A strange thing happens when drivers cross the border of one state and head into another. The laws of the road can completely change! It’s almost like driving into a foreign country, as each state has its own driver’s license class, type and rule standards.
The good news is that states honor licenses from other states, so drivers don’t have to stop to get a new one every time they go from one place into another. This makes the question of license type somewhat complicated and completely dependent upon the location of the person who is seeking answers.
Common Non-Commercial Driver’s License Classes
A non-commercial driver’s license allows someone to operate a passenger vehicle alone, without supervision. In colloquial use, it’s referred to as a “regular” or “normal” driver’s license, because this is the type of driver’s license most people need. Legally, this license type can have many different names.
A review of state laws shows the following driver’s license class labels for regular driver’s licenses in each state:
- Class D – Most states classify typical non-commercial driver’s licenses as Class D. States include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Washington, D.C., Idaho, Illinois, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin and Massachusetts.
- Class C – The second-most common regular driver’s license class is used in these states: California, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wyoming.
- Class 1 – Connecticut, South Dakota.
- Category 3 – Hawaii.
- Class B – North Carolina.
- Class C Non-Commercial – Iowa.
- Class D Operator’s License – Delaware.
- Class E – Florida, Louisiana, West Virginia.
- Class F – Missouri.
- Class O – Nebraska.
- Driver’s License – Colorado, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington.
- Operator’s License – Indiana, Michigan.
How to Get Your Driver’s License
A driver’s license allows people to operate different types of vehicles. The process required depends upon the applicant’s:
- Intent of use.
The biggest issue is whether the applicant wants to drive for personal or commercial purposes. Applicants may require a training program or a set number of many hours of driving practice for certain types of licenses. In most states, applicants also have to pass a written driver’s test and skills test, though a signed certificate from a driver’s education program will sometimes suffice.
However, non-commercial drivers may also have to complete a driving program before taking a written or skills test, depending on their ages. Young drivers often have higher standards to meet in comparison to other applicants. States that require young applicants to attend driver’s education classes include Delaware, Iowa, Maine and New York.
Learner’s Permits and Driver Education
Many states require all drivers to get a learner’s permit while they practice driving on public roads under the supervision of a licensed driver. Sometimes, other restrictions exist as well, such as the successful completion of a driver’s education program or sitting the driver’s license exam within a certain time.
Provisional Licenses for New Drivers
Beyond that, several states also restrict the rights of new or young licensed drivers until they are older or more experienced.
Examples include Rhode Island’s “first license,” which comes with additional restrictions and is good for only one year. After this provisionary period, the state issues a normal driver’s license. Texas offers a provisional license to any driver under 18, while North Carolina has a graduated series of licenses for underage drivers who have the right mixture of education and experience.
As of January 2020, the states with young and new driver restrictions include Iowa, Mississippi, New York, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Arizona, Washington and Wyoming.
How to Get a Motorcycle License
Most states require additional proof of expertise before a driver is allowed to operate a motorcycle, moped, motorized bicycle or a three-wheeled vehicle on public roadways. A few states, like Texas, distinguish between two-wheeled and three-wheeled vehicles and require testing for both.
Some states, like Ohio, require motorcyclists to obtain a learner’s permit for a period of several months to a year before they are allowed to apply for a permanent license. These permits come with restrictions, such as riding only during daylight hours.
Some states provide a secondary license, often a Class M license, or add a motorcycle endorsement to a different type of license.
Do You Need a Special License to Drive an RV?
For the most part, recreational vehicles (RVs) fall within the specifications allowed by a regular driver’s license. Those typically include driving a passenger vehicle with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) up to 26,000 pounds and towing a vehicle with a GCWR up to 10,000 pounds. There are exceptions, however. “Skoolie” drivers, for instance, who drive old school buses that have been refurbished into custom RVs, sometimes find their states require a special license.
How Heavy Is a Class A RV?
Class A vehicles are the big boys of the RV world. They often have slide-outs to expand their size once they’re in place for the night. Class As also include certain refurbished buses. They can weigh anywhere from 13,000 to 30,000 pounds or more.
How Heavy Is a Class B RV?
When it comes to RVs, Class B stands for “baby.” These are the itty-bitty vehicles that sleep one to four people. They weigh between 6,000 to 8,000 pounds.
How Heavy Is a Class C RV?
These are larger campers with beds in the back and often over the cab as well. They sometimes have dining tables and chairs that fold into alternative sleeping areas. Weights range from 10,000 to 12,000 pounds.
Licensing to Drive an RV
Fortunately, most states don’t require RV drivers to obtain a special license, even when the weight of the RV goes beyond the stated limits. That might not be for the best. Large vehicles pose different challenges during their operation, from turning corners to backing into parking spaces. RV schools throughout the country can teach new owners (or renters) everything from draining the sewage tanks to basic road safety.
Residents from a few states will require a new license type or endorsement before drivers can hit the open road in their RV. Those states include California, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Wyoming.
Residents from the following states need to go the extra mile and secure a commercial driving license that covers large vehicles: Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, New Mexico, Washington, D.C. and Wisconsin.
Drivers in other states may operate an RV using their regular driver’s license.
What Is a CDL?
A commercial driver’s license is often called a “CDL,” for short. As part of CDL license requirements, drivers must exhibit the skills needed to operate equipment safely. Certain states, like Michigan, have very specific commercial license classes, including those for operating tanks and classes that distinguish between drivers who can operate empty school buses vs. those carrying students.
Student drivers can study operating methods and get experience on the road through formal training programs. Companies that hire workers who need CDLs often have on-the-job license preparation as well.
Read More: Weight Requirements for a CDL
Other Common Driver’s License Classes and Vehicles
Just as most states classify the typical driver’s license for operating personal cars and trucks as Class D, groups of states use the same classification for other types of licenses or vehicles. This is why CDL license requirements include proof of the expertise needed to operate the vehicles safely. Sometimes classes refer only to the types of vehicles driven. In other states, the classes refer to the vehicles and the driver’s license class.
The following are the most common meanings behind each license type.
What Is a Class B Driver’s License?
Drivers with a Class B license are typically allowed to drive one commercial vehicle with a GCWR up to 26,000 pounds and a towed vehicle with a GCWR up to 10,000 pounds. Examples include short school buses, tour buses, dump trucks and concrete mixers.
What Is a Class C Driver’s License?
Class C commercial licenses cover smaller vehicles used in commercial business and certain government services. HazMat vehicles used for the treating and removal of hazardous materials are often commercial Class C vehicles, as are passenger vans used in business that carry 16 people or more.
What Is a Class A Driver’s License?
Class A vehicles are the largest that travel on public roadways. Cranes are much bigger than the average semi-truck, but cranes are meant for construction sites and shipping yards. Examples of Class A vehicles include semi-trucks and tractor-trailers, flatbed trucks, tankers carrying liquids and food items, and many of the trucks that carry livestock.
What Is a Class B Driver’s License?
Class B vehicles are slightly smaller than flatbed trucks and the like. These include standard-size school buses, dump trucks with trailers, box trucks and straight trucks used for shipping goods.
Licenses Needed for Farming and Construction Equipment
Many of the vehicles used in construction are considered heavy equipment vehicles. Operating pavers, excavators, backhoes and other big machines often requires a CDL in addition to industry certification. For instance, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires crane operators to take an approved course and pass a comprehensive test before getting behind the flywheel.
Drivers can learn to operate heavy machinery through industry training programs. Apprenticeships and training programs also are available for specific pieces of equipment, such as those run by the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators.
A CDL might not be needed to drive farming equipment like a tractor or a combine on public roadways in a given state. Drivers must check with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) of their state. Many states allow anyone with an operator’s license to drive farm equipment, while others, like New Jersey, have special agricultural licenses for those who don’t have a driver’s license.
Do You Need Insurance to Get a License?
Most states have moved to a compulsory insurance model that requires minimum liability coverage for a car to be on the road. Certain states, such as Virginia, allow residents to pay a fee or show financial stability in exchange for forgoing insurance. Other states, like Arkansas, require proof of insurance to register a car. Will there eventually be laws requiring insurance for anyone with a driver’s license?
Car Insurance for Non-Owner Drivers
As of January 2020, no state requires proof of car insurance to issue a regular driver’s license. However, laws and insurance policies seem to be trending in that direction. More companies are offering non-owner driver policies that cover damages or injuries someone causes while driving a car he doesn’t own. They’re also quite affordable, making the case for legislation that would require minimum coverage for all drivers regardless of whether they currently own their vehicle.
Because the rules of the road can change significantly from one state to the next, it’s easy for people to be confused about the license type they need. Most drivers will need a Class D to operate passenger cars, but there are exceptions. Readers should speak with their state’s Department of Motor Vehicles for further information.
With over 20 years of professional writing experience, Hilary Ferrand knows her way around the interwebs. Find out more by following her at LinkedIn.