5 Key Differences Between CDL vs. Non-CDL Driver's Licenses

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published August 4, 2021

If you are interested in driving professionally, you may have to obtain a specific kind of driver's license. A CDL and non-CDL license are the two types of driver's licenses that you can get to drive in the United States legally. Learning about the differences between these two types of licenses can help you decide which kind of license suits your personal and professional needs. In this article, we discuss the definitions of CDL versus non-CDL licenses and the key differences between them.

What is a CDL?

A CDL, or commercial driver's license, is a license that allows you to drive a vehicle that exceeds certain weight, capacity or load requirements. Specifically, the U.S. government requires you to obtain a CDL to drive any vehicle that weighs over 26,001 pounds, can transport over 15 people, is carrying hazardous materials or has a tanker or a double or triple trailer. In addition to these requirements, drivers must be at least 18 years old to get a CDL license or 21 years old to drive a vehicle carrying hazardous materials, and you can only obtain a CDL in your state of residence.

You may get a CDL if you drive for your job and the vehicle you drive meets one or more of the requirements. For instance, if you work as a school bus driver, a CDL license is typically a requirement. Some other professions that typically require CDL licenses include cargo truck drivers, heavy equipment haulers and truck driving instructors.

Related: CDL Driver Resume Samples

What is a non-CDL?

A non-CDL, or non-commercial driver's license, is a standard driver's license that you may get to drive any vehicle. To obtain a non-CDL license, you must meet legal requirements for driving age and pass a driver's test. The United States requires drivers to get this license for recreational and professional driving. Some professions that typically use a non-CDL license include taxi drivers, food delivery drivers and small truck drivers.

CDL versus non-CDL

Here are some key differences between a CDL and a non-CDL license:

Skills test

A skills test to obtain a CDL license tests knowledge relating to general vehicle operation, combination vehicles and air brakes. General vehicle operation skills test questions for CDL license may include topics relating to cargo tiedowns, emergency protocols, retarders and downhill grades. Combination vehicle questions may include topics relating to couplers, secure trailer connections, service lines and parking protocols. Additionally, questions about air brakes may include topics relating to air pressure, spring break operation and slack adjusters.

A skills test for a non-CDL license tests knowledge relating to vehicle operation, safety and traffic laws. Vehicle operations questions include topics such as seatbelts, turn signals and rearview mirrors. Questions relating to safety may include topics such as braking distance, speed limits and alcohol consumption. Traffic law questions may include topics such as left and right turn requirements, street signs and stoplights.

Related: CDL Certification Guide: Everything You Need To Know

Driving test

A driving test for a CDL license may ask drivers to demonstrate the ability to perform specific types of maneuvers. For instance, a driving examiner may ask you to drive up steep inclines, down steep hills, under overpasses, over bridges and train tracks and around curves. Additionally, examiners may record data relating to speed, lane changes, stops and safety.

A driving test for a non-CDL license may ask drivers to demonstrate the ability to operate the vehicle safely and perform normal driving maneuvers. For instance, an examiner may ask you to follow street signs, make turns, stop the vehicle and parallel park. However, not all states require drivers to demonstrate the ability to parallel park. Additionally, examiners may record if you wear your seatbelt, keep both hands on the wheel, look left and right at intersections before entering them and use your turn signals.

Read more: How To Study for a CDL Test

Classes

There are three classes of CDL licenses: class A, B and C. A class A CDL permits you to drive a vehicle that weighs over 26,001 pounds or is towing a trailer that weighs over 10,000 pounds. A class B CDL permits you to drive a vehicle that weighs over 26,001 pounds or is towing a trailer that weighs less than 10,000 pounds. A class C CDL permits you to drive only single-unit vehicles that weigh over 26,001 pounds or vehicles that are not towing a trailer.

There is only one class of non-CDL license, which is a class D license. This type of license permits you to drive a single-unit vehicle that weighs less than 26,001 pounds. You can also use a class D license to drive a vehicle attached to a trailer, as long as the total weight doesn't exceed 10,000 pounds. When drivers get a license to drive a personal vehicle, it is typically a class D license.

Read more: CDL License: Definition and Types

Renewal

To renew a CDL license, you may have to fulfill certain knowledge, driving and health requirements. In addition to an eye exam, CDL drivers may have to complete a health screening, which includes areas like drug use and physical fitness. Depending on the state, you may have to renew a CDL license every five to eight years.

To renew a non-CDL driver's license, you may have to complete a skills test, a driver's test and an eye exam. Depending on the state, you may not have to do another driving test as long as the expiration date of the license occurred recently or is about to occur. If your vision abilities don't meet certain requirements at renewal, you may have to wear glasses or contacts while you drive. Depending on the state, you may have to renew a non-CDL license every two to 12 years.

Related: FAQ: Do You Need To Take a Class To Get Your CDL?

Cost

Depending on the state, fees to obtain or renew a CDL license may be anywhere from around $40 to around $500. States may charge a fee to submit an application, get an endorsement, do written and road tests or receive the physical license. For example, the state of Connecticut currently charges $70 for the physical license, $16 for a written test and $30 for a road test. Alternatively, the state of Alaska charges $120 for the physical license, $25 for a written test and $25 for a road test.

The cost to obtain or renew a non-CDL license also varies by state and can run anywhere from $10 to $89. For instance, the state of Missouri currently charges $10 for a non-CDL license that is valid for three years. Alternatively, the state of Virginia currently charges $89 for a non-CDL license that is valid for six years. States may charge fees to submit an application or complete a written test or a road test.

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