Are You Licensed To Drive One Of These Trucks?
By STEVEN ISBITTS firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: Jul 19, 2004 Tampa Tribune
CLEARWATER - Clifford Bink thought the Florida Highway Patrol officer was kidding when he handed him a ticket for driving his Ford F-250 pickup without a proper license.
After all, the 62-year-old St. Petersburg retiree has had a Florida driver's license in good standing for years, and he has been driving big pickups for decades. But Bink's June 20 citation on Interstate 4 near Lakeland was no joke. State law requires a driver of a pickup with a gross vehicle weight rating exceeding 8,000 pounds to have a class D driver's license. Most motorists, including Bink, only possess a class E license, the certification for passenger vehicle drivers.
``I knew I was speeding and I expected a speeding ticket, not this,'' Bink said. ``I had never heard of this law, and I was never informed when I bought my truck. `My dealer even let me take it home and test drive it for a couple of days. Something isn't right in the system.''
This morning, Bink is scheduled to be arraigned in a Polk County courtroom on the second-degree misdemeanor charge, which could, although it's unlikely, land him 60 days in jail.
His plight came as a surprise to many car dealers and government officials.
``To my knowledge our office has not prosecuted that, if ever. It is a very infrequent charge,'' said Sandra Spoto, chief prosecutor for misdemeanors, traffic and juvenile offenses for the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office.
Bob Murray, a manager at AutoWay Ford in St. Petersburg, where Bink bought his pickup last year, said his dealership was unaware of the law regarding class D licenses. ``This is new information to me,'' he said. ``We would be eager to do whatever we can to let our customers know the laws, and follow them ourselves.''
Among Ford vehicles, the 2003 and 2004 F-250 and F-350 pickups have a gross vehicle weight rating that calls for a class D license to drive them. The manufacturer establishes the gross vehicle weight rating - the maximum weight recommended for the vehicle, passengers and cargo, not including a trailer.
The latest Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500 are two other popular pickups that require a class D license. So do some Chevrolet Silverados and GMC Sierras. David Gonzalez, general sales manager at Jerry Ulm Dodge in Tampa, said Friday his dealership was unaware of the need for anyone - customers or salespeople - to have a class D license to drive those pickups. ``We don't have a policy,'' Gonzalez said. ``In 14 years, I've never heard of this.''
Who Needs A ``D''
Although many sport utility vehicles are larger than pickups, they are considered passenger vehicles and do not require a class D license. Recreational vehicle drivers also are exempt. So are people who rent a truck less than 26,001 pounds or 80 inches wide when using the truck to transport personal property. Some passenger vehicles, such as the Cadillac Escalade or Chevrolet Avalanche, can be configured to look like pickups, but they, too, are exempt. ``This law has been in a race to keep up with what's on the ground,'' said Robert Sanchez, spokesman for the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
``We've had issues like this classifying golf carts and scooters.
``This law has been around for years. The big pickups are designed for hauling, and that's really why they require the class D license.'' For those with a standard driver's license, obtaining a D license requires passing an additional written test. The D license fee is $20. One sample test question provided by the state was: ``Give three examples of loads that need to be covered due to falling or blowing on roadway?''
``I passed, and it wasn't terribly difficult,'' said Elisabeth Bink, 50, Clifford's wife. ``I studied for less than two hours, and it wasn't that much different than the regular written test. ``I want to be able to drive our truck if I have to.'' Clifford Bink has not taken the test yet. If the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has its way, the Binks will not need a class D license to drive their pickup after next year.
Sanchez said his department has recommended eliminating the 13-year-old law mandating class D licenses.
Senate Bill 1526, which included language removing the requirement for class D drivers' licenses, was passed by the Senate this year. The House did not vote on the matter before the end of the session. ``Our department will again recommend that the class D requirement be eliminated,'' Sanchez said. ``The feeling is there is not enough of a distinction between D and E. ``We have three categories of commercial licenses. That should be sufficient.''
A Secondary Offense
Law enforcement officers cannot pull over pickup drivers solely to check their licenses, said Lt. Bruce Doras, a Tampa Bay area shift commander for the Florida Highway Patrol. But Doras said officers will not shy from issuing a citation for driving without a class D license when a stop is made for another reason, although such a ticket is ``not very common.'' ``The gross vehicle weight shows up with the registration information,'' Doras said. ``As for issuing a ticket, we go by what the law states.'' Rod Reder, a spokesman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, also said such citations were rare.
Bink just hopes his experience is a lesson to Florida drivers, and to the state, which does not provide license applicants a list of vehicles requiring class D licenses. ``Whatever happens to me, I just want people to know that if they get stopped without that license, they may not make it home so fast,'' said Bink, who waited hours for a ride home. And it might be helpful if dealers provided the same information, he said. ``People should know what they're getting into when they buy a pickup.''
Reporter Steven Isbitts can be reached at (727) 799-7413
E OR D?
There are five driver's license classifications in Florida: class A, B, C, D, and E. Classes A, B, and C are for drivers of commercial motor vehicles such as large trucks and buses. Classes D and E are for drivers of noncommercial vehicles.
Who needs a Class D license?
Anyone who operates a pickup or other truck with a ``gross vehicle weight rating'' of at least 8,000 pounds but less than 26,001 pounds - or is more than 80 inches wide - needs a class D license. However, sport utility vehicles and recreational vehicles are exempt, as are rental trucks used to transport personal property. Farmers and drivers of authorized emergency vehicles who are not required to obtain a commercial license, must obtain a class D license.
The class D license examination has 20 questions and 20 road signs. There is a $20 fee for the test. For information, visit www.hsmv.state.fl.us
MORE THAN 8,000 POUNDS
* Chevrolet Silverado 2500
* Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD
* Chevrolet Silverado 3500
* Dodge Ram 2500 (regular and quad cabs)
* Dodge Ram 3500 (regular and quad cabs)
* Ford F-250 (all regular, super and crew cabs)
* Ford F-350 (all regular, super and crew cabs)
* GMC Sierra 2500 (regular and extended cabs)
* GMC Sierra 2500HD (regular, extended, and crew cabs)
* GMC Sierra 3500 (regular, extended, and crew cabs)