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Do You Have a Special License to Be a Truck Driver?

Do You Have a Special License to Be a Truck Driver?

Truck driving is one of the most popular careers in the United States today. With average wages starting at around the $50,000 mark, it’s no wonder the field is growing rapidly. And with more truck drivers on the road than ever before, it’s only natural that semi truck drivers are involved in more accidents. 

Many outsiders aren’t sure about what qualifications the average truck driver has in Houston, Texas. Lots of people ask if a special license is required to drive a truck. With different laws from state to state and for different kinds of trucks, it can be difficult to get the right information.

Want the simple facts? You’ve come to the right place. Read on and find out more about the rules truck drivers and trucking companies have to follow. 

Licensing Requirements

The exact license a trucker requires depends on several factors. But everyone who drives a commercial motor vehicle must be in possession of a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)

A commercial vehicle is defined as having a weight of more than 26,001 lbs, a vehicle designed to carry 16 or more passengers or a school bus. Vehicles transporting hazardous materials also require the driver to have a CDL.

There are a few exemptions to the requirement for a commercial driver’s license. Firefighters, active duty military personnel, and some farm workers can operate commercial vehicles, but none of these are likely to be trucks on the open road. 

Requirements for a CDL

Before a driver gets their CDL, they need to meet a series of requirements. These consist of:

  • Aged 21 or over if driving outside of Texas
  • Age 18 or over if driving only within Texas
  • Already in possession of a valid drivers license
  • Proof of US citizenship or legal residency

Following these basic requirements, prospective drivers must undergo some further tests. The first is a written CDL exam, which demonstrates the driver’s knowledge of the rules of the road, state commercial rules, and more. Different license classes have different numbers of questions, and drivers need to obtain a score of at least 80% when taking the test.

After the written exam has been completed, it’s time for drivers to take their practical skills test. This includes demonstrating various driving skills, including:

  • Roadside stop and start
  • Use of lanes
  • Right of way
  • Merging
  • Shifting gears
  • Turning
  • Lane changes

As you can see, the licensing test is quite involved. It’s designed to ensure that anyone working with a huge commercial vehicle knows their stuff and isn’t likely to be caught in an accident. Drivers who manage to get trucking jobs without going through this vigorous process may have lesser skills and knowledge, making them far more susceptible to accidents. 

License Classes

The CDL doesn’t just come in one variety. Instead, there are several different classifications depending on the type of commercial vehicle being driven. The exact license required by a driver depends on the size of the vehicle and some other details.

Class A is the top-level license required by those driving combination vehicles with a weight of 26,001 lbs or more. This refers to vehicles with multiple parts, for example, trailer trucks.

Class B licenses allow the driver to operate vehicles of the same weight but do not allow drivers to operate combination vehicles. This allows the driver to get behind the wheel of a fixed bed truck or a bus.

Class C licenses only allow the driver to operate vehicles of less than 26,001 lbs. This license is also required for school bus drivers and people transporting hazardous materials. 

These different license classes are one of the main ways drivers and companies circumvent requirements. Some drivers use lower class licenses while driving larger vehicles. In these cases, the driver may not be properly trained to operate the vehicle, leading to a higher rate of accidents.

Endorsements

Along with the basic license classes, various endorsements allow drivers to operate vehicles with certain special features. Endorsements must be used alongside the required license.

These endorsements allow drivers to transport large numbers of passengers, hazardous materials, and to drive vehicles without air brakes. There are more than a dozen different endorsements, so it’s important for drivers to check the list closely to see if they need to apply for one of these endorsements. 

If a driver operates a commercial vehicle without the proper endorsement, their license will be considered invalid. The driver and their company could face legal action, especially if they are in a road accident. 

Training Time

A truck driver should have plenty of driving hours under their belt before they begin working in a field. This helps to ensure they have the right skills and experience to be safe on the road.

Some trucking companies hire drivers without much experience. This occurs often when a business is searching for drivers who will work for lower pay.

There’s no strict requirement for driver training time to gain a commercial license. As a general rule, drivers ought to have several years of regular driving experience, followed by much more training time from an expert instructor.

Many companies require their drivers to have at least 160 hours behind the wheel of a semi. These vehicles can weight up to 80,000 lbs. Anyone driving one of these trucks for hours on end every day ought to have plenty of experience and a good knowledge of relevant traffic laws.

Driving Hours For a Semi Truck Driver

Truck drivers aren’t just governed by licensing requirements. There are several other rules they need to follow, or they can be punished with fines, license suspension, and even jail time.

A Texas semi truck driver can be on the road for 12 hours at a time. However, they must have bad eight hours of rest beforehand and their total shift must not last any longer than 15 hours. Additionally, drivers must not be behind the wheel for more than 70 hours total over a given period.

Drivers must be given enough time to rest before taking to the road again. After the initial seven days of driving, each trucker must have at least 34 hours off-duty before the 70-hour cycle begins again.

In the rush for more profits, many companies don’t abide to these driving hours restrictions. But when drivers are out on the road for excessively long periods, they get tired and their reflexes slow down. 

What if a Truck Driver is Unlicensed? 

Despite the stringent requirements for licensing, many truck drivers still drive without the proper licensing. In Texas, this is a crime, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000. 

Many drivers also take to the road with expired licensing. For legal purposes, having an expired license is the same as having no license at all.

Licenses need to be renewed every five years, in a process that involves a physical exam alongside drug and alcohol testing. This process ensures drivers are in good health, and drivers who fail to renew their CDLs may no longer be fit or qualified to operate such a large vehicle. 

If a driver is unlicensed, they won’t be the only ones on the hook. People in management or even the company itself could find themselves in trouble. If you were injured in a truck accident, you can sue the business that hired the trucker. 

Rising Rates of Accidents

Despite the stringent licensing requirements and other rules laid down by state and federal authorities, the rate of road accidents involving semi trucks continues to rise. These accidents can be extremely dangerous due to the size and weight of the vehicles involved. 

Trucking companies will do their best to get out of paying what they owe. But people who suffer injuries or have their vehicles written off deserve compensation. 

Get Help if You’ve Had an Accident With a Semi Truck in Houston

The rate of accidents caused by unlicensed semi truck drivers is increasing. 12% of fatalities from auto accidents involve semis. Many people have suffered from this issue and need legal help.

That’s where we come in. We’re experts at getting you the compensation you deserve from truck companies who may have put you in danger and caused you a long-term injury. These companies have experienced lawyers to defend them, but we can help.

Contact us today for a free consultation. We have experience in these cases and may be able to help you get compensation, especially if you were injured by an unlicensed trucker. We’ll talk you through your options and work with you to get you the compensation you deserve.