Commercial Driver FAQs in Illinois
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Who needs a commercial driver license?
Anyone who wants to drive commercial vehicles in the state of Illinois needs a commercial driver license, or CDL.
While we usually think of commercial drivers as truckers driving big rigs transporting goods, you need a CDL to drive any of the following vehicles:
- Vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 pounds or more, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
- A single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
- All vehicles designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
- Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.
How old do I have to be to apply for a CDL?
Like most states, Illinois offers both an interstate CDL, available to drivers over 21, and an intrastate CDL, which can be obtained by drivers 18 and older. This means that while you may drive commercially within Illinois once you turn 18, you won't be allowed to drive a commercial vehicle across state lines until you're 21.
What about out-of-state CDLs?
First off, federal guidelines dictate that you're only allowed to carry one driver's license. So when you move to Illinois, you'll need to give up your out-of-state license to get a CDL in Illinois. Applicants must do the following to change their out-of-state CDL for an Illinois CDL:
- Turn in your out-of-state commercial driver's license.
- Pass the vision and written tests for the license and any additional endorsements. The road test may be waived if your out-of-state CDL is equivalent to the one you are applying for in Illinois (i.e. the same license class and endorsements).
- Verifiable proof of your full name, date of birth, Social Security number, current Illinois residency, and written signature.
Who doesn't need a commercial driver's license?
Drivers of farm vehicles may be exempt, or they may instead require a special type of CDL called a Farm-Related Service Vehicle CDL. This is a seasonal distance-restricted license.
Similar restrictions apply to exempt drivers of farm vehicles; the exemption is designed to cover only family members or farm employees operating family-owned vehicles used expressly for farming-related purposes.
Are there any other CDL waivers or exemptions?
There are some other Illinois CDL waivers and exemptions, including those for people helping operate snowplows and other civic vehicles.
You can drive your RV, motor home, or travel trailer without a commercial license. Firefighters can drive fire trucks, and those in the military may drive military vehicles without an Illinois CDL.
I only want to drive a school bus. Do I need to apply for a full CDL?
If you've already got a Class A, Class B, or Class C commercial license, then you'll need a school bus endorsement to drive a school bus. However, in Illinois you don't actually need a full CDL in order to drive kids around in a yellow bus.
Illinois offers a separate School Bus CDL for those without a commercial license who wish to operate a school bus. The School Bus CDL carries a J-48 restriction, meaning that the School Bus CDL holder may only operate the school bus while it is being used as a school bus. You can't drive the vehicle as a charter or for any other purpose, nor can you moonlight as a driver for another type of bus or commercial vehicle.
Recent legislation now requires Illinois School Bus CDL holders to add an "S" endorsement to their licenses to show that they have received and conform to the new standards for fingerprinting and other new, stricter requirements for drivers of school buses.
How strict is the Illinois vision test?
Drivers must demonstrate vision of 20/40 in the best eye, either naturally or with the help of corrective lenses. If you test 20/70, you may be issued a restricted, daylight-only license―or you may be denied a commercial license. Bioptic telescope lenses are allowed in certain circumstances but will usually require a special waiver. The visual field must be 140 degrees. In the case of a missing eye, the remaining eye must have a visual field of 70 degrees temporally and 35 degrees nasally.
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