What is a commercial learner’s permit and how is it different than a CDL?

According to the FMCSA, a commercial learner’s permit (CLP) is a temporary, state-issued permit that allows the holder to operate — for training purposes — a CMV that normally requires a CDL. CLPs are valid for up to 180 days and a driver must hold a CLP for at least 14 days before obtaining a CDL or any CDL upgrade that requires a skills test.

While CLP holders may operate most CDL required vehicles, they are not allowed to operate vehicles used in the transportation of hazardous materials. However, if the CLP holder has a tank vehicle endorsement, the driver can train on tank vehicles as long as any type of hazardous residue is removed from the vehicle.

With that said, the only endorsements allowed on a CLP are P (passenger vehicles), N (tank vehicles), and S (school buses). Even though a CLP allows P and S endorsements, CLP holders are prohibited from transporting most passengers.

The FMSCA outlines 4 conditions a CLP holder must have for his or her CLP to be considered a valid CDL. These conditions include:

  1. The CLP holder is accompanied at all times by the holder of a CDL that is valid for the CMV being operated (“accompanied” means that the CDL holder must be physically present at all times in the passenger seat or right behind the CLP holder in the front row in the case of a passenger vehicle).
  2. The CLP holder has a valid driver’s license issued by the same jurisdiction that issued the CLP.
  3. The CLP holder passed a general knowledge test for the CMV that he or she operates or expects to operate.
  4. The CLP holder is at least 18 years old.

When is entry-level training required for commercial drivers?

Certain drivers with less than one year of experience are designated “entry-level drivers” and may need training before operating a CMV. The FMCSA defines an entry-level driver as any driver with less than one year of experience operating a CMV with a CDL (commercial driver’s license) in interstate commerce.

Entry-level drivers must be trained in the following four areas:

  1. Driver qualification requirements (federal rules on medical certification, medical examination procedures, general qualifications, responsibilities, and disqualifications)
  2. Hours of service of drivers (the driver must be knowledgeable regarding the limitations on driving hours, the requirement to be off-duty for certain periods of time, preparation of drivers logs, ways to fight fatigue, and exceptions)
  3. Driver wellness (basic health maintenance information)
  4. Whistleblower protection (information regarding the right of an employee to question the employer’s safety practices without risk of termination or some type of punishment).

While the FMSCA does not specifically state a length of training, they do require an average of 10 hours. Of those 10 hours, 5.5 hours should be spent on driver qualifications and hours of service, 4 hours on driver wellness, and 30 minutes on whistleblower protections.