Taking a vehicle out on the open road means different things for different people. For some, heading out for a drive is a form of recreation. For others, a vehicle is necessary to get to work or, in the case of professional drivers, work itself. Just like there are many types of driving, there are many types of driving licenses.
Making sure you have the correct type of license to operate specific vehicles or drive vehicles for specific reasons is necessary to drive safely and legally. Here’s a breakdown of license classes to help you narrow down exactly the one you need.
Types of License Classes
If you’re 16 years old or older, have already received a driver’s license, and are not driving any type of commercial vehicle, you most likely have a Class D license. Of the different types of license classes, Class D is the most common because it’s the type needed to drive passenger cars. In addition to normal passenger cars, however, a Class D license also grants an individual permission to drive trailers and towing vehicles that weigh less than 10,000 pounds. So, if you’re towing a boat out to a lake, taking a landscape trailer to a worksite, or driving an RV for a camping trip, a Class D license is all you need to complete the drive legally.
No, this type of DJ license isn’t needed for scratch turntables or dropping beats. A DJ License — or Junior License — is typically given to younger drivers who have just passed their driving exam. Rules for the DJ License can differ by state, but they generally limit a driver by certain safety parameters such as lower vehicle weight limits and use of handheld devices. Some restrictions may even limit what time of day a driver can operate a vehicle. A DJ License is given to less-experienced drivers to allow they to become increasingly comfortable with vehicles and the rules of the road before fully opening up to a full-fledged Class D (or other) license.
Commercial Driver’s Licenses
The Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) category of license classes is a bit of alphabet soup, but each of the designations serves a purpose. Generally, a Commercial Driver’s License is needed to operate heavy, large, or vehicles that have been placarded for hazardous materials. Let’s break down the different types of CDLs (specific definitions for each class have been sourced from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration — FMSCA).
Class A CDL
“Any combination of vehicles which has a gross combination weight rating or gross combination weight of 11,794 kilograms or more (26,001 pounds or more) whichever is greater, inclusive of a towed unit(s) with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of more than 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds) whichever is greater.”
Class A CDLs are used for vehicles such as tractor-trailers, livestock carriers, and flatbeds. With certain endorsements, a Class A CDL can also authorize the use of Class B and Class C vehicles as well.
Class B CDL
“Any single vehicle which has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 11,794 or more kilograms (26,001 pounds or more), or any such vehicle towing a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight that does not exceed 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds).”
Class B CDLs are used for vehicles such as straight trucks, large passenger busses (public transportation), segmented buses, box trucks, dump trucks with smaller trailers, and certain types of tractor-trailers.
Class C CDL
“Any single vehicle, or combination of vehicles, that does not meet the definition of Class A or Class B, but is either designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver, or is transporting material that has been designated as hazardous under 49 U.S.C. 5103 and is required to be placarded under subpart F of 49 CFR Part 172 or is transporting any quantity of a material listed as a select agent or toxin in 42 CFR Part 73.”
Class B CDLs are used for vehicles such as smaller hazardous material vehicles, passenger vans, and combination vehicles not covered under Class A or B CDLs.
Commercial Driver’s License Endorsements
Class A, B, and C Commercial Driver’s Licenses are only the beginning of what the designation can permit. There are many additional endorsements that can be applied to a CDL that allow an individual to operate a wide range of specialized vehicles. To obtain these endorsements, a knowledge test and/or skills test must be passed.
Here are the types and the tests necessary to obtain the endorsements to show the range of different vehicles and purposes:
- N: Tank vehicle (knowledge test only)
- H: Hazardous materials (knowledge test only)
- S: School Bus (knowledge and skills tests)
- T: Double/Triple Trailers (knowledge test only)
- P: Passenger (knowledge and skills tests)
- X: Combination of tank vehicle and hazardous materials endorsements (knowledge test only)
In addition to endorsements that enable a driver to do certain things, there are CDL restrictions that prohibit the use of certain types of equipment. Here’s a sampling of the restrictions (with descriptions sourced from the FMCSA).
- L: “If the driver does not pass the Air Brakes Knowledge Test, does not correctly identify the air brake system components, does not properly conduct an air brake systems check, or does not take the Skills test in a vehicle with a full air brake system, the driver must have an “L” no full air brake restriction placed on their license.”
- E: “If the driver takes the Skills Test in a vehicle that has an automatic transmission, then an “E” no manual transmission restriction is placed on their license.”
- V: “If the State is notified by the FMCSA that a medical variance has been issued to the driver, the State must indicate the existence of such a medical variance on the CDLIS driving record and the CDL document using a restriction code “V” to indicate that there is information about the medical variance on the CDLIS record.”
- O: “If the driver takes the Skills Test in a Class A vehicle that has a pintle hook or other non-fifth wheel connection, they will have an “O” restriction placed on their license restricting them from driving any Class A vehicle with a fifth wheel connection.”
The FMSCA has the full list of restrictions.
Professional taxi drivers need to have a Class E license to operate the vehicle. These have become less common with the advent of rideshare apps, but traditional taxis still require the license.
Because motorcycles operate so differently than a traditional four-wheeled vehicle, they require a special license to operate. Like DJ Licenses, some states also have MJ Licenses that have similar restrictions for less-experienced motorcycle drivers.