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Old 03-22-2018, 04:08 AM   #1
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Do I Need a Commercial Driver's License (CDL)?

I am writing this because ... because the question is asked every week, or every day if you read any of the FaceBook Groups, and the same mis-information is repeated day after day, week after week.

So here is the answer with the only caveat being that I am not a lawyer. It wouldn't really help much even if I were, as licensing rules vary by state.

The basic answer for most Skoolies, and privately owned buses is "No, you do not need a CDL".

Let's dispense with the first myth:

"A bus is a commercial vehicle".

The term "commercial vehicle" is not a classification of vehicle recognized by either the federal government or any state legislature. I know it is widely bandied about, here and elsewhere, but we ought to stop using it because it is a meaningless term.

A Commercial Driver's License is a license to drive commercially. It is not a license to drive a commercial vehicle. The entirety of the CDL Regs are predicated on the nature of the journey, and only if that journey is commercial in purpose do the regulations apply. If the journey is not commercial in purpose, scrub the CDL Regs, they do not apply.

Once the nature of the journey is established, then all vehicles are governed by weight and the trailer situation. A "Class B" CDL allows vehicles in excess of 26001 lbs to be driven. A "Class A" adds a trailer in excess of 10000 lbs (Semi).

ONly in this instance are buses treated differently. If you drive a bus you need a "P" (passenger) endorsement. If it's a school bus you need "P" and "S" (School Bus).

If you are driving ANY of the above vehicles for a purely private or domestic reason, none of that applies.

So having ruled out the need for a CDL you have to look at what your state driver's license allows.

Most states, when you pass your driving test, issue you a "Class D" driving license. Generally this covers cars and light trucks. Any passenger vehicle up to around 15 seats is covered for private driving, over that there may be more rules.

Many states make no reference to "heavy vehicles" in their state regs, so those drivers are good to go on their regular license. My state, Oklahoma, is one of them. If I moved to Texas I would have to take an additional test and that bit is next.

Some states, recognizing that this could cause a problem, passed laws covering the private use of heavy vehicles. They did this by adding required Classes to their state driving licenses, and those laws tend to follow the CDL classification system.

So in Texas, as my bus is plated at 33000 lbs, I would need to add a "Non-Commercial Class B" to my Texas Drivers License. If I then wanted to tow a trailer weighing more than 10000 lbs I would need a "Non-Commercial Class A".

This would only allow me to drive those vehicles privately. If I wanted to use my private semi to carry goods, I would need a CDL because the feds control that under the "Interstate Commerce" clause of the Constitution. Again there is the clue ... they used the commerce clause because of the purpose of the driving.

There is also a fabled "Air-brake Endorsement". Doesn't exist, not in any state I can find. It does exist in some Canadian provinces.

The closest I can find is PA. In that state they require you to pass the same test a Non-Commercial Class B driver would have to pass, for ANY vehicle with air-brakes, regardless of weight.

Reciprocity:

A US Driver's License, properly issued, is valid in all 50 states and in the whole of Canada. If you are legal in your state, you are legal everywhere and that includes those provinces in Canada that require their own provincial license holders to pass an air-brake test. You do not.

There are apocryphal stories floating around that suggest that drivers of RVs have been held up at borders while an appropriate driver can be found. I suspect they are made up, but in case they are not let's consider the final point.

Not every LEO or even state official knows the rules. If you call your DMV and they tell you that you need a CDL, then they are wrong. Even state officials will talk about "commercial vehicles" until you ask them to spell out what constitutes a "commercial vehicle", and which statute defines them (there isn't one).

This might occasionally mean that you pick up a completely unjustified ticket. The court will dismiss it but that can be both inconvenient and expensive, which sucks.

I'm not sure of the situation in Washington State which appears to be a bit of an outlier. None of the references I can find state that WA tells people they need a CDL, but lots of people say that is what they have been told. I recommend they ask which statute specifies the law. WA cannot change the CDL Regs. If they passed a law that appears to do that, then that law can't be enforced because Duh! I suspect it is crossed wires.

The most common situation we get asked about is the journey home from the dealership or auction house. You will be driving a big yellow bus that probably has all of its lights intact and says "School Bus" across the front and back.

It isn't a school bus. It stopped being a school bus the moment the school district withdrew it from the fleet. What you are driving is a private bus, In Transit and on delivery miles to its new home.

You will be fine on a temporary tag with a Bill of Sale in your hot, sticky mitt.

We all know that big, yellow buses are invisible to law enforcement, but if you are pulled over a polite discussion should see you on your way.

When you get it home, pay attention to your state rules for tagging new vehicles, especially out-of-state vehicles.

Good luck.

Note: It's entirely possible that I made the odd mistake above, if so add in the comments.
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Old 03-22-2018, 07:22 AM   #2
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I think part of the issue is that even the DMV employees dont know.. so when any one of us calls our DMV the employee doesnt necessarily know the real answer...

