North Carolina’s Commercial Driver’s License Laws

The requirements to obtain a North Carolina CDL and the reasons for disqualification.

The operation of a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in North Carolina requires a commercial driver’s license (CDL). There are several classes of CDLs and various endorsements that are required for certain cargo. Each license comes with specific entitlements and regulations. This article outlines the process to obtain the different types of commercial licenses and how an operator can lose this privilege.

When a CDL is Required

A CDL is required to operate any combination of vehicle(s) weighing at least 26,000 pounds. Vehicles designed to carry hazardous materials or 16 or more passengers also require a CDL. A CDL is not required for the official operation of emergency vehicles, the private operation of recreation vehicles, or the government operation of military vehicles. A farmer is also allowed to operate not-for-hire farm trucks within 150 miles of the farm to transport agriculture products without a CDL.

License classes. There are three classes of CDLs corresponding to the weight of the truck and/or trailer(s).

Combined Weight

Tractor Weight

Trailer(s) Weight

Class A

At least 26,001 pounds

At least 26,001 pounds

At least 10,001 pounds

Class B

At least 26,001 pounds

At least 26,001 pounds

10,000 pounds or less

Class C

Less than 26,001

Less than 26,001

10,000 pounds or less

The driver’s license limits must meet or exceed the CMV’s weight. For example, a class A CDL can be used to operate any size or weight of CMV.

Endorsements. While classes govern the weight of the vehicle, the type of vehicle and cargo can require special endorsements. Carrying passengers or hazardous materials requires a hazmat or passenger endorsement. Each endorsement comes with special rules and testing requirements. For example, registered sex offenders are prohibited from obtaining a passenger or school bus endorsement.

Restrictions. Drivers with certain health problems or limited experience may be subject to CDL restrictions. For example, drivers under 21 years old can’t haul hazardous materials or operate out-of-state.

CDL Testing

A North Carolina resident who’s at least 18 years old with a valid class C driver’s license can apply for a commercial learner’s permit (CLP). The applicant must complete the application documents and the knowledge test to obtain a CLP. The CLP can be used to practice driving a CMV only under the direct supervision of a licensed commercial driver. After 14 days, the CLP holder can take the driving test to obtain a full CDL. The driving test can be waived for military veterans with CMV experience.

Medical exams. All drivers must obtain a medical examination indicating they are physically able to safely operate a CMV. This certification must be kept up-to-date as an expired certification will result in license disqualification. Persons unable to pass a medical exam may be eligible for an intrastate waiver.

CDL Revocation and Disqualification

An operator can face CDL revocation for certain rule violations and criminal convictions. Commercial drivers are required to disclose all traffic violations and CDL suspensions to the state and their employer. Failure to properly notify is an infraction, punishable by $100 to $500 in fines.

Serious traffic violations. The commission of multiple “serious traffic violations” within three years will result in license revocation. Having two offenses will result in a 60-day revocation and having three or more violations carries a 120-day revocation. Serious traffic violations include speeding 15 miles per hour or more over the limit, reckless driving, texting while driving a CMV, improper lane change, following too closely, and any traffic violation involving a fatality. Driving a CMV without a CDL, without a CDL in possession, or without the proper endorsements is a misdemeanor and will also count as a serious traffic violation. Driving without a CDL will be dismissed if a then-valid CDL is presented to the court.

Out-of-service orders. Certain rule violations (like driving after consuming alcohol) can result in an immediate out-of-service order (OSO). The OSO is often issued by law enforcement and driving during an OSO will result in license disqualification for a period based on the number of prior offenses in the last ten years.

  • First offense. 180-day to two-year license disqualification.
  • Second offense. Two-to five-year license disqualification (three-to-five-year if in hazmat CMV or vehicle designed for 16 or more passengers).
  • Third offense. Three-to five-year license disqualification.

An employer that knowingly allows an OSO violation will be fined $500 to $1,000 and pay a civil penalty of $2,750 to $11,000.

Railroad crossings. Special rules apply to CMVs when approaching or crossing railroad tracks. Failure to leave enough room in front of or below the CMV can result in a violation. A railroad crossing violation will result in a 60-day, 120-day, and one-year license revocation for a first, second, and third violation in three years. The driver’s employer can also be fined up to $10,000 per violation.

Major offenses. A CDL will be disqualified for one year upon the following convictions: chemical test refusal, DWI (driving while impaired), hit-and-run, driving a CMV while disqualified, vehicular manslaughter, and any felony involving a motor vehicle. The revocation will be for three years if the offender was hauling hazardous materials. Any subsequent conviction of the above-stated violations will result in lifetime CDL disqualification, but the driver can reapply after ten years. The revocation will be permanent for any third major offense or for using a motor vehicle to distribute controlled substances.

Drugs and alcohol. Driving a CMV after consuming any amount of alcohol is a class 3 misdemeanor. The violation carries a ten-day suspension and a $100 fine. A second offense in seven years will be considered a major offense and will result in penalties similar to a DWI conviction. Driving a CMV with any bodily amount of controlled substances is considered a DWI.

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