Is It Legal To Drive A Semi Truck Without A CDL?

You can’t drive a semi-truck on a public road if you don’t have a CDL license. Legally, there’s no restriction on owning a semi if you don’t have a CDL license.

But to drive a semi-truck without a CDL, the vehicle should first fit with the federal and state regulations. However, it’s essential to know that law differs from state to state, so it’s best to check your state’s requirements.

Is It Legal To Drive A Semi Truck Without A CDL

A CDL is a driver’s license that permits you to drive heavy and oversized vehicles that carry dangerous materials for commercial purposes. Further, these commercial vehicles can be divided into specific categories which require drivers to obtain a valid driver’s license.

Federal and state regulations for CDL

Federal and state regulations require a CDL if a vehicle weighs 26,001 pounds or more. Again, there are some exemptions to CDL requirements based on the state. For example, Texas has implemented the ‘Texas Hold’Em Initiative’ to reduce illegal contraband smuggling. Anyone who knowingly transports these materials can face imprisonment, a fine, and lifetime disqualification from driving commercial vehicles.

In order for drivers to get a CDL, there are some requirements:

  • Have a valid and non-commercial driver’s license;
  • Be at least 18 or 21 years old to drive and carry hazardous materials;
  • Have at least one or two years of driving experience;
  • Acquire a valid medical certification;
  • Have no active suspension.

If you check all the boxes above, you will get a CDL license. However, after your CDL is issued, you still need to follow regulations to keep yourself and other drivers safe.

On the other hand, the Department of Transportation (DOT), a federal agency that enforces some regulations on the operation of commercial vehicles, aims to reduce vehicle accidents and deaths.

Standard DOT regulations include:

  • Hours of service guidelines: how long you’ve been actively driving.
  • Safety fitness procedures (SFD): the frequency of any violations and adequacy of the safety-management controls.
  • Inspection, maintenance, repair: keeping your vehicle well-maintained (tires, brakes, fluids, and lights).
  • Insurance: protects you from any potential accident while on duty.

If you want to learn more about these regulations and what they focus on, you can check out the FMCSA website.

When do you need a CDL license?

While it’s true that drivers who use semi-trucks for commercial purposes must obtain a CDL, drivers who use them for personal purposes can be exempted from this.

Other common exceptions may include:

  • Occasional transportation of personal property;
  • Operating a motor home that is used for the transportation of personal items or business purposes;
  • If you do not use the semi to make money off of it .

Apart from these cases, you don’t need a CDL if you are a/an:

  • Active Duty Military such as National Guard
  • Police officer or firefighter: As long as you operate an authorized vehicle and have met the approved training standards, you aren’t required to obtain a CDL.
  • If you use a semi within 150 miles of your farm: As a farmer, you still need an F endorsement that requires you to pass a knowledge test, though not a skill test.

What Happens If You Drive A Semi-Truck Without A CDL?

AAnyone who doesn’t know how to drive a car, let alone a semi-truck, is a risk to everyone. Driving without a CDL can lead to a significant cost, both money and health. As you’ve learned already, each state has its fees and penalties that can differ from one state to another.

First and most importantly, it’s extremely dangerous to drive a semi without a CDL because you don’t have the skills to operate such vehicles. Secondly, getting arrested for driving without a CDL could results in a penalty of up to $2,500 or even face jail.


Fines are one of the major penalties for driving without a CDL and trust us when we say they’re hefty. These fines can go up to $10,000 per team member. Ouch! The company who sent you on the road can be fined as well.

For example, in California, driving a semi without a CDL is considered a violation, leading up to six months in jail and $1,000 in fines. The driver won’t be permitted to drive a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) for 60-90 days.

On the other hand, in Texas, the current penalty for drivers who operate without a CDL is $500 – a much smaller price compared to California.

License Suspension

Another blatant penalty is license suspension, and this can go from one up to ten years, depending on how complicated the situation is. Most likely, state law determines how long your suspension will be, though a year is a minimum for most states.

In Washington, if you’re arrested while driving your personal vehicle, you will first lose your “regular” driver’s license and receive a CDL disqualification. Whereas in Alabama, the violation of the “out-of-service order” can lead to a 90-day to one-year license suspension.

Losing Your Job

If you initially lied to your employer and drove the truck without a CDL, you could lose your job. Depending on the severity of the situation, you could also face legal action.

In Illinois, if you drive without a valid CDL, you have imposed license penalties that start from a 2-month suspension to a 12-month suspension, leaving you with no job and no income.

Face Criminal Charges

If you were involved in an accident under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you could very well face criminal charges. Since driving without a CDL is seen as negligent, you could face charges if injury or death occurred.

In Alabama, certain offenses can lead to a lifetime suspension of a CDL, such as leaving the accident scene or carrying dangerous materials. In this case, you will receive a minimum one-year revocation. If you repeat the same offenses for the second time,  the minimum period is three years or a lifetime disqualification.

On the other hand, In Illinois, you can face a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and a $1,500 fine if you drive without a valid CDL.

Can I Drive a Semi Without a CDL

Can You Own A Semi-Truck For Personal Use?

When you think of driving a semi-truck, you assume that the driver must have a CDL, but that’s not always the case. In some states, such as Texas, it is legal to own and use a semi-truck for personal use.

You can buy a semi without a CDL since it doesn’t matter who pays for the vehicle as long as the person who drives it has a CDL license. Plenty of people buy and own semi-truck without having a CDL, though it’s illegal to drive on a public road.

There’s a blurred line between commercial and personal use. But to put it in simple words, personal use is when you drive the vehicle for personal use while off-duty or when the load is not being transported for commercial use.

When Is CDL Required For Semi-Trucks?

The license requirements for the driver of a semi-truck are based on the vehicle’s weight rating. According to state and federal regulations, a driver needs to obtain a CDL license if the vehicle weighs more than 26,000 pounds, including a towed unit of over 10,000 pounds.

State regulations may have different requirements based on the type of vehicle as well. For example, a single-axle semi-truck is limited to carrying 20,000 pounds, so most states don’t require you to have a CDL for this type of vehicle.

Also, a semi-truck without a trailer, also known as a “bobtail,” requires a CDL plus some prior experience in driving a large truck or trailer. However, the exact requirements vary from company to company.

CDL Requirements

Whether you work for a company, own a business, or plan on getting a CDL, you must keep a few requirements in mind. Here is a complete list:

  1. Be at least 18 or 21 years of age (depending on the state) to drive intrastate;
  2. If you want to obtain a Class A or B CDL, you must complete FMCSA driver training program;
  3. Submit your state’s CDL application;
  4. Submit Identity and Social Security number verification;
  5. Provide proof of U.S. and state residency;
  6. Provide a completed Medical Examiner’s Certificate Form and Medical Examination Report Form;
  7. Pass a vision test;
  8. Pass a knowledge exam;
  9. After passing, you are issued a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP), and you have to wait for at least 14 days before scheduling a CDL road skills examination;
  10. Pass a pre-trip inspection;
  11. Pass the driving examination with your personal vehicle;
  12. After passing, you must pay fees for your new CDL.

According to specific state laws, you must be able to speak and read English at a sufficient level and not be a disqualified driver. Some more general requirements include:

  • Commercial vehicle drivers must not obtain more than one CDL at a time;
  • Texting while driving is prohibited;
  • Commercial vehicle drivers must use authorized medical examiners and self-certify their medical information.


What is the biggest truck you can drive without a CDL?

To answer simply, the biggest truck you can drive without a CDL is a 26,000 pounds truck. A CDL is required if you are to drive a small HazMat vehicle – a container for carrying hazardous materials.

Can you drive a semi as a daily driver?

Yes, you can. Many people drive a semi-truck daily as there’s no law against it. However, there are some rules you need to follow. For example, you can’t use your semi for commercial purposes, you need to drive it safely, and it needs to weigh less than 10,000 lbs.

What CDL do you need to drive a semi-truck?

To drive a semi-truck, one must obtain a Class C CDL. This license permits you to drive semis, delivery trucks, warehouse trucks, big passenger vehicles, and any small trucks that carry hazardous materials.

Can you buy a semi-truck and hire a driver?

You can buy and then hire a driver to operate your semi-truck. Many people already do this across the U.S., where they purchase semi-trucks, and if they don’t have the right qualifications or a CDL to operate the truck, someone else gets the job done for them. This is a safer approach than driving yourself if you’re not equipped for that vehicle.


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