

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CDL Endorsements 

The CDL endorsements you hold determine the different types of CMVs you can operate and the freight you can haul within them. Earning each type of endorsement requires passing its corresponding test. Just like there are different CDL Classes between different states, there are also different endorsement requirements per state.  

How much do CDL endorsements cost? The price tag attached to most endorsement tests (except HAZMAT, which is more involved) varies by state, but it is relatively affordable.  

Holding more endorsements only makes you a more desirable hire and increases the likelihood of earning more money and being a successful driver. Once you earn additional endorsements, you need to remember to renew them when you renew your CDL to keep them valid.  

H Endorsement 

Also known as the HAZMAT endorsement, an H endorsement is required to operate a vehicle that contains hazardous materials.  

Applicable CDL classifications: Class A, B, and C
Required testing: written knowledge test 

N Endorsement 

Drivers with an N CDL endorsement can drive tankers, or vehicles that transport liquids and gases. 

Applicable CDL classifications: Class A and B
Required testing: written knowledge test 

P Endorsement 

If you’d like to operate a vehicle or bus that seats upwards of 16 people, you’ll need to earn your P (passenger) endorsement. To be a school bus driver, you will need to fill out separate forms, earn another endorsement in addition to the P endorsement, and pass a federal background check.  

Applicable CDL classifications: Class A, B, and C
Required testing: written knowledge test and road skills test 

S Endorsement 

The S (school bus) endorsement is the second endorsement noted above that’s required to be a school bus driver. 

Applicable CDL classifications: Class A, B, and C
Required testing: written knowledge test, road skills test, and background check 

T Endorsement 

Once you’ve earned your T endorsement, you’ll be able to haul double or triple trailers. 

Applicable CDL classifications: Class A
Required testing: written knowledge test 

X Endorsement 

A combination endorsement by nature, the X endorsement permits you to transport HAZMAT within a tank. 

Applicable CDL classifications: Class A and B
Required testing: written knowledge test 

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CDL Restrictions 

In contrast to earning endorsements, you can also receive CDL restrictions during the testing portions of your trucking career. It’s best to avoid these as much as possible since they will limit the types of vehicles you can legally operate. The good news is, most restrictions can be lifted by taking the right restorative actions, but the removal requirements do vary by state. Here are the seven most-common CDL driving restrictions you can be marked with.  

E Restriction 

The type of transmission the CMV has during your road skill test determines if you’ll receive this restriction. If you complete the test operating a CMV with an automatic transmission, your CDL will be marked with an E restriction, and you will not be able to drive a CMV with a manual transmission. To remove it, you must re-take the road test driving a rig with a manual transmission. 

L Restriction 

Having an L restriction on your CDL means you cannot operate a vehicle with a full air brake system. You will receive an L restriction in one of two circumstances: by driving a CMV without a full air brake system, or by failing to pass the air brakes knowledge exam. To remove the restriction, you must pass all sections of the CDL exam relating to air brakes. 

M Restriction 

If you have a Class A CDL and passed your P or S endorsements with a Class B or C passenger vehicle, you’ll receive an M restriction on your license, and you’ll be excluded from operating any Class A passenger vehicles. Passing the skills test in a Class A passenger vehicle is required to remove the restriction. 

N Restriction 

Like the M restriction, if you have a Class B CDL and obtained your P or S endorsement in a Class C passenger vehicle, you’ll acquire an N restriction on your CDL and be prohibited from operating a Class B passenger vehicle. Removing it involves passing the skills test in a Class B passenger vehicle. 

O Restriction 

You will have an O restriction added to your license if you’re a Class A CDL driver and you took your road skill test in a vehicle that did not have a fifth-wheel connection, such as a gooseneck, ball and chain hook up, or pintle hook. From there, you will be able to operate only CMVs without a fifth-wheel connection. Passing the road skills test using a vehicle with a fifth-wheel connection will remove the restriction. 

V Restriction 

If you have a reported medical variance as defined by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), your CDL will have a V restriction on it. Medical variances are impairments that can present safety hazards while operating a vehicle.  

The most common medical variances are: 

  • Diabetes 
  • Seizures 
  • Hearing problems 
  • Eyesight impairment 

As long as your medical certificate states you have any of these conditions, the restriction will remain on your license; however, the FMCSA may provide you with an exemption.

Z Restriction 

You are not authorized to operate a CMV with full air brakes if your license has a Z restriction placed on it. The Z restriction means you performed the road skills test with a vehicle that had a partial air system or hydraulic system. You will need to complete the driving test with a vehicle that has a full air brake system to remove the Z restriction.  

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Be the Best Driver You Can Be 

Moving forward with your career as a truck driver means knowing which types of vehicles you want to drive and how to legally do so, preventing license restrictions as much as possible, and working toward the endorsements you can earn along the way. In today’s hot trucking industry, almost nothing is stopping you from working for your ideal company and being a safe, successful driver! 

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