There are six classifications of driver’s licenses in Illinois: A, B, C, D, L and M. These are typed by the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of the vehicle and any towed vehicles. Class D is the most common driver’s license. It is for driving a motor vehicle with a GVWR of 16,000 pounds or less.
Nonstandard Illinois Driver’s Licenses
The first Illinois driver’s license classification for vehicles weighing over 16,000 pounds is Class A, for any combination of motor vehicles with a Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR) of 26,001 pounds or more, providing the GVWR of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds. A Class A driver’s license also allows for the operation of Class B, C and D vehicles.
A Class B driver’s license is for any single motor vehicle with a GCWR of 26,001 pounds or more. A Class B driver’s license also covers any vehicle of 26,001 pounds or more towing another vehicle, not in excess of 10,000 pounds. A Class B driver’s license also allows for the operation of Class C and D vehicles.
A Class C driver’s license allows for the operation of a motor vehicle with a GVWR of over 16,000 pounds but less than 26,001 pounds or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds. A Class C driver’s license allows for the operation of Class D vehicles. A Class L driver’s license allows for the operation of any motor-driven cycle with less than 150cc displacement. A Class M driver’s license allows for the operation of any motorcycle or motor-driven cycle.
Commercial Illinois Driver’s License
An operator of a commercial motor vehicle must obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Federal law, the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986, defines a commercial motor vehicle as any combination of vehicles with a GCWR of 26,001 pounds or more, provided the GVWR of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds and any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
A commercial motor vehicle is also any vehicle, regardless of size, that is designed to transport 16 or more people, including the driver, and any vehicle, regardless of size, required by federal regulations to be "placarded" (have placards placed on it while in operation) while transporting hazardous materials.
An individual operating a recreational vehicle primarily for personal use does not have to obtain a CDL. Operators of these vehicles are also exempt from having to obtain a CDL: firefighting equipment, military vehicle, farm equipment and emergency snow removal vehicles.
Process to Obtain a State Driver’s License
An individual may obtain an Illinois driver’s license by visiting an Illinois Secretary of State (ILSOS) office that is a driver services facility, showing required identification documents and having their photo taken. If the individual has any valid out-of-state licenses, state ID cards, instruction permits or commercial driver’s licenses, they must surrender these documents. The individual must pay the appropriate fee and pass the appropriate exams for a driver’s license, which include vision screening, a written test and/or a driving test.
When the individual has completed all the necessary requirements, ILSOS issues a temporary, secure paper driver’s license that is valid for 90 days. This temporary license serves as the driver’s license or state ID card for driving purposes and proof of identification until the permanent driver’s license or state ID card arrives in the mail within 15 business days.
Licenses for Drivers Under 21 Years of Age
There are several classes of drivers under 21 in Illinois. These are: permit phase drivers age 15; initial licensing phase drivers ages 16 and 17; and full licensing phase drivers ages 18 to 20. An individual can get a first-time driver’s license at age 16; they are not required to wait until they are 18 to get an Illinois driver’s license.
As to permit phase drivers, a parent or legal guardian must consent for the teen to get a learner’s permit, which Illinois calls an instruction permit. The teen must be enrolled in an approved driver education course and must pass vision and written tests. Teens have nighttime driving restrictions that prevent them from driving between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Friday through Saturday. There may be local curfews for 15-year-olds in addition to state restrictions.
A 15-year-old must hold an instruction permit for a minimum of nine months. They must practice driving for a minimum of 50 hours, including 10 hours at night, while supervised by a parent or adult age 21 or older with a valid driver’s license. The teen must not acquire any driving convictions during the nine-month permit phase. The permit is valid for up to two years.
Parental Requirements for 16- and 17-Year-olds
As to initial licensing phase drivers, a parent or legal guardian is required to certify that the 16- or 17-year-old has completed a minimum of 50 hours of practice driving, including 10 hours at night. A parent or legal guardian must accompany the teen to provide written consent to obtain a driver’s license or complete and notarize an affidavit or consent for minor to drive form. The teen must have completed a state-approved driver education course.
Restrictions for Teen Drivers
The teen driver has nighttime driving restrictions that prevent them from driving between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Friday through Saturday. There may be local curfews for 16- and 17-year-olds driving in addition to state restrictions.
