Texas requires commercial motor vehicle (CMV) operators to maintain a commercial driver’s license (CDL). There are several types of CDLs and rules and requirements specific to each. This article outlines when each type of CDL is required, the CDL application procedure, and the consequences of CDL rule violations.
Generally, a CDL is required to operate any vehicle that weighs 26,001 or more pounds, carries 16 or more passengers, or is designed for hazardous materials. Exempt vehicles include recreational vehicles (RVs), military vehicles, cotton burn transports, and emergency response vehicles. Additionally, farm owners are allowed to operate machinery within 150 miles of their farm without a CDL.
There are three classes of CDLs corresponding to the weight of the truck and/or trailer(s).
Certain cargo requires endorsements, which are added to the CDL. Endorsements require additional testing and are required to carry hazardous materials or passengers.
Texas also places restrictions on certain drivers. For example, an intrastate restriction will be assigned to any driver who is younger than 21 years old, cannot speak or write English, or cannot pass certain physical requirements.
Application process. A driver must be at least 18 years old, hold a driver’s license, and be a Texas resident prior to applying for a CDL. The application process includes a knowledge test and background check. The applicant must self-certify as to the type of driving that will be performed and obtain a physician’s certification indicating adequate physical health to operate a CMV. The driver will then be issued a commercial learner’s permit (CLP) that can be used to practice driving a CMV under the supervision of a licensed operator. After 15 days, the applicant can take the driving test to receive a full CDL. (Military veterans with experience driving military CMVs may be eligible to have the driving test waived.)
Farm waivers. A licensed driver can obtain a farm industry waiver for livestock feeding and custom harvesting. The holder does not need to take the knowledge or skills exams but can only operate farm equipment to and from the farm up to 150 miles away.
CMVs are subject to special rules and regulations. Violation of these rules and certain traffic offenses can result in license revocation and criminal charges. All violations and suspensions must be reported to the driver’s employer and the state. Violations cannot be masked or dismissed via diversion agreements. Texas also prohibits occupational licenses for revoked CDLs.
A CDL will be revoked for at least 60 days for having two “serious traffic violations” in three years. Having three serious violations in three years will result in a minimum 120-day revocation. The following violations are considered serious traffic violations: speeding 15 miles per hour or more over the limit, erratic lane changes, following too closely, and any traffic violation involving a fatality. Driving without a proper CDL in possession is a misdemeanor and serious traffic violation, but the driver can get the ticket dismissed by presenting a then-valid (the time of the citation) CDL in court.
“Major offenses” include leaving the scene of an accident, chemical test refusal, DWI (driving while intoxicated), using a motor vehicle to commit a felony, negligently causing a vehicle fatality, and operating with a revoked CDL. A major offense results in a one-year revocation and any violation in a hazmat CMV carries a three-year revocation. A second major violation results in a lifetime revocation, but reinstatement may be possible after ten years. The use of any motor vehicle to transport controlled substances or to harbor, transport, or conceal an alien will result in a permanent lifetime disqualification.
Some safety violations can result in a temporary and immediate out-of-service order (OSO). For example, operating a CMV after consuming alcohol will result in a 24-hour OSO. Driving during an OSO will result in license revocation and penalties that depend on the number of prior OSO violations the driver has within the past ten years.
An employer that knowingly permits an OSO violation can be fined $2,750 to $25,000.
CMV operators must take care around railroad crossings. Drivers cannot shift or stop on railroad crossings and must ensure proper clearance. 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. An employer that knowingly permits a railroad violation can also be fined up to $10,000.
All CMV operators are considered to have given consent to a breath, blood, or urine test to determine the presence of alcohol or drugs. An officer who has probable cause to believe the driver has any consumed drugs or alcohol can request a test. An unlawful refusal to test will result in license revocation and a 24-hour OSO