Home TRAVEL TIPS The Different Types of Drivers Licenses on U.S. Roadways Explained

The Different Types of Drivers Licenses on U.S. Roadways Explained

As a driver, you may have noticed a line item on your driver’s license that states “CLASS” followed by a letter or certain writing. Most drivers just assume this is jargon and move on without giving it a second thought. However, the Class of driver’s license that a person holds dictates what they are legally allowed to operate, which is why knowing each of the types, along with their differences, is so important. 

Why Are There Different Forms of Drivers Licenses?

The mere fact that there are different types of driver’s licenses can be confusing for many people as it seems unnecessary on the surface. After all, a vehicle is just a vehicle. However, there are a number of nuances when it comes to driving different types of vehicles that are so crucial to the operation of that vehicle that a different type of license is warranted. This alternative license isn’t just different in its designation, though, as the entirety of topics covered during the driving test differ. 

The Difference Between a CDL and NCDL

Before getting into the different subcategories of driver’s licenses, there are two overarching types that must be covered. A commercial driver’s license (CDL) and noncommercial driver’s license (NCDL) allow holders to do very different things. The primary difference between a CDL and NCDL is that the former applies to applicable individuals who are driving their vehicle for their job.

Additionally, the government requires those who drive a vehicle meeting the following requirements to have a CDL:

  • A vehicle weighing over 26,001 pounds
  • A vehicle which can carry at least 15 people
  • A vehicle that carries hazardous material
  • A vehicle that has a tanker or double or triple trailer to it

On top of this, you must be at least 18 years old to apply for CDL or 21 if you are applying for a CDL because you will be carrying hazardous materials. 

An NCDL, on the other hand, is your standard run-of-the-mill driver’s license that the majority of people hold. Everyday drivers will take the test for an NCDL, but certain professional services such as food delivery, taxi drivers, and limo drivers will also apply for an NCDL.  

Common Driver’s License Types to Be Aware Of

Underneath the CDL and NCDL categories, there are a number of subcategories for how a license is designated that should be considered. In most cases, each of the following classes could be assigned to a CDL or NCDL, with a few exceptions. These classes include:

Class C/D

Known as the standard driver’s license in the United States, a Class C license (or Class D depending on your state) is almost always an NCDL license. This doubles as a form of identification for the average person and allows a driver to operate a vehicle that is under 26,000 pounds, which covers the majority of everyday vehicles. On top of this, it also allows the driver to tow small trailers or RVs, with a limit of usually 10,000 pounds. 

CDL Class A

The second type of driver’s license, known as a Class A, is almost always a CDL. This is because it is considered the “catch all” for CDL licenses due to it allowing a driver to operate a vehicle over 26,001 pounds and tow more than 10,000 pounds in weight. For all operators of 18-wheelers or semitrucks, this is the type of license that would be required to legally be on the road. The qualifications to get this license are far more stringent and often cover topics such as tying items down, larger vehicle driving skills, and much more.


A Class B license is also typically a CDL but can occasionally be an NCDL. This license allows the holder to operate a vehicle that is over 26,001 pounds in weight, just as with a Class A, but it does not allow for towing more than 10,000 pounds. This means that the most common Class B license holders are bus drivers, garbage truck drivers, delivery trucks drivers, and more. A common NCDL Class B license example would be somebody who drives certain RVs. 

CDL Class C

A CDL Class C license is simply any standard Class C vehicle that is transporting hazardous materials. It is one of the rarer designations to see on a license and requires a HazMat endorsement. 

Noncommercial Driver’s License Endorsements

On the topic of endorsements, there are a number of additional subcategories to the aforementioned subcategories which may be present on a license following the initial letter. The most commonly seen endorsements include:

  • ‘H’: Allows for a driver to transport hazardous materials legally and requires passing a written test for approval.
  • ‘N’: Allows for a driver to drive vehicles that contain a tank and requires passing a written test for approval.
  • ‘S’: This is a specialty endorsement that allows a person to operate a school bus which first requires obtaining a ‘P’ endorsement.
  • ‘T’: Allows a driver to operate a vehicle that is towing double or triple trailers and requires passing a written test for approval.
  • ‘P’: Allows a driver to drive a vehicle that can transport over 15 people plus the driver

Additional Classes for Drivers Licenses

There are a couple of other rare classes of driver’s licenses that are not as commonly seen, but that are still important, nonetheless. Motorcycle licenses will be designated with an ‘M’, and taxi services will be designated with an ‘E’. On top of this, a learner’s permit still counts as a form of driver’s license in the eyes of the law. 

The Bottom Line

For the majority of people, a noncommercial driver’s license is what they will obtain when they take their driver’s test. More specifically, a Class C or D NCDL is what they will be given, which doubles as a form of identification. To that end, a commercial driver’s license, or simply a different type, may be something a person needs to pursue. Use the above types to determine the needs you have and which is best for you to study for.