Do I Need A CDL?

How do you know if you need a commercial driver license (CDL)?

The laws surrounding whether or not you need a CDL are complex. Even the cops who issue tickets for driving without a CDL have trouble understanding the laws. That's why they use the handy flow chart you see at the end of this post. A police shared his flow chart with one of our attorneys after a hearing.

As you will notice, there are three key factors. They are gross vehicle weight, the number of passengers a vehicle is designed to carry, and hazardous cargo. In summary:

  • If the vehicle you are driving has a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more, you need a CDL
  • If the vehicle you are driving is designed to carry 16 or more people, including the driver, you need a CDL.
  • If the vehicle you are driving carries placardable amounts of hazardous materials, you need a CDL (with a hazardous materials endorsement).

In Arizona, it is a criminal violation to drive a vehicle that requires a commercial driver license when you do not have a commercial driver license. The statute that covers this is A.R.S. 28-3481(A). If you are caught, you will likely be charged with a class 3 criminal misdemeanor. A class 3 misdemeanor carries the potential for a $500 fine (plus surcharges which would about double the fine), 30 days in jail, and probation.


Comments 6

  1. Operating a commercial vehicle without a CDL but it was my personal vehicle a friends trailer no a business just helping a friend out

    1. Post

      Hi Aarion,
      It sounds like you may have an argument, or at least a mitigating detail. If you give us a call, 480-626-5415, we could talk it through in more detail.
      – Chris

  2. How is Gross vehicle weight determined?
    Is the GVWR the actual weight of a vehicle/combined vehicle or is it the rating that is on the vin sticker?
    Thank you

    1. Post

      I believe it is the rating on the VIN sticker. Sometimes it is referred to as the GVWR , gross vehicle weight rating, too.

  3. Hello, I’m thankful for this resource and hopefully I can get my issue straightened out.

    I’m a Canadian citizen but a resident of Arizona. I’ve held a Canadian CDL for 30 years. I’ve also held CDLs in Colorado and North Dakota back when you could swap your license over easily. Nowadays you can’t do that. Long story short, I’ve got an Arizona class D license, and I want to pick up a 1988 Kenworth tractor for recreational vehicle purposes, not for hauling any payload, just for pulling my own trailer and personal stuff. Since I only wish to use it for personal use and pulling my RV, do I need to have a CDL? Can I register it as an RV or a historical vehicle and avoid CDL?

    1. Post

      Hi Matt, It sounds like whether or not you need a CDL in AZ will depend on the weights of the tractor and whatever you are pulling. The CDL flowchart above is what AZ law enforcement is going to refer to when determining whether or not you need a CDL. I don’t believe a historical registration would impact whether or not a CDL is needed.

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