One of the topics I get asked about most is the farmer exemption from the CDL.

As mentioned in past months, qualifying as a Covered Farm Vehicle (CFV) or a Farm Vehicle Driver (FVD) allows an exemption from the CDL.

You’ll also remember that some fine print is tied to the CDL. That means not just anyone can drive any vehicle using the standard passenger car Class D driver’s license.

The biggest question I get is, with all the hoops to jump through, why is there a CDL exemption?

To explain the reasoning, I’ll take you back to 1992 and the arrival of the CDL.

CDL requirements took effect in April of that year. A few years later, drug and alcohol testing requirements were put in place as a responsibility of the carrier. Because of the size of the vehicles being operated, it is in the interest of public safety that drivers don’t operate under the influence.

In farmers’ case, it required them (the carrier) to take a test that tells them whether they were drinking or taking drugs. The rule makers agreed that there was no sense in that.

How do you get farmers out from under that requirement? The size and nature of the vehicle triggers the CDL. The requirement to have a CDL triggers drug and alcohol testing. The only way to exempt farmers from drug and alcohol testing was to allow an exemption from the CDL.

The semi is treated differently in Illinois, and additional restrictions needed to be added to ensure safety. A non-CDL license needed to be available specifically for farmers operating a semi.

So, the non-CDL J50 license (for farm vehicle drivers) was offered as a way for a farmer to get by with a non-CDL license and be exempt from the drug and alcohol tests. They still needed to prove (by testing) that they are able to operate the size of vehicle they were using on the road. So, the testing would be the same.

When the Covered Farm Vehicle (CFV) exemption was put in place almost 20 years later, the state offered the non-CDL J51 as a non-CDL license for CFV operators (i.e. exempting them from drug testing).

CFV provisions went one step further. Not only was another non-CDL driver’s license added, it also included a specific exemption from drug and alcohol testing for those who qualify as a CFV.

When it comes to the licenses, the point is qualification. If you qualify for a J50 or J51, you aren’t required to have a CDL, and therefore, you aren’t required to have drug and alcohol testing.

Remember, you can have a Class A CDL and be exempt from the drug and alcohol testing. You just need to qualify for the exemption from the CDL.

The non-CDL J50 and J51 were not made available to confuse drivers or create more regulations. Instead, they are a way to exempt farmers from the drug- and alcohol-screening requirements.

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

Kirby Wagner serves as assistant director of transportation and local government for Illinois Farm Bureau.