Driving a bus can be an exciting and rewarding career for those who enjoy working with the public and being responsible for others’ safety. If you’re interested in driving a bus, one of the first questions you probably have is whether or not you need a commercial driver’s license, or CDL, to operate a bus.

The quick answer is: in most cases, yes, you do need a CDL to drive any type of bus, whether it’s a school bus, transit bus, or tour bus. However, there are some exceptions depending on the size and type of bus you’ll be driving.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about CDL requirements for driving buses, including:

– The different types of CDLs needed for different buses

– CDL exemptions for certain buses

– The step-by-step process for getting a CDL

– Costs and training requirements

– Tips for passing the CDL test

CDL Classifications for Buses

Class A

Class A CDL is the highest classification and allows drivers to operate a combination vehicle with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 pounds or more. This includes buses that have a trailer attached to them.

Drivers with a Class A CDL can drive buses such as motorcoaches, tour buses, and other large commercial buses.

Class B

Class B CDL is the next classification and is required for driving a single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more. This includes buses that do not have a trailer attached.

Drivers with a Class B CDL can operate city buses, school buses, and other medium-sized buses.

Class C

Class C CDL is the third classification and is required for vehicles that are designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver, or vehicles that are placarded for hazardous materials. This includes smaller buses, such as shuttle buses and vans used for transportation services.

Drivers with a Class C CDL must also possess any necessary endorsements, such as passenger or hazardous materials endorsements, depending on the type of bus they will be driving.

It is important to note that the specific requirements for obtaining a CDL, including the necessary training and testing, can vary by state. It is recommended to check with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles or equivalent agency to determine the exact requirements for obtaining a CDL to drive a bus.

CDL Exemptions for Certain Buses

When it comes to driving a bus, many people wonder if they need a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). While a CDL is generally required for operating large commercial vehicles, there are some exemptions for certain types of buses. Let’s take a closer look at these exemptions and who they apply to.

Buses Under 26,000 GVWR

If you’re planning to drive a bus that has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of under 26,000 pounds, you may not need a CDL. Buses in this weight range are often used for smaller groups or shuttle services.

However, it’s important to note that individual states may have their own regulations regarding the need for a CDL, so it’s always a good idea to check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for specific requirements.

Church Buses

Churches often use buses to transport their members to various events and services. In many states, church buses are exempt from requiring a CDL. These exemptions are typically granted because church buses are considered to be non-commercial vehicles used for a specific religious purpose.

However, it’s important for drivers of church buses to still meet certain qualifications, such as having a clean driving record and meeting age requirements.

Nonprofit Organization Buses

Similar to church buses, buses operated by nonprofit organizations may also be exempt from requiring a CDL. Nonprofit organizations often rely on buses to transport individuals for community outreach programs, educational trips, and other charitable activities.

The exemption for nonprofit organization buses is granted due to the non-commercial nature of their operations. However, it’s essential for drivers to comply with any state-specific requirements and qualifications.

It’s worth noting that while these exemptions may exist, it’s still important for bus drivers to have a good understanding of safe driving practices and regulations. Even if a CDL is not required, it’s always beneficial to undergo proper training and education to ensure the safety of passengers and other road users.

Obtaining Your CDL

Meet Licensing Requirements

To drive a bus, you will need to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) in most cases. The specific requirements for obtaining a CDL may vary depending on the state or country you are in. Generally, you will need to be at least 18 years old to obtain a CDL for intrastate driving and at least 21 years old for interstate driving.

Additionally, you will need to have a valid driver’s license and a clean driving record. Some states may also require you to pass a physical examination and submit a Medical Examiner’s Certificate.

Pass Written Exams

Once you meet the licensing requirements, you will need to pass a series of written exams to obtain your CDL. These exams typically cover topics such as general knowledge, air brakes, passenger transport, and school bus operations.

It is important to study and prepare for these exams to ensure success. There are many resources available online and at local DMVs to help you prepare for the written exams. Taking practice tests can be a great way to familiarize yourself with the material and increase your chances of passing.

Pass Skills Test

After passing the written exams, you will need to pass a skills test to demonstrate your ability to safely operate a bus. The skills test typically consists of three parts: a pre-trip inspection, basic vehicle control, and an on-road driving test.

