Drivers test: Which license do you need to operate your semi?

Even when you qualify for ag exemptions, farmers still need the appropriate license to haul their crops. Sort through the requirements and find out which is best for you.

Take note: Even if the vehicle you drive isn’t a “semi,” you still need the correct class of license to drive it.

By Kirby Wagner

In last month’s post, we looked at the Covered Farm Vehicle (CFV) exemption. Once qualified as a CFV, farmers have a variety of exemptions available to them. One of those relates to the CDL.

Qualifying as a CFV means a CDL is not required, but it doesn’t mean anyone can come to your farm and drive a semi. Drivers still need a class of driver’s license that covers the weight of the vehicle.

Related: Setting the record straight on Covered Farm Vehicle exemption. Read more here.

To operate a semi in Illinois, three licenses can be used:

1. Class A CDL

2. Non-CDL J50

3. Non-CDL J51

The J50 and J51 are licenses are available because of farmer exemptions. Farmers who drive a CFV can obtain the J51. The J50 is available under a different farmer exemption called the Farm Vehicle Driver.

How do you get the J51? Take the same written and skills tests required for the Class A CDL.

The next question is why? If the testing is the same, why not get a Class A CDL? The answer is, you should get a Class A CDL. The deeper answer: qualification. Qualifying as a CFV means you qualify for the J51 license. If you qualify for the J51, you are exempt from drug and alcohol screening (among other things). 

Related: Visit this link to view the “Motor Vehicle Rules for Illinois Farmers” booklet at for more information on driver’s license requirements.

If you have a Class A CDL, you can still receive the exemption, so there is no need to rush and change from a Class A CDL to a J51. The exemptions can be used by anyone meeting the qualifications. Just remember that the non-CDL class D license that most sixteen-year-olds get cannot be used to drive a semi.

Even if the vehicle you drive isn’t a “semi,” you still need the correct class of license to drive it.

Have a trucking or transportation-related question or questions? If so, email us at, and we’ll do our best to answer each one.

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