Applying for a New CDL in Rhode Island

CDL Manual

Before committing your time and energy to obtaining a commercial driver's license (CDL), you should make sure you meet all qualifications and that you fully comprehend all that is required.

Rhode Island's Commercial Driver's License Manual serves as your best source for commercial driver job facts. This guide can be downloaded from the Rhode Island DMV website or picked up at any DMV location.

CDL Requirements

According to Rhode Island law, you must meet the following requirements to receive a CDL:

  • You must be at least 21 years old.
    • If you are only going to be engaging in intrastate travel (within state), you can apply at 18 years old.
  • You must have had a non-commercial driver's license for at least 2 years, without any suspensions or revocations.
  • You cannot have licenses from other states, Mexico, or Canada.
  • You must be healthy enough to earn a medical examiner's card.

To apply for your CDL, you must complete the following steps:

Driving a commercial motor vehicle requires skills that take time to learn. For this reason, Rhode Island CDL applicants are expected to apply for a CDL instruction permit before receiving a valid CDL. You will receive the instruction permit after completing your written exam. Then, you may enroll in a commercial driver education program to obtain the behind-the-wheel experience you need to pass your driving exam.


Both the written and road tests take place at the DMV's Cranston location.

Before being allowed to take the road exam, you must first pass the written portion of the CDL test. Questions are culled from everything contained in the manual. If you should fail, you must wait another 5 days before you will be allowed to test again. If you pass, however, you must then apply for the permit necessary to take the road exam.

The Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) administers CDL road tests. To schedule a test time, call (401) 825-1146.

When you arrive for the driving test, be prepared to present your Rhode Island driver's license and CDL permit. Also, make sure the vehicle you are driving matches the license class you are applying for (A, B, or C) and that it meets all state registration, inspection, and insurance requirements.

Fees for your Rhode Island CDL are as follows:

  • There is an application fee of $10.
  • There is a $26.50 fee for each written test you wish to take.
    • All applicants must take a general written exam, but additional tests will be required to add endorsements to your license.
  • After you've completed all necessary tests you will pay $34.50 for your first CDL.
  • A chauffeur license is $26.50 and puts the R restriction on your license.
  • Duplicate license: $26.50.
  • License renewal (5 years): $81.50
  • Permit renewal or duplicate permit: $21.50.
  • Update CDL: $6.50.

NOTE: Credit cards have an additional $1.50 per transaction. If you complete a transaction that totals $64 or more, you'll pay a service fee of 2.35%.

New Federal Requirements

You must now self-certify your type of vehicle operation with Rhode Island's DMV. This means you must self-certify one of the following driving categories:

  • Non-Excepted Interstate
  • Excepted Interstate
  • Non-Excepted Intrastate
  • Excepted Intrastate

Submit a completed Self-Certification for Commercial Driver's License. If you choose Non-Excepted Interstate, you must also provide the DMV with a federal medical certificate.

Questions? The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's website provides detailed information.

Federal Guidelines

The Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 was designed to improve highway safety. Its purpose was to ensure that drivers of commercial vehicles are qualified to drive them, and to remove unsafe drivers from the highways. The Act didn't require federal driver licensing―states still license commercial drivers―but it established minimum standards that states must meet when issuing commercial driver's licenses (CDLs). It required states to upgrade their existing programs to follow the new federal standards.

Before the Act was passed, many commercial vehicle drivers operated vehicles they were not properly trained on or qualified to drive. Even in states that had separate license classes, drivers were not necessarily tested in the types of vehicles they would be driving. States must now test commercial drivers according to federal standards, to ensure that drivers know how to operate the trucks or buses they intend to drive.

The Act also made it illegal to have more than one driver's license. You can hold a regular or commercial driver's license, but not both. You can have one license from the state you reside in, but not from any other states. In the past, bad drivers could more easily hide their driving histories by getting several licenses. Today, all the states are connected to a national database to check driver histories.

CDL Classes for Every State

To be eligible for a CDL, you must have a clean driving record. Federal regulations require you to pass a physical exam every 3 years.

The Act established three separate classes of commercial driver's licenses. Every state issues licenses in these categories:

  • Class A: Any combination of vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GWVR) of 26,001 lbs. or more, provided the GVWR of the vehicle(s) being towed is in excess of 10,000 lbs.
  • Class B: Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 lbs. or higher, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle not in excess of 10,000 lbs. 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 passengers or more, including the driver, or is placarded for hazardous materials.

Many states make exceptions for farm vehicles, snow removal vehicles, fire and emergency vehicles, and some military vehicles.


To be licensed for certain types of commercial vehicles, extra testing is required. If you pass, you will receive an endorsement on your CDL.

  • T―Double/Triple Trailers (knowledge test only)
  • P―Passenger (knowledge and skills tests)
  • N―Tank Vehicle (knowledge test only)
  • H―Hazardous Materials (knowledge test only)
  • S―School Buses (knowledge and skills tests)

Requirements for Medical Certification

In the interest of public safety on the highways, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations require interstate commercial drivers to be medically fit