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I am planning on going to the USA with a school trip from Spain and I would like to know if I can drive and rent a Yellow school bus or do I need a special drivers licence?

Any help in this respect would be greatly appreciated. We are planning on doing a part of the Route 66.

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    What driving licenses do you have? – JJJ May 16 at 14:51
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    Will it all be within one state? If so, which one? – Acccumulation May 16 at 15:05
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    @WeatherVane That's true if you recognize that "size" can mean either weight or passenger capacity. The CDL requirement can be triggered (for a single vehicle; it's more complicated if there's towing involved) by the weight of the vehicle (over 26000 lbs maximum gross, which is 11793 kg) or by the number of passengers for which the vehicle is designed (16 or more, including the driver). – phoog May 16 at 15:50
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    You might want to reconsider driving and the Yellow Bus. They are notoriously uncomfortable with little for safety. A coach bus with a professional driver is much more safe & comfortable, even if it's more expensive. I rode a yellow bus as a kid and took high school trips in coach buses, so I have some experience here. Since this doesn't directly answer the question, I'm putting it as a comment. – computercarguy May 16 at 22:51
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    @user71659, the stats the NHTSA states are more than a little lop sided, mostly due to school buses being generally run at lower than highway speeds. louisianamotorcoach.com/… and fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/passenger-safety/… show that there's a lot of regulations and safety features for coaches that don't necessarily apply to buses. – computercarguy May 16 at 23:46
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Federal law mandates that a commercial driver's license or CDL, issued by a state (or territory or the District of Columbia) is required to operate

Class A: Any combination of vehicles which has a gross combination weight rating or gross combination weight of 11,794 kilograms or more (26,001 pounds or more) whichever is greater, inclusive of a towed unit(s) with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of more than 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds) whichever is greater.

Class B: Any single vehicle which has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 11,794 or more kilograms (26,001 pounds or more), or any such vehicle towing a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight that does not exceed 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds).

Class C: Any single vehicle, or combination of vehicles, that does not meet the definition of Class A or Class B, but is either designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver, or is transporting material that has been designated as hazardous under 49 U.S.C. 5103 and is required to be placarded under subpart F of 49 CFR Part 172 or is transporting any quantity of a material listed as a select agent or toxin in 42 CFR Part 73.

The specific classification of license you need is dependent on the state, but you are required to have a CDL with sufficient endorsements if the school bus is designed to seat 16 or more passengers, even if there are a fewer than 16 of you.

If your group is indeed that large, you can rent large vans or mini-buses configured to seat up to 15 (e.g. Ford Transit, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter). Just search for "15-passenger buses" or shuttles, designed specifically to fall under the limit. If you have your heart set on the iconic yellow school bus, a quick web search did turn up a few companies that have configured school buses to seat 14 or 15, though these seem to be aimed at in-town excursions (e.g. youth groups, bachelor parties), and I cannot say whether any would be willing to rent you one for a cross-country trip.

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    Note that states have specific CDL exemptions for RVs. As the page explains, a CDL is only necessary for a commercial motor vehicle. The OP presumably is not using the school bus to transport pupils or provide a service for hire, and therefore may fall under these exemptions. – user71659 May 16 at 21:03
  • I had forgotten about RVs, though I note that the internal configuration of the RV is going to determine how many passengers it can reasonably carry. I agree in that fundamentally, it comes down to how the federal requirement is expressed and enforced in state law; the AAA Types of Driver’s Licenses page is presumably reliable. – choster May 16 at 21:08
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I doubt very highly that you will be able to find anyone who will rent or lease a school bus to you unless the driver has a driver's license issued under federal commercial driver's license (CDL) regulations with an S endorsement.

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, there is reciprocity with Canada and Mexico, but if you have a foreign license that allows you to drive buses from another jurisdiction, you might be able to get a "temporary waiver" of the federal CDL requirement. These are said to be "rare," however.

  • IANAL but note that "school bus" refers to vehicles used for transporting children to and from school. There are special requirements for those drivers, such as a sex offender check, and training on how to stop on the street. These are obviously not relevant for a vehicle in private use. While the OP is driving a vehicle originally designed to transport pupils, they aren't transporting students, so it isn't a "school bus" as defined by many regulations. – user71659 May 16 at 20:59
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    @user71659 the definition of school bus applies to the vehicle, and the requirement to have an endorsement also depends on the type of vehicle, not the use to which it is put. The definition applies to a vehicle "which is designed or used to carry more than 10 passengers in addition to the driver, and which the Secretary determines is likely to be significantly used for the purpose of...." It does not stop being a school bus when it is driven for other purposes. – phoog May 16 at 21:28
  • Incorrect. You missed the part with "and which... is determined to be significantly used". In fact, my state takes a very narrow view of that definition: buses used on field trips (i.e. don't take kids to their homes) are not yellow or marked as school buses, they're white and "activity buses". The other thing you missed is that a CDL is needed for a commercial motor vehicle. The definition of commercial motor vehicle requires use "in interstate commerce". Hence, RVs and things rental trucks (U-Haul) are regulated separately. – user71659 May 16 at 21:48
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    I think it's more important to understand that the OP was using the term "school bus" as a more generic term to describe the look/style of the vehicle, rather than it's purpose. @user71659 – computercarguy May 16 at 22:55
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    @user71659: There is a separate definition for "school bus operation" which covers the more specific meaning you are describing. Unless you can get the Secretary of Transportation to individually sign off on your particular vehicle as "not a school bus," it's still a school bus under the Federal regulation, regardless of what individual states think of the issue. – Kevin May 17 at 3:55
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Each state in the US has its own regulations regarding licensing for drivers.

In most states (if not all), you will need a special category of license to operate a bus with passengers. Here are the classes of driver's licenses in Maryland, for example. You would need CDL Endorsement "S" in Maryland (not on Rt. 66, obviously, but it's an example).

If you are going to be driving in multiple states, you may need licensing and registration with the federal government as well (e.g., the US Department of Transportation), but I'm not sure about that.

Renting a bus with the intention of driving passengers, will have its own set of complications, since the liability insurance will be quite different than just driving yourself and a few other passengers. Be aware that the rules of the road are different (school buses must stop at all railroad crossings even if the lights are not flashing, for example).

Finally, unless you are actually driving a bus for a school (and are an employee of a school district or a contractor for one), you will probably not be permitted to drive a vehicle with "SCHOOL BUS" markings.

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Since you hold a european driving license, I suggest you acquire an International Driving Permit. And since you're in Spain, do check the page about "Permiso Internacional" in the Dirección General de Trafico website. It'll take one visit to your nearest DGT office and 10.30€ (as of 2018).

It's not needed in all cases, but some states require it:

People who drive in the U.S. must have a valid driver's license. Some states require an International Driving Permit (IDP) from foreign nationals, in addition to a valid license from your own country. Contact the motor vehicle department of each state you will drive in for its requirements.

Furthermore, car/bus rental companies commonly require you to hold an IDP. These might in fact be able to tell you if you need an IDP to rent a bus.

Even though it might not be needed, it doesn't hurt to do so - it's just a translation of the fields in your Spanish license card, which can be helpful if you need to show your license to a person who doesn't speak any Spanish at all. The spanish ministry of external affairs recommends visitors to have one as well:

España no tiene convenio con ningún estado de los EE.UU. sobre validez del permiso de conducir español en ese país. Por tanto, los turistas o los españoles en viaje de negocios en EE.UU. deberán obtener en España, y previamente a su llegada a EE.UU., el permiso internacional de conducción, que tiene validez de un año y es reconocido por EE.UU. En caso contrario, podrían ser sancionados por carecer de permiso de conducir reconocido por las autoridades de tráfico locales.

As other answers point out, laws vary by state. It's up to each state to recognize a class D (bus) european license + IDP as a document enabling you to drive buses - or not. I suggest you find the DMV office for the specific state(s) you're visiting and ask there.

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