Last Changed 8/18/2012
There are 50 variations on driver’s license requirements as each
state has its own viewpoint on the issue.
First off some basics; your driver’s license should come from the
same state as where your vehicles are registered and this should be
your residence state. That may seem an unnecessary statement but
many people think they can mix and choose. All these factors
interplay and should come from the same state.
Depending on the GVWR, the maximum weight of the truck and load,
your state may require your truck to be licensed as a commercial
vehicle. It may only take a GVWR of 10,001 lbs. to make a truck
Commercial. That is the normal dually pickup GVWR. It all depends
on your resident states definitions. Some states require commercial
registration only if the truck is used in a commercial way, making
money. The state you register your vehicles in set the rules. It
doesn’t matter what other states do.
A quick statement on definitions. Many believe a sticker saying
that a truck is “Private, nor for Hire” exempts the truck from
commercial rules. It does not. A truck can be Private, not owned
by a corporation, and Not for Hire, the owner uses the truck only
for his business. Such a truck is commercial because it is used for
business. We will use the word Private to mean for personnel
non-business use from here on.
Commercial Registered Truck
If your truck has to be registered commercial, a Commercial Drivers
License (CDL) becomes necessary when the weight of the rig, truck
and trailer, exceeds 26,001 lbs. Some states may have a CDL Class C
license, but very few do. Less than 26,001 lbs., a regular driver’s
license is enough.
Over 26,001 lbs., there are two classes of CDL licenses. A CDL Class
B is used when the truck itself exceeds 26,001 lbs. or if the truck
and a trailer combination exceed 26,001 lbs. and the trailer weighs
less than 10,000 lbs.
If the trailer exceeds 10,001 lbs. or if the truck is considered a
Tractor, then a CDL Class A license is required. By definition, a
Tractor is a truck designed more for pulling weight in a trailer
than carrying weight on its own wheels (A Semi versus a Cargo Van
The issues of truck or tractor determine your truck registration
plates. Some states want to say any truck with a fifth wheel is a
tractor. There are only 50 variations of this and sometimes there
are variations within a state depending on who you talk to.
We have heard statements that some states allow usage of a
commercially plated truck for personnel purposes and then a CDL
license is not requires. We have yet to see this is any state
Non-Commercial Registered Trucks
The ideal is to have your truck registered as a non-commercial
vehicle. If the motorhome registration for your truck is available
in your state, then that is a good option because generally a
motorhome is considered non-commercial.
But the motorhome registration of a truck is not always going to
work as a fifth-wheel tow vehicle. For example: Maryland motorhomes
are restricted to a maximum trailer of 10,000 lbs., not enough for
the type of fifth-wheel trailers we are concerned about.
Some states require a Non-Commercial Drivers License (non-CDL) for
Recreational Vehicles. There may be two Classes of non-CDL, Class B
and Class A.
In Maryland, a RV rig (truck and trailer or motorhome and trailer)
over 26,001 lbs., requires a non-CDL Class B license. That includes
a motorhome over 26,001 lbs. without a trailer. There is not a RV
requirement for a Maryland non-CDL Class A because the trailer on a
motorhome can’t be over 10,000 lbs. and truck with a trailer over
10,000 lbs. has to be a tractor which doesn’t fall into the RV
But that is Maryland. In Texas a trailer over 10,000 lbs. is allowed
on a motorhome registered truck and does require a non-CDL Class A
South Dakota allows for private trucks and when they are used to
pull recreational trailers, a standard Class C (car) driver’s
license is all that is required.
Yes this is a very confusing subject. You will find a lot of
generalized statements floating around like “as long as you are not
making money, you don’t need a CDL.” The only valid statements are
those from your residence state’s vehicle codes.
The good thing now is that states are requirement to put their codes
on the internet for the public to see. As you would expect, the
vehicle and drivers licensing codes are not always laid out is an
easy to find manor but as you did around, you will start to
understand the layout. Usually there is a Department of
Transportation that sets the vehicle and road rules.
The best source for drivers license info is your states Drivers
CDL licenses are for all intents, a Federal license. The rules are
set by the Federal Government and are uniform across the 50 states.
Likewise, if a state requires a Commercial registration of a truck,
then the rules for the truck are uniform across the 50 states. But
there are exceptions where a state may require a Commercial Exempt
registration. That registration doesn’t have to fulfill the Federal
requirements, only the state’s.
The rules for getting a CDL are tougher than a regular license. The
testing is harder, both written and driving. You are required to
have a medical certificate that says you are healthy enough to
drive. You only have half of the allowed alcohol level (.04) and
you get 1 & 1/2 to 2 times the number of points for a violation.
The rules are tough but then again a CDL driver is handling very
heavy and dangerous vehicles.
Exempt-CDL (Non-CDL) licenses
Exempt licenses are state options and the rules vary. For some
states, the testing is almost as rigorous as a CDL. Some states,
the testing is easy.
In general, if your resident state requires a Exempt-CDL for your RV,
the steps to getting one are usually easy to perform.
State Listing of RV Drivers Licenses in respect to driving HDT trucks.
Check the codes for the state you choose as a resident state. That
will determine what vehicle and driver’s licensing is required.