During the pre-trip inspection, you will be required to visually inspect the bus and identify any potential safety hazards. The basic vehicle control test will assess your ability to perform maneuvers such as backing up, turning, and parking.

Finally, the on-road driving test will evaluate your ability to safely navigate traffic and follow all traffic laws.


Once you have successfully completed the written exams and skills test, you will be eligible to receive your CDL. The process of obtaining your actual CDL may vary depending on your state or country. In most cases, you will need to visit your local DMV and provide the necessary documentation, such as identification, proof of residency, and proof of passing the written exams and skills test.

You may also need to pay a fee to obtain your CDL. Once you have your CDL in hand, you will be ready to embark on a rewarding career as a bus driver.

For more information on how to obtain a CDL and the specific requirements in your area, it is recommended to visit the official website of your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles or a trusted resource like FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration).

These websites provide comprehensive information and resources to help you navigate the CDL application process.

Costs of Getting a CDL

Fees for License and Testing

Obtaining a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) to drive a bus involves certain costs. One of the expenses is the fees associated with the license and testing. Each state has its own fee structure for CDLs, which typically includes an application fee, written test fee, and skills test fee.

These fees can vary, so it’s important to check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for the exact costs.

Additionally, there may be additional fees for specific endorsements you may need to drive certain types of buses. For example, if you plan to drive a bus with air brakes, you may need to obtain an air brake endorsement, which may require an additional fee.

Cost of Training Programs

Another cost to consider when getting a CDL to drive a bus is the cost of training programs. While it is not always mandatory to attend a training program to obtain a CDL, many individuals choose to do so to gain the necessary knowledge and skills.

The cost of training programs can vary depending on the location, duration, and quality of the program. On average, a CDL training program for bus drivers can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

It’s important to research and compare different training programs to find one that fits your budget and offers comprehensive training.

Some training programs may also offer financial aid options or scholarships to help offset the costs. It’s worth exploring these options if you are concerned about the expenses associated with obtaining a CDL.

Tips for Passing the CDL Test

Study the Manual Thoroughly

In order to pass the CDL test and obtain your commercial driver’s license, it is crucial to study the CDL manual thoroughly. This manual contains all the information you need to know about driving a bus, including safety regulations, traffic laws, and vehicle maintenance.

Take the time to read through each chapter and make sure you understand the material. Highlight important points and review them regularly to ensure they stick in your mind.

Practice Driving Skills

Practice makes perfect, and this is especially true when it comes to driving a bus. Familiarize yourself with the handling and maneuvering of a bus by spending time behind the wheel. Find an empty parking lot or a quiet road where you can practice turning, reversing, and parking.

Additionally, consider enrolling in a CDL training program that offers hands-on experience and guidance from experienced instructors. The more you practice, the more comfortable and confident you will become in your driving skills.

Get Familiar with Equipment

As a bus driver, you will be responsible for operating various equipment and systems on the vehicle. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the different features, such as the air brakes, emergency exits, and wheelchair lifts.

Understanding how each component works and where they are located will not only help you pass the CDL test but also ensure you can handle any situation that may arise while driving a bus.

Prepare for the Written Tests

The CDL test consists of both written and practical components. To pass the written tests, it is important to prepare in advance. Review the material in the CDL manual and take practice tests to assess your knowledge.

Familiarize yourself with the different types of questions that may be asked, such as multiple-choice, true or false, and fill in the blanks. In addition, make sure you understand the specific requirements for the bus class you are aiming to obtain a license for.

Don’t Be Afraid to Retake

If you do not pass the CDL test on your first attempt, don’t be discouraged. Many people need to retake the test before they succeed. Take the time to analyze your performance, identify areas where you can improve, and study accordingly. It is important to remain determined and persistent.

With each attempt, you will gain more confidence and knowledge, increasing your chances of passing the test and obtaining your CDL.


Getting a CDL is mandatory for driving most types of buses, with few exceptions. Although getting a CDL takes time, preparation, and meeting stringent qualifications, having a commercial driver’s license opens up your career opportunities and earning potential.

With a valid CDL, proper training, and following safe driving practices, you’ll be fully qualified to transport passengers in a professional, safe, and comfortable environment. If you’re considering becoming a bus driver, understanding the CDL requirements is the critical first step to launching your new career.

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