Driver’s License in the US

The driver’s licenses in the US are issued by individual state and territories. Drivers are required to obtain it from their state of residence and all these states recognize the temporary licenses issued by others. There are many standard and special licenses which are categorized in different classes by some of the states. Most of the American drivers have to obtain unrestricted licenses and the line of distinction between a typical and restricted licenses, is not fixed all over the nation. Some of the specially issued types of licenses are:

Hardship license:

The minors (usually between 14-15 years), who under normal circumstances are too young to have a regular driving license, are required to obtain a hardship license to drive to and from home to school, for medical & other work purposes. Such license are issued because of unavailability of any other convenience options. Such restricted licenses are normally issued in rural regions and the exact criteria for hardship status varies from state to state.

Chauffeur license:

Chauffeur driving licenses, apart from acting as a passenger car license, also allow one to drive a taxi, limousine or other vehicle for hire. These licenses are offered only to the holders of regular passenger license and hence, the holder is exempted to undergo a road test. Although, some states prefer to conduct a short written test in order to check the knowledge of the applicant regarding statutory taxi driving laws and regulations along with a background check and make sure that the candidate is at least 18 years old and have sufficient past experience driving passenger cars. Some major taxi companies have set the minimum age limit at 25 for the hired drivers for insurance and related reasons.

Motorcycle license:

Some states also issue motorcycle licenses which do not include some kinds of vehicles like mopeds, motorized bicycles, or scooters, because of their definitions being followed differently in these states. Some of the most preferred basis of classification among scooters or mopeds and motorcycles are an engine displacement of 15 cubic inches or less, wheel size, type of power transmission. As per the norms issued by some states, these vehicles sometimes do not require any license or specifically motorcycle license or insurance and registration requirements. Operating a sidecar rig may require a separate license in some of the states.

Commercial driving licenses:

Commercial driver’s licenses or CDL are categorized in three separate classes A, B and C, based on their weights. Combination vehicles such as, tractor and trailer, weighing 26,000 lbs or more are termed in class A, along with couples split buses of the specified weight range. Single vehicles weighing 26,000 lbs or more, including articulated buses and combination vehicles weighing less than 26,000 lbs are termed as class B. Class C includes all other remaining commercial vehicles and carrying hazardous materials or passengers more than 15, all heavy duty non- commercial vehicles with over 16,000 lbs capacity trailers and all vehicles carrying between 16,000 lbs and 25,999 lbs. Many other vehicles like converted buses or full size campers also require a class C license.

Apart from CDL, professional drivers are also required to add endorsements while applying for CDL in order to drive certain types of vehicles that demand for additional training. The training and testing of these types of CDLs are regulated by US Department of Transportation. While letter L is used for vehicles equipped with air brakes, M is for metal coil, P is for passenger transport buses carrying 16 or more people or hired vans with capacity of more than 11. H is for hazardous materials, requiring a TSA background check along with an extensive written exam and the applicant must be a US citizen or permanent lawful resident. N is for tank vehicles carrying liquids in bulk. T is for multiple trailers, while X is for hazardous material and tank combo. The requirement related to driver’s residential status is same as that for H type CDL. S is for the school buses plying to carry students to and from the school and pick up points.  The minimum age for applying for CDL is restricted to 21 as per the federal law of the nation.

In some states like in New York, it is not required to undergo a full driver’s education course, but in that case, they have to complete a five hour pre-licensing course. The junior license for the 17 year olds is converted to a full standard license if a driver’s education course certificate and a certified completion of 50 hours (plus 15 hours in moderate to heavy traffic) are submitted to New York State department of Motor Vehicles. And, for those failing to do so, the conversion will take place on the driver’s 18th birthday. A provision for 12 a.m. curfew is also followed for those unable to complete the driver’s education program.

Now a day, the trend of having licenses by the minors (aged below18) is declining, as per the studies conducted by many groups. An article in a leading daily newspaper cited that the percentage of American minors between 15 and 18 years of age is steeply decreasing from 52% in 1982 to about 43% in 2002. This gap of 9% in last 20 years is showing the attitude of the new drivers regarding the driving laws and regulations. Another fact worth noticing related to DLs in US is that they are generally used as the identity card for many business and governmental transactions. So, the use of photo ID age verification is made mandatory in all state licenses. Later, New Jersey allowed non-photo licenses, but revoked it soon and the state of Vermont, even today, has enabled the option of receiving a non-photo license.