Getting a driver's license is a rite of passage for millions of young people around the country. For the average driver, this will simply be a regular license, usually called a Class D license. States also offer special licenses for commercial drivers, called CDLs.
A regular driver's license that allows an individual to drive a personal car or truck is called a Class D license.
What Is a Class D Driver's License?
The average driver who simply wants to operate a personal vehicle like a car or pickup truck will need a license known as a Class D in most states. The same license type is available in other states under a different name.
In Connecticut and South Dakota, a non-commercial license is known as a Class 1. In Hawaii, it's Category (3), and in Indiana it's called an "operator's license." In Louisiana, it's a Class E, while Maine, Utah, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming, Pennsylvania and Maryland call it a Class C. In Nebraska it's a Class O, and in West Virginia, it's just called "E."
To legally operate larger or certain other vehicles, drivers need to take additional tests to qualify for other types of licenses.
What Is a Class B Driver's License?
In order to drive a number of commercial vehicles, you'll need one of a variety of specialty licenses, known as CDLs. A Class B commercial driver's license allows you to operate a single commercial vehicle with a gross combination weight rating of over 26,000 pounds. It also allows you to tow vehicles under 10,000 pounds.
What Is a Class C Driver's License?
A Class C commercial driver's license is even more specialized. It allows a driver to operate a vehicle that holds 16 or more occupants, including the driver. It also allows a driver to transport materials classified as hazardous under federal law, also known as HazMat. This can include passenger vans, small HazMat vehicles or combination vehicles that aren't covered by Class A or Class B commercial driver's licenses.
What Is a Class A and B Vehicle?
Commercial vehicles are rated according to their size and use. The largest are Class A vehicles, which include:
- Tanker trucks
- Livestock carriers
- Flatbed trucks
- Trailer and truck combinations
Slightly smaller vehicles are classified as Class B. This list can include such vehicles as:
- School buses
- Segmented buses
- Box trucks
- Straight trucks
- Dump trucks with small trailers
What Is Needed to Get a Commercial Driver's License?
In most cases, you must be at least 21 years old before you can apply for a CDL. Some states have passed laws allowing those between the ages of 18 and 20 to hold limited, single-state licenses. These licenses allow a person to operate a commercial vehicle, but drivers can't cross state lines and leave their home state. Once drivers turn 21, the single-state restriction will be automatically removed from the license.
Every state has its own rules about earning a CDL, but in general, the laws are very strict. They usually include written exams that cover knowledge of road rules and laws, plus a driving skills test in the vehicle the driver will be licensed for.
To drive some very specialized vehicles, some states require additional endorsements to the CDL. These can include "T" for tank, which allows you to drive a truck carrying liquids, "P" for passenger, which allows you to drive vehicles with passengers, "H" for vehicles carrying hazardous materials and "B" for school buses. You must take special tests in order to get these endorsements, as well as undergo a background check before receiving the B endorsement.