A teen of 16 or 17 must maintain a conviction-free driving record for six months before turning 18 and moving to the full licensing phase. If the teen gets a traffic conviction during the initial licensing phase, their restrictions may extend beyond age 18. In the full licensing phase, there are no age-related restrictions for drivers 18 to 20. The exception is in cases where a driver fails to move from the initial licensing phase to the full licensing phase.
A person 18 to 20 who did not take an approved driver education course in high school is required to complete a six-hour adult driver education course before getting a driver’s license.
Drivers Moving to Illinois
A driver moving to Illinois may use their valid driver’s license from their home state or country for up to 90 days. Illinois does not recognize the International Driver’s License or International Driving Permit (IDP). The IDP is a valid form of identification in 150 countries. An out-of-state person moving to Illinois who wants to get an Illinois driver's license must provide identification to prove the following: their name, date of birth, Illinois residency, Social Security number and signature for comparison to their signature on other documents.
Getting a Motorcycle Driver’s License in Illinois
An individual can obtain a motorcycle driver’s license by passing a distinct motorcycle written and road examination. A person 18 or older who completes an Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) motorcycle training course is not required to pass a driving or written examination at a driver services facility.
A person 18 or over may also apply for a 12-month instruction permit to operate a Class L or Class M motorcycle. This permit allows the individual to drive only during daylight hours under the direct supervision of a licensed motorcycle operator. Direct supervision means in the presence and at the direction of a licensed motorcycle operator.
An individual under 18 who has successfully completed driver education may apply for a 24-month instruction permit to operate a motor-driven cycle under a Class L license. This license allows the teen to drive only during daylight hours under the direct supervision of a licensed motor-driven or motorcycle operator. An individual under 18 may be issued an instruction permit for a Class M license after completing an approved driver education course. The teen must also provide documentation of enrollment in an IDOT motorcycle rider education course.
Getting a Commercial Driver’s License in Illinois
An individual who wants to apply for a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or commercial learner’s permit (CLP) to operate intrastate must be age 18 or older. An individual must be age 21 or older to operate commercial vehicles in interstate commerce or to transport passengers. An individual who wants to obtain a CLP must have a valid Illinois CDL or non-CDL license as a base license. The base license must be valid for the 180-day period of the CLP.
An individual is required to pay the appropriate CLP or CDL fee to obtain a CLP or transfer their CDL. They must successfully pass the general (core) knowledge written test, the combination knowledge written test (Class A), the air brake knowledge written test, and any applicable endorsement knowledge written tests required to operate the vehicle. The CLP permits only tanker (N), passenger (P) and school bus (S) endorsements. The vision screen and basic car written test are required for out-of-state CDL transfers.
After an individual has completed all the written testing, ILSOS will issue a temporary CLP. After conducting identification tests, ILSOS prints a secure hard card permanent CLP and sends it to the individual within 15 business days. The CLP is valid for 180 days.
CDL Testing Requirements
A driver who wants to obtain a CDL must schedule a skills/drive testing appointment to complete their testing. All CLP holders must have a temporary or permanent CLP for 14 days minimum before conducting skills/drive testing. They may schedule in advance for a future date beyond the 14-day period. An individual must successfully pass the skills/drive testing in a properly classified, representative vehicle based on the desired vehicle class, restrictions and endorsements.
All CDL applicants are required to drive an approved, predetermined route for a CDL road test. The CDL road test is determined by federal and state law requirements. It is also determined by the laws of roadways in the area that surround the CDL facility where the test will be held. The individual must have proof of vehicle insurance, valid license plates and current vehicle safety inspection for every vehicle prior to the test. The testing is divided into three parts, pre-trip inspection test, basic control skills test and driving/road test.
CDL Renewals and Upgrades
An individual must renew a CDL every four years, prior to the expiration date. They must pay the CDL renewal fee as well as an additional fee if the CDL contains an L or M class. An individual must provide documents that are proof of legal presence in Illinois to renew or upgrade their CDL.
General Rules for Renewals
An Illinois driver’s license is valid for four years, and an Illinois ID card is valid for five years. All individuals age 75 and older must take a driving exam to renew their license.
Everyone is required to take a written exam every eight years, except individuals with no traffic convictions. An individual who has an accident recorded on their driving record may be required to take written and/or road exams. An individual may renew up to one year before their four-year or two-year license expires or six months before a one-year license expires.
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.