2 years ago Zi talked ot the Ohio DMV and they said regardless of use if its over 26k GVWR or 15 seats then it needs a CDL to drive.. when I actually registered the bus they told me nor necessary because im not using it for commercial purposes.. I called again after some discussions here. supervisor who said need a CDL to drive but dont need to carry a DOT number. last year I re-uppsed the registration on the red bus.. manager at the DMV store-front said no CDL no DOT number needed.. reading the law-book is vague about it, it can be interpreted either way...

what I mention only applies if you dont re-title as a motorhome (in Ohio). in ohio if you title it as an RV no special license is required.. one of my busses came with a motor home title, the other as a bus, Progressive commercial has both insured and im almost 2 years in and havent been cancelled.. I hear rumors that some get cancelled by their insurance provider once they convert their title to Motorhome.

I havent done much reading on the Class-8 forums to see what those guys do..(there are guys that drive semi's around as personal daily drivers).. theres probably insight into how the DMV handles those when used for personal use.
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Old 03-22-2018, 07:46 AM   #3
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(there are guys that drive semi's around as personal daily drivers)..
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OOOOHHh.... hmmmm.... nevermind.

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Old 03-22-2018, 07:47 AM   #4
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I drive my bus around as a daily driver.. but now im hijacking the original thread so ill stop here
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Old 03-22-2018, 08:09 AM   #5
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Can this thread be a sticky? I think this has summed it up the best. I know I was confused with what I needed until Steve helped me understand the difference.

This needs to be a sticky.

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Old 03-22-2018, 09:36 AM   #6
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Since LEO, DMV staff and border guards may not know these details, some people may feel better to just go ahead and get the appropriate CDL even though they will never drive for commercial purposes.

I believe there are downsides to that idea?
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Old 03-22-2018, 09:40 AM   #7
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Since LEO, DMV staff and border guards may not know these details, some people may feel better to just go ahead and get the appropriate CDL even though they will never drive for commercial purposes.

I believe there are downsides to that idea?
Yes, you will be held to a higher standard. Tickets will cost lots more and the judge will be tougher.

I held a CDL for many years.
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Old 03-22-2018, 09:47 AM   #8
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Talking

I have had a CDL-Class B for close to 20 years (I use to drive school buses ) - and the only downside I have ever had was the yearly physicals in Florida. Mostly just remembering to do the DOT Physical and get the forms to the DMV. Actually, that is probably a bonus to having a CDL - otherwise, I would forget to go get a physical.
Even with that - having a CDL has never hindered me in any way. I drive relatively responsibly.
I do not drive commercial vehicles (although I can) - and my Bus is registered as a Motorhome.

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Originally Posted by john61ct View Post
Since LEO, DMV staff and border guards may not know these details, some people may feel better to just go ahead and get the appropriate CDL even though they will never drive for commercial purposes.

I believe there are downsides to that idea?
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Old 03-22-2018, 10:30 AM   #9
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My simple-minded understanding...

...unless you are driving commercially, i.e., for money (passengers, freight, whatever)...you do NOT need a CDL. That comes down from the Federal level (DOT). And there are various levels of commercial endorsements.
ls

Any other requirements that apply to NON-commercial (weight, length, etc.) are from the State level and need to be examined based on where your license is issued.
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Old 03-22-2018, 10:58 AM   #10
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My simple-minded understanding...

...unless you are driving commercially, i.e., for money (passengers, freight, whatever)...you do NOT need a CDL. That comes down from the Federal level (DOT). And there are various levels of commercial endorsements.
ls

Any other requirements that apply to NON-commercial (weight, length, etc.) are from the State level and need to be examined based on where your license is issued.
You are correct.

However, it is quite interesting to see how many people are not correct, yet they will berate me and accuse me of providing false info. I posted this in the Bus Conversion Group on FB and they are already doing it
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Old 03-22-2018, 11:12 AM   #11
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Yes, you will be held to a higher standard. Tickets will cost lots more and the judge will be tougher.

I held a CDL for many years.
You are also likely to face mandatory drug and alcohol tests after every incident, however minor and regardless of who is held liable.

This probably won't be an issued for nice, law-abiding folk, but it can be very inconvenient and you are being treated differently from other people.
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Old 03-22-2018, 11:44 AM   #12
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You are also likely to face mandatory drug and alcohol tests after every incident, however minor and regardless of who is held liable.

