The “Passenger Endorsement” is a CDL endorsement required for bus drivers and van drivers who transport members of the public. The passenger endorsement was created to ensure that professional drivers could safely operate a large vehicle, while assisting and caring for passenger wants and needs. To pass this test, you must learn: vehicle inspection, safety procedures, emergency procedures, the operation of a multi-passenger vehicle, driver behavior, and proper general protocols. Note: This study guide is designed to help you obtain a passenger endorsement on your CDL. Obtaining a school bus endorsement would require additional study and is outside the scope of this study guide.
You need a CDL with a passenger endorsement if you are driving a vehicle that has a “certain number” of seats. Most states seem to place this “certain number” between 10 and 15. Some states count the driver’s seat; other states do not. Some states don’t count seats—they only count passengers (empty seats don’t matter). Laws vary from state to state. Check with your bus company or your local DMV to get your state’s “certain number.”
For example, in California, you must have a CDL with a passenger endorsement if you are operating a vehicle designed to carry 10 persons (including the driver) if the vehicle is used for hire, for profit, or by a nonprofit organization.
Some insurance companies place additional restrictions. For example, it is common for insurance companies to prohibit drivers from operating a “15-passenger bus” with passengers—unless the driver is at least 25 years old; even if the driver has all the proper licenses and endorsements.
You must have a passenger endorsement on your CDL to transport passengers, not just a CLP (Commercial Learner’s Permit). If you only have a CLP, you cannot drive a bus or van with passengers aboard, except for:
Inspect your vehicle before starting your morning drive. Here are some things to remember:
Commercial passenger vehicles must be equipped with either a hydraulic or an air brake system. If the vehicle has an air brake system, an Air Brake Endorsement will be required.
Commercial passenger equipment may not have recapped or regrooved tires on steering axles.
Recapped and/or regrooved tires are allowed on the steering axles of trucks. As an industry standard, recapped and/or regrooved tires are not used on steering axles of any commercial vehicle. (In very special circumstances, you might find recapped and/or regrooved tires on some trucks, but this is uncommon.)
Never drive with an emergency exit open [except top hatch(es)]. Emergency exits must be clearly labeled. If the emergency exit has a red “emergency door” light, it must work. Switch on the “emergency door” light anytime you switch on your headlights, or have it operational at all times.
Tools should not be stacked loose, especially cutting tools or tools with sharp edges. Anything sharp or heavy should be in a covered container.
You may drive with the emergency roof hatches latched open for better ventilation. Do not keep the hatches open at all times, especially when the vehicle is parked or the vehicle is unattended.
Note: With the hatches open, your bus will be taller, possibly taller than the the bus’s posted clearance height.
Trespassers and vandals will sometimes break into and/or damage buses or vans. Examine your vehicle each time you return to it.
The driver’s seat has a seat belt. Use it. Never operate a bus or van without wearing a working seat belt. If the passenger seats are equipped with seat belts, the passengers must wear them.
Luggage must not be left in the doorway or in the aisle. Luggage should be secured under passenger seats or in overhead bins. Anything heavy or sharp should be in covered bins. Before setting off, make sure there are no tipping hazards and nothing could shift and be dangerous.
The driver must be able to move freely. Passengers must be able to reach emergency exits. Everyone should be protected against falling baggage, heavy objects, and sharp objects.
The type and amount of hazardous material allowed on a bus (or van) is complicated. Be certain you understand what is and what is not allowed. Passengers will sometimes bring unlabeled hazardous material onboard; sometimes without understanding that these things cannot be transported by bus or van. Gasoline and car batteries must not be transported by bus—and they are common things passengers attempt to bring aboard, or in their baggage.
All HazMat must be labeled with all three of these:
HazMat rules are covered in the Hazardous Materials Test study guide. This study guide only covers the specific rules for buses and passenger vans.
Your bus company may have additional rules about HazMat. If you don’t know what is allowed, be certain to ask.
Note: A chart listing the various types of HazMat is at the bottom of this section.
A bus can carry small-arms ammunition, if it is labeled ORM-D. A bus can carry emergency hospital supplies and drugs. A bus can carry small amounts of other HazMat, if the shipper cannot send them any other way.
Never transport any quantity of:
Certain amounts of certain HazMat may be transported; however, never transport:
Oxygen for personal use is allowed. It must be medically prescribed and in the possession of a passenger. It must be in a container designed for personal use.
Retrieved from: California Commercial Driver Handbook, Section 4, Fig. 4.1
Wheelchairs on buses or vans must have brakes or another method of holding the wheelchair still while it is being raised or lowered on a lift platform. Wheelchair batteries (if any) must be spill resistant and firmly attached to the wheelchair. Flammable fuel is not allowed.
Note: The rules for wheelchairs on school buses are different.
Transporting animals in a public bus or van is prohibited—except for service dogs. Here are the regulations concerning the transportation of such dogs:
Every individual with a disability has the right to be accompanied by a guide dog, signal dog, or service dog, specially trained for the purpose.
Passengers with disabilities include (but are not limited to):
People who are also allowed to bring a dog onto a bus include:
You can ask if an animal is a service animal, but under Federal law, it is illegal to ask for proof and/or documentation.
In recent years (and in certain places), the definition of “Service Dog” has been expanded. Other animals are sometimes used. State laws sometimes change. Check with your bus company or your state DMV if you are unsure.
There is never any charge or security deposit required for transporting a service dog. However, the passenger is responsible for any damage done by the dog.
The dog must be on a leash and must wear an officially issued service animal “tag” [usually a brightly colored tabard (half coat) with the words “Service Dog”].
Never attempt to pet, touch, or handle a service dog without the owner’s express permission. Permission from the owner will usually be refused.
It won’t be on your written DMV test, but be sensitive to the passenger’s needs and/or condition. Not all disabilities are easy to see.
The presence of service animals on buses and in other public places is currently a hot-button political issue. As a general rule, avoid getting involved in a debate/discussion with passengers over any political issue—including the use of service animals.
Every state has slightly different rules. The above rules are for California. (California Civil Code (CCC) 54.2)