Commercial driver’s licenses are issued by individual states according to federal guidelines. Commercial driver’s licenses (CDL) are issued for driver’s who wish to operate a number of different classes of motor vehicles for commercial purposes. States also issue other non-CDL endorsements for certain vehicles that could be considered commercial because of their size or weight but are not operated as commercial vehicles.
State endorsements vary by state and are only required by drivers who live in that state. Visitors driving vehicles that would require a special endorsement to operate in California, for example, are allowed to drive that vehicle without the endorsement if their home state does not require it.
The answer to the question posed in the title is, it depends. In some cases, you need a CDL to drive a 15 seat passenger van, and in some cases you don’t. If the vehicle is designed to carry 10 or more passengers including the driver, and is being operated for hire or profit, a California CDL is required. The same is true if a non-profit group or organization like a church or youth group is using the vehicle.
The exception to the rule is when the van is being used for personal reasons. For example, a large extended family could own and operate a 15 seat passenger van for taking the family on vacation or the movies, and the driver would not be required to have a CDL to legally drive it in California.
Who Needs a California CDL?
Anyone who drives commercial vehicles must apply for a commercial driver’s license. You must be a legal resident of California in order to get a California CDL. To establish residency, you must be at least one of the following; registered to vote in California, paying resident tuition at a public college, filing for a California homeowner’s property tax exemption, have another license such as a fishing license, or have another benefit or privilege that is not normally available for non-residents.
School district employees as well as community colleges and private schools that own and operate 15 seat passenger vans must have a driver with a valid California CDL. This includes vehicles that are manufactured to carry 15 passengers regardless of how many are in the vehicle at any one time, even if some or all of the seats have been removed.
There are exceptions to California’s CDL requirements such as people who are exempt under Health and Safety code 25163. Persons who are operating a covered vehicle in an emergency at the request or direction of a peace officer are exempt from needing a CDL. Drivers of housecars that are between 40 and 45 feet do not need a CDL but do need a special endorsement.