A CDL A to Z

If you are a new commercial driver, it won’t take long to discover the large number of technical terms and acronyms involved. Here are some common terms to help you navigate through.

Air Brakes

Many commercial vehicles use compressed air, rather than hydraulics to stop heavy loads.

Anti-lock Brake System (ABS)

Speed sensors can help to detect if a wheel is likely to lock in heavy braking or adverse weather and road conditions. The hydraulics will adjust pressure to that wheel to prevent locking.


The person or company responsible for transporting goods.


An acronym for a commercial driver’s license.

CDL Restrictions

Restrictions prevent commercial drivers from operating a vehicle usually associated with their class of license.

Class A CDL

A Class A license allows the operation of a vehicle that weighs over 26,000 lbs. to include a towed vehicle weighing over 10,000 lbs. Typical vehicles in this class are:

  • Flatbeds
  • Tankers
  • Tractor trailers

Class B CDL

This class of license is required to operate a single vehicle over 26,000 lbs., or this type of vehicle towing a trailer weighing up to 10,000 lbs. Vehicles in this class include:

  • Construction vehicles
  • Straight trucks
  • Large buses

Class C CDL

This CDL is needed if your vehicle is not defined in the other categories and is transporting 16 passengers or more (including the driver), or hazardous materials.


Commercial Learner’s Permit. If you intend to operate a commercial license, before you can get your CDL, you must first pass a written test from your state’s DMV. Once you complete the requirements of the CLP you can apply for your CDL.


Commercial Motor Vehicle. A CMV is any vehicle that you drive for your job.

Combination Vehicle

Any vehicle that tows one or more other vehicles, such as tractor-trailers, double trailers, and triple trailers.

Company-Sponsored Training

Some trucking companies have their own driving schools. Instead of paying to attend the classes, you will train for little or no cost by committing to drive for the company for a specified amount of time.


CSA stands for compliance, safety, and accountability. It is an initiative created by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to improve the overall safety of commercial vehicles.


The Department of Transportation. A branch of the federal government responsible for the regulation of road, railroad, and air travel safety.


A tractor-trailer towing two trailers at once.

Driver Trainer

When a new CDL driver starts with a company, they will often require additional on-the-job training. The driver trainer is an experienced driver who instructs the new driver during this process.


Endorsements come from additional testing to allow the operation of specific commercial vehicles.


The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. A division of the DOT that creates measures for commercial vehicle safety.


Gross combined vehicle weight rating. This refers to the manufacturer’s maximum combined weight rating of one vehicle that is used to tow another vehicle


The combined weight of a vehicle and its trailers.


The manufacturer’s maximum allowable operating weight.


Hazardous materials, as defined by the federal government, like flammable liquids and gasses, combustibles, and explosives.

Interstate Commerce

The transportation of goods across state lines.

Intrastate Commerce

The transportation of goods only within your licensing state.


The goods carried by a commercial vehicle.


Motor vehicle report. A commercial driver’s driving history.

OTR Driver

Refers to a driver that transports goods long distances over-the-road.


A driver that owns the commercial vehicle they use to transport goods.


A trucking student that is hired under certain conditions before they graduate driving school.


A vehicle certification that utilizes an automatic vehicle identification and allows a commercial vehicle to bypass a weigh station.

Pre-trip Inspection

Checking the condition and proper operation of a vehicle and all of its lights and components before hitting the road.


The Professional Truck Driver’s Institute, which provides certifications to training schools and programs.

Regional Run

When a driver’s routes are kept in a certain area, like the Pacific Northwest or New England.


A chosen, mapped course used by a driver or company for the transport of goods.

Straight Truck

A single vehicle without a hitch attachment, usually with a cargo area attached directly to the chassis.


A truck used to transport heavy loads utilizing a towed vehicle (trailer).

Tractor Trailer

A combination of a tractor and one or more trailers.