This probably won't be an issued for nice, law-abiding folk, but it can be very inconvenient and you are being treated differently from other people.
it can definitely become an issue for those that are on strong prescription medications, or "herbal remedies".. you dont want to get tested and have something that shouldnt, show up... a friend of mine in the trucking indistry says his drivers only have to get mandatory drug tested if they are involved in an incident where at least one of the vehicles cannot drive itself from the scene or if there is damage to stationary property (light pole, building, etc)..

again, I think the big issue is that the DMV personnell and probably the responding Police dont Know the law so it can create issues.. even if they get sorted out.. many states like ohio spell it out exactly for Church busses, farm non comm vehicles, and commerce (for hire) vehicles, but not for such vehicles used by individuals personally... I dont think anyone is trying to berate twigg here, just bring to light that each DMV office seems to handle this very differently.. states these days dont adhere to the feds on a lot of levels which is an issue not meant for this forum...

it ultimately comes down to insurance companies and lawsuits.. someone runs a red light and hits your bus... clearly their fault until their attorney tries to get you invalidated as a properly licensed driver therefore shifting fault and liability over to you (in many states an invalid license or impaired driving is an automatic admission of fault and liability)...
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Old 03-22-2018, 02:02 PM   #13
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You are correct.

However, it is quite interesting to see how many people are not correct, yet they will berate me and accuse me of providing false info. I posted this in the Bus Conversion Group on FB and they are already doing it
I agree with your logic, and I know I may personally have been spreading some of the misinformation because of the research I did.

I had looked up the Washington state rules, since I had to pick my bus up in Washington state last month, and if I was going to have a minor accident like clipping a sign I figured it would be within the first couple of hours while I was still in the downtown Seattle area.

The Washington state DMV website does contradict you on CDL
WA State Licensing (DOL) Official Site: Who needs a CDL?
And they express the air brake thing as opposite (it is a restriction until you pass the air brakes test)
WA State Licensing (DOL) Official Site: Endorsements and restrictions

Now is the WA DMV site incorrect? Certainly could be. My home state (Colorado) expresses is specifically as Commercial vehicle and I think is more correct with federal law and agrees with your point of view.
https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/dmv...al-information

But handles air brakes the same way (restriction without air brakes test for cdl)
https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/dmv/cdl-restrictions

But in the end, if you had a minor accident, and the police officer writes you a variety of tickets for no CDL, no Air brake, no passenger, no school bus, bus still school bus yellow, etc. And he could even make some up, maybe parading without a license if you are a fan of Easy Rider. Your only options are to pay them or return to fight the tickets. If you live multiple states away, that can be problematic, so you will probably end up paying them. If you pay them, it is an admission of guilt by sending in the fine. So they were effectively correct at that point, even if they were legally wrong. I personally am still steaming about a failure to yield ticket I got 5 years ago that was legally incorrect, but I didn't have time to go down and fight it, so I paid it and it doesn't matter anymore that the officer didn't know the rules for a stop sign and I was right.

So its a bit fuzzy in some areas, and generally I can tell you the DMV people and the police in general are not very familiar with the more obscure areas of their business. For instance, I would bet the small town cops that work the area near where I live, probably don't write many CDL tickets. The State patrol guys working the weight station a quarter mile from my house you would hope would, but you never know.

The RV thing is a very specific carve out in federal CDL law, so it helps gives me piece of mind that I am in the right that I have my bus title converted.

Now if you want to add to the can of worms, you can add weigh stations.... I personally think they are for commercial vehicles only, (and my state uses signs for the weigh stations that only say commercial). But other states that I was blowing by weigh stations were explicit in saying ALL vehicles over 26k, ALL passenger buses, etc. I think they are wrong, they may even have state laws in place that support those signs, but I think that would violate the federal law(or rule) that exempts RV's, which would make in unenforceable (for RV's) and I think that would generically apply for heavy vehicles not used for commercial uses. Another one of those ones where if they are bored and write me a ticket for not stopping, depending on where it is, I may have to just pay it because I don't have time to go back and fight it. Do I think its likely that I would be pulled over for passing a weight station in a former school bus, not likely.

Another interested example of a sign that isn't really enforcable, is a sign on the road I have to travel to get to my house. No vehicles over 26k lbs. (with no fine print about local deliveries) Frankly there are school buses on that road multiple times per day. But it is also the road you would use to avoid the weigh station on the freeway that runs parallel to it. And frankly at least several trucks per day use it for that reason. So that sign and road happens to be in the small town jurisdiction, and happens to be right where they drop the speed limit to 25mph, and have a speed trap regularly (which the speed limit drop is illegal under CO law as well, but that is another story). So if I were stopped in the bus because I was going 30 in a 25 and happened to be right next to the no vehicles over 26k lbs, I might get a ticket for it. But since the 'courthouse' is the basement of townhall just down the road from my house and court is Wed night once a month, I'd probably go fight that one because I could.
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Old 03-22-2018, 02:23 PM   #14
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It seems that MA has a few arcane, and probably not legal, oddities too.

The main take-away from the CDL rules is that they only ever apply to commercial, not private driving. That test is applied before any other.

So if your state words it wrongly, you end up in a circular firing -squad.

State says you need a CDL for air-brakes or weight ... Go to CDL Regs ... CDL Regs say they only apply to commercial driving ... Go to state laws ... and on it goes.

The Weigh Station thing is another odd one. All commercial drivers must stop. No one argues that point.

RVs are exempt, but I think School Buses are exempt too. However, on delivery mileage you are not driving a school bus even though it looks like one.

Once it's converted you don't need to stop because then it's an RV.

I had no idea what rules applied when I brought my bus home to Oklahoma from Nebraska. I only passed one open weigh station, and I decided to stop because I didn't want an Oklahoma State Trooper chasing me down with some awkward questions.

In the event it was a painless few seconds. I drove onto the weigh-bridge and a disembodied voice simply said "You are clear to continue".
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Old 03-22-2018, 03:41 PM   #15
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Washington State is pretty clear in who they require to have a CDL.

They clearly specify some circumstances in which a CDL is required where there is no commerce taking place.

I have read the DOL website, the associated RCW's and spoken with our County Sheriff who recently retired from WSP. They are all in agreement.

While it may seem contrary, they will ticket you and could impound your rig if you violate the RCW's. If you don't pay the ticket because "they are wrong" then you would likely be "right" in jail.

I SUSPECT that, like some other areas of law, the Fed's set out minimums that the States must comply with and give the States the option of adding additional regulations.

IMHO: Washington State over taxes and over regulates many activities. This is just another example.
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Old 03-22-2018, 06:20 PM   #16
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Washington State is pretty clear in who they require to have a CDL.

They clearly specify some circumstances in which a CDL is required where there is no commerce taking place.

I have read the DOL website, the associated RCW's and spoken with our County Sheriff who recently retired from WSP. They are all in agreement.

While it may seem contrary, they will ticket you and could impound your rig if you violate the RCW's. If you don't pay the ticket because "they are wrong" then you would likely be "right" in jail.

I SUSPECT that, like some other areas of law, the Fed's set out minimums that the States must comply with and give the States the option of adding additional regulations.

IMHO: Washington State over taxes and over regulates many activities. This is just another example.
My point isn't that states can't add extra requirements, but they can't add the requirement for a CDL where the CDL Regs don't call for one.

That is why so many states added "Non-Commercial" Classes.
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Old 03-22-2018, 06:29 PM   #17
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My point isn't that states can't add extra requirements, but they can't add the requirement for a CDL where the CDL Regs don't call for one.

That is why so many states added "Non-Commercial" Classes.
Apparently, Washington State did not get the memo.

States cannot make firearms or auto emmisions regulations more relaxed than Federal.

They can make them more restrictive than Federal.

Washington State seems to think the same applies to drivers licensing.

Given that they have written laws to that effect and will penalize you for violating them, I think I will play by their rules. I don't like big tickets.
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Old 03-22-2018, 06:45 PM   #18
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Apparently, Washington State did not get the memo.

States cannot make firearms or auto emmisions regulations more relaxed than Federal.

They can make them more restrictive than Federal.

Washington State seems to think the same applies to drivers licensing.

Given that they have written laws to that effect and will penalize you for violating them, I think I will play by their rules. I don't like big tickets.
It would be an interesting conversation with a judge.

States control state driving licenses, so if they want to add restrictions they are free to do so, but to their license not the federal license.

I think you'd win, but who wants to go there.

Don't misunderstand where I am coming from. I approve of these restrictions. Way too many people can't control a car effectively, the thought of them being free to drive a bus without training and testing is not a good one.

Oklahoma treats everything as a car unless it is being driven for commerce and while that makes my life easier, I'd support adding Non-Commercial Classes to the rules.
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Old 04-20-2018, 11:27 PM   #19
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Twigg- You just gave me the warm fuzzy I've been looking for. Thanks! I will read no more...and likely call no more. My wife and I have been researching the heck out of the air brake question prior to my departure/jaunt across Canada next week. The reciprocity laws have been winning me over, but all the "noise" makes me curious. Ultimately, I'm more concerned about about a flat tire or two than getting turned around at the border or getting stuck in Banff.
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Old 04-23-2018, 10:23 AM   #20
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Twigg- You just gave me the warm fuzzy I've been looking for. Thanks! I will read no more...and likely call no more. My wife and I have been researching the heck out of the air brake question prior to my departure/jaunt across Canada next week. The reciprocity laws have been winning me over, but all the "noise" makes me curious. Ultimately, I'm more concerned about about a flat tire or two than getting turned around at the border or getting stuck in Banff.
Depending on where you are going in Canada, there ARE places at the border apparently where the weighmaster will stop you and not let you drive if your rig is over a certain weight and you don't have an air brakes endorsement. One provide is apparently much more anal about this than another, and I can't remember which one. Canada is different than states within the US!
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