What is the largest truck one can drive without a CDL License?

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What is the largest truck one can drive without a CDL License in the USA? Your standard driver’s license allows you to operate a single vehicle with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of up to 26,000 lbs. In addition to that, you may tow a trailer with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of up to 10,000 lbs., for a Gross Combined Weight Rating of up to 36,000 lbs. Yes, you are even allowed to use hydraulic or full air brakes without a CDL License.

You will not find anywhere in the FMCSR (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations) that you need a CDL (Commercial Drivers License) to drive a vehicle operating with air brakes. The confusion comes from most trucks with Air Brakes is trucks with GVWR in excess of 26,000 lbs. And then, in this case, you need a CDL. During your test for CDL, you will take and pass the air brake test else you will receive an exclusion on your CDL that will restrict you from driving any vehicle equipped with air brakes. You will still be able to drive a non-CDL vehicle with air brakes.

Commercial Drivers Licenses is the only license which the requirements are federally regulated over all the states of the USA. 

You will have three different CDL groups to choose from when deciding to obtain a Commercial Drivers License. The licensing laws are simple until you throw in the fine print, then they are over-complicated.

There are three classes of CDL:

  1. Class A: Combination vehicles with a Gross Combined Weight Rating of 26,001 lbs. or more, AND where the vehicle in tow has a GVWR of 10,001 lbs. or more. So if your work has you driving an F350 (with a GVWR of around 13,500 lbs.), and they have you tow, say, a 16,000 lb. GVWR trailer, you need a Class A for that. 
  2. Class B: Single vehicles with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of 26,001 lbs. or greater. Additionally, they may tow a trailer with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of up to 10,000 lbs. So when questions are asked about whether a 24’, 26’, etc. box truck requires a CDL, the length doesn’t matter – the GVWR and aspects of its use (covered in the next paragraph) are what matters.
  3. Class C: Vehicles which normally would not require a CDL, but do on account of one of two things: either they are carrying some hazardous materials which require placards to be displayed, or else they’re a bus designed to transport 16 or more people (including the driver).

Sooner then later you will receive some hazardous materials to move, and you will not be allowed to transport without a valid class-appropriate CDL is always required, with one exception – military vehicles operated by military personnel in the course of their duties may drive them, provided they have a military driver’s license permitting them to operate that type of vehicle, and they’ve been through the Hazmat Handler Course.

When it comes to Buses, some exemptions do exist for those who are carrying non-fare paying or not charging passengers. For example, some states give an exception to church buses, and some states provide an exemption to buses which carry farm workers, the military has personnel who’ll drive buses on a military driver’s license.

When it comes to farm vehicles there are exemption clauses which make a vehicle exempt from FMCSA regulation to some extent and from requiring a CDL to be operated, conditionally. Within these exemptions are strict requirements which need to be met to the letter for the exception to apply.