CDL Clarification – Air Brake Restriction

There has been some confusion as to whether a CDL is required when driving a truck with air brakes. The CDL is NOT required unless the vehicle has a GVWR or a GCWR of 26,001 lbs. or more; is designed to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver); or hauls hazardous materials requiring placards. For example, a person can drive a straight truck with a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,000 (under 26,001 lbs.) with air brakes, and no CDL is required. The “air brake” reference is commonly thought of as an “endorsement”. It is NOT an endorsement, but rather a “restriction” that states if an applicant either fails the air brake component of the knowledge test, or performs the skills test in a vehicle not equipped with air brakes, the State shall indicate on the CDL that the person is restricted from operating a CMV equipped with air brakes. As further clarification, the regulations REQUIRING a CDL do NOT include any reference to air brakes; they only require a CDL for a vehicle in the following categories (§383.91 Commercial motor vehicle groups):

(a)(1) Combination vehicle (Group A) — Any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 11,794 kilograms or more (26,001 pounds or more) provided the GVWR of the vehicle(s) being towed is in excess of 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds).

(a)(2) Heavy Straight Vehicle (Group B) — Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 11,794 kilograms or more (26,001 pounds or more), or any such vehicle towing a vehicle not in excess of 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds) GVWR.

(a)(3) Small Vehicle (Group C) — Any single vehicle, or combination of vehicles, that meets neither the definition of Group A nor Group B, as contained in this section, but that either is designed to transport 16 or more passengers including the driver, or is used in the transportation of materials found to be hazardous for the purposes of the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act and which require the motor vehicle to be placarded under the Hazardous Materials Regulations (49 CFR part 172, subpart F).