Rhode Island’s Commercial Driver’s License Laws

The requirements to obtain a Rhode Island CDL and the reasons for disqualification.

The operation of a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in Rhode Island requires a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Each CDL has specific endorsements and restrictions applicable to the CMV operated. Also, a CDL can also be revoked for certain criminal convictions and rule violations. This article outlines when a CDL is required, how to obtain one, and the circumstances that can lead to loss of the privilege.

When a CDL Is Required

Rhode Island requires a CDL for any vehicle weighing 26,001 or more pounds or designed to carry hazardous materials or 16 or more passengers. Rhode Island does not require a CDL for motor homes, personal recreational vehicles, emergency response vehicles, or authorized military transports. There are also exceptions for certain farm equipment.

Rhode Island's Commercial License Classes

There are three classes of CDLs based on the weight of the truck and/or trailer(s).

Combined Weight

Tractor Weight

Trailer(s) Weight

Class A

26,001 or more pounds

26,001 or more pounds

Over 10,000 pounds

Class B

26,001 or more pounds

26,001 or more pounds

10,000 pounds or less

Class C

Less than 26,001

Less than 26,001

10,000 pounds or less

The license limits must meet or exceed the carried weight. So, a class A CDL can be used to haul any weight of CMV.

Cargo Endorsements

Endorsements require additional testing and authorize the holder to operate different CMVs such as school buses or hazmat tankers. For example, a school bus endorsement requires a special test and three years of driving experience with no major violations.

CDL Testing

Prior to taking the driving test, CDL applicants must be at least 21 years old and obtain a commercial driver’s license permit (CDLP). The CDLP requires a vision test, medical certification, a written CMV knowledge test, a clean record, and proof of residency. The CDLP can be used to operate a CMV under the supervision of a licensed commercial driver. The applicant can then use the CLP to take the driving test and obtain a full CDL. The skills test can be waived for military veterans with CMV experience.

Certifications. Unless exempt, all drivers must obtain a medical examiner’s certification indicating adequate general health to operate a CMV.

Intrastate CDLs. An intrastate CDL is available to drivers who are at least 18 years old and doesn’t require a medical certification. However, an intrastate CDL cannot be used outside of Rhode Island.

CDL Revocation and Disqualification

Failure to abide by CMV rules or traffic ordinances can result in fines and license revocation. Drivers are required to report all traffic convictions and suspensions to the state and to their employers.

Serious traffic violations. The commission of multiple “serious traffic violations” within three years will result in license revocation. A serious traffic violation in a CMV includes speeding 15 miles per hour or more over the limit, reckless driving, erratic lane changes, following too closely, using a cellphone while driving, and any traffic violation involving a fatality. Driving without a CDL is considered a serious traffic violation and can also result in separate fines and license revocation. Having two serious traffic offenses results in a minimum 60-day revocation and having three or more violations results in a minimum 120-day revocation.

Out-of-service orders. An out-of-service order (OSO) is a temporary order prohibiting CMV operation. Certain unsafe practices, like driving with any amount of alcohol in the driver’s system, will result in a 24-hour OSO. Driving during an OSO will result in a $1,100 fine and license revocation for the driver and a $2,750 fine for the employer. The period of revocation depends on the driver’s record or prior offenses.

  • First offense in ten years. 90-day license revocation (180 days if in CMV designed for hazmat or 16 or more passengers).
  • Second offense in ten years. One-year license revocation (three--year if in CMV designed for hazmat or 16 or more passengers).
  • Third offense in ten years. Three-year license revocation.

Railroad crossings. CMVs also have special rules for crossing railroad tracks. Failure to leave enough clearance or any other railroad violation can result in a minimum license revocation of 60 days, 120 days, and one year for a first, second, and third violation in a three-year period. The employer can also be fined up to $10,000 for knowingly allowing a railroad crossing violation.

Major offenses. More serious crimes committed in a CMV result in a one-year license revocation. These “major offenses” include chemical test refusal, DWI (driving while intoxicated), leaving the scene of an accident, using a CMV in the commission of a felony, driving a CMV while revoked, and “driving so as to endanger” resulting in death or personal injury. The driver will be disqualified for three years if the violation occurred in a hazmat CMV. A driver will be revoked for life upon a second major offense or for using a CMV to manufacture or distribute controlled substances.

Alcohol. CMV operators are prohibited from driving with any amount of alcohol in their system. A violation will result in an immediate 24-hour OSO. Any alcohol violation in a school bus will result in up to five years CDL revocation.

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