What Does Class D License Mean?

By Chelsea Levinson - Updated February 28, 2018
Man driving car

Each state has its own classification system for different types of driver’s licenses. In some states, there are as many as nine “classes” of driver’s licenses, while other states have just a few options. Generally, a Class D driver’s license refers to a basic, non-commercial automobile license, also known as the standard driver’s license most people earn as teenagers. Around half of the states use the term “Class D” to describe these basic, non-commercial, non-motorcycle licenses. The legal particulars of the Class D license varies by state, but most follow a few simple rules.

Tip

Generally, a Class D driver’s license refers to a basic, non-commercial automobile license. This is the license most drivers use. Around half of states use the term "Class D" for this type of standard license.

Weight Limits

Many states define their Class D licenses based on operating vehicles that fall under a certain weight limit. These weight limits may vary by state, but most states use a vehicle weight limit of 26,000 pounds as their cutoff point. Illinois, on the other hand, uses a 16,000 pound weight limit for its Class D license.

These weight limits distinguish commercial vehicles, such as coach buses and 18-wheelers, from non-commercial passenger vehicles. Commercial vehicles need highly skilled, trained operators to handle them, which is why driving one requires a special “class” of license.

Be sure to check with your state’s licensing law to get the exact weight limits for your state. You shouldn’t run into an issue for a passenger car. Even the heaviest passenger SUVs typically weigh less than 7,000 pounds. If you regularly tow recreational vehicles or equipment with your car or truck, make sure you stay below the designated weight limit for your state while on the road.

Number of Passenger Restrictions

Many states specify in their licensing laws that a Class D standard license-holder can carry up to, but no more than, 15 passengers in a vehicle. These states don’t want you thinking you can drive a coach bus with a basic driver’s license. Operating an oversized vehicle requires its own skill set, so you’ll most likely have to earn a special license to carry more than 15 passengers.

Class D Doesn’t Include Motorcycles

The vast majority of states have special motorcycle licenses which must be earned separate from a basic Class D license. Like driving a commercial vehicle, riding a motorcycle requires a specific skill set. You will need to earn a separate motorcycle license, usually designated a Class M license, if you plan to ride one.

Each State Has its Own Classifications

While the term "Class D" is used by about half the states to indicate a basic license, the remaining states use their own classification systems. For example, some states like California, Georgia and Kansas call a standard license a Class C license. Iowa also uses Class C to designate its basic license, but calls a chauffeur license a Class D. Mississippi, on the other hand, designates one of its four commercial driver’s licenses Class D, while its basic non-commercial license is a Class R.

Essentially, there is no national standardization when it comes to classes of driver’s licenses. Check with your state licensing laws to find out how Class D is defined where you live, or if it’s even used at all.

About the Author

Chelsea Levinson earned her J.D. from Cardozo. As a former policy researcher, she has a passion for communicating legal issues to the public. She has created legal and policy content for Vox, Levo, Run For Something and more.

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