Obtaining a commercial driver's license (CDL) in Rhode Island requires passage of a skills and knowledge test based upon the type of commercial motor vehicles (CMV) being driven. Federal law requires that CDL drivers crossing state lines must be 21 years of age. States may set different age limits for commercial drivers that operate solely within the state.
Rhode Island follows federal guidelines that provide for three classifications of CMVs as described below. (Learn more about the Federal Commercial Driver’s License Program (CDL/CDLIS).) CDLs are regulated nationwide under the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999. That law was modified by the Patriot Act, effective 2005, which provided that out-of-state transfers of CDLs were subject to certain security measures particularly in regard to transportation of hazardous materials.
- Class A -- Any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds provided the GVWR of the vehicle(s) being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
- Class B -- Any single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle not in excess of 10,000 pounds GVWR.
- 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. Note: A bus may be either Class B or Class C depending on whether the GVWR is 26,001 pounds or more.
Testing and Fees. The fees and qualifying information for a commercial drivers license in Rhode Island are shown here.
Traffic Violations and CDL Disqualification
Rhode Island drivers can lose their CDL license on a temporary or permanent basis. The degree of loss depends on whether the violation is characterized as major (which always results in some form of disqualification) or serious (which cumulatively result in disqualification) or otherwise. Below we set out the standards. Note: Using a CMV or non CMV in the commission of a felony involving manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing a controlled substance will result in a disqualification for life, without the possibility of reinstatement.
Disqualification for major violations. Below we list the causes for a “major violation.” The first violation for a major violation, in a CMV or a non-CMV, results in a 1-year disqualification (or a 3-year disqualification if transporting hazardous materials required to be placarded). The second violation for a major, in a CMV or a non-CMV, results in a lifetime disqualification. The driver may be eligible for reinstatement under certain conditions after 10 years. Major violations include:
- Being under the influence of alcohol as prescribed by Rhode Island law. (Read more about Rhode Island DUI law.)
- Being under the influence of a controlled substance.
- Having an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater while operating a CMV
- Refusing to take an alcohol test as required by Rhode Island law under its implied consent laws or regulations.
- Leaving the scene of an accident.
- Using the vehicle to commit a felony.
- Driving a CMV when, as a result of prior violations committed operating a CMV, the driver's CDL is revoked, suspended, or canceled, or the driver is disqualified from operating a CMV.
- Causing a fatality through the negligent operation of a CMV, including but not limited to the crimes of motor vehicle manslaughter, homicide by motor vehicle and negligent homicide.
- Using the vehicle in the commission of a felony involving manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing a controlled substance.
Disqualification for serious traffic violations. The first violation for a serious violation does not result in a disqualification. A second serious violation within 3 years, results in a 60 day disqualification, and a third serious violation within 3 years, results in a 120 day disqualification. Serious disqualifications must be served consecutively. All serious violations in a CMV are included. Serious violations in a non-CMV must not be included, unless it results in the revocation, cancellation, or suspension of the CDL holder's license or non-CMV driving privileges.
- Speeding excessively, involving any speed of 15 mph or more above the posted speed limit.
- Driving recklessly, as defined by Rhode Island law, including but, not limited to, offenses of driving a motor vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.
- Making improper or erratic traffic lane changes.
- Following the vehicle ahead too closely.
- Violating Rhode Island law relating to motor vehicle traffic control (other than a parking violation) arising in connection with a fatal accident.
- Driving a CMV without obtaining a CDL.
- Driving a CMV without a CDL in the driver's possession.
- Driving a CMV without the proper class of CDL and/or endorsements for the specific vehicle group being operated or for the passengers or type of cargo being transported.
Disqualification for railroad-highway grade crossing (RRHGC) offenses, while operating a CMV. The first violation of a RRHGC results in a disqualification of not less than 60 days. The second violation, within 3 years, results in a disqualification of not less than 120 days. The third and subsequent violations, within 3 years, results in a disqualification of not less than 1 year. RRHGC include:
- The driver is not required to always stop, but fails to slow down and check that tracks are clear of an approaching train.
- The driver is not required to always stop, but fails to stop before reaching the crossing, if the tracks are not clear.
- The driver is always required to stop, but fails to stop before driving onto the crossing.
- The driver fails to have sufficient space to drive completely through the crossing without stopping.
- The driver fails to obey a traffic control device or the directions of an enforcement official at the crossing.
- The driver fails to negotiate a crossing because of insufficient undercarriage clearance.
Violation of Out-of-Service Order while operating a CMV. Violating a driver or vehicle out-of-service order transporting hazardous or non-hazardous materials or while operating a vehicle designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver.
CDL Specific Violations
There are a number of requirements that apply only to those with a commercial driver's license. Many of these requirements are set on the federal level. Drivers can also be penalized for the following CDL related offenses:
- Overweight: Vehicles must have specific permits if they carry an oversized load. Permits can be issued annually or per-trip and cannot be transferred from vehicle to vehicle.
- Log Books: CDL drivers must have a logbook that is up to date and that reflects hours driven. Falsifying or failing to keep a logbook can result in federal penalties and is punishable by up to six months in jail.
- Speeding while towing a trailer: If driving above 15 miles per hour over the speed limit, this can result in suspension of a license.
- Grade restrictions: A commercial driver who drives on a road where he or she is not permitted due to its grade (steepness) can be subject to penalties up to a 60-day license suspension for a first offense.
Drivers are also not allowed to have more than one CDL. If you are found having multiple CDLs from different states, you may be fined up to $5,000 and jailed. The court can also keep your home state license, and will return licenses from all other states.
The Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999 states that drivers with a CDL will have their CDL disqualified if they are convicted of certain types of moving violations in their personal vehicle. These may occur if: (1) a driver loses his license to operate his personal vehicle, whether by having it suspended, canceled or revoked, and the cause was a serious speeding violating, he will lose his CDL from somewhere between 60 and 120 days, and (2) the personal vehicle license is revoked, suspended or canceled due to an alcohol violation, the CDL will be lost for one year. The CDL will be lost for life if the driver receives a second alcohol conviction, even if the offense was committed in is personal car. Something called a "hardship" license to operate a CMV exists, but drivers may not obtain one of these if they have lost their license to operate personal vehicles. If you are convicted of any traffic violation other than parking violations, regardless of what type of vehicle you are driving, you must tell your employer of that within 30 days.
If you have been ticketed or issued a CDL violation in Rhode Island, you may have defenses available to you. Because disqualification or loss of license can result from various infractions, you should consider consulting an attorney who can explain your options and help you to explore potential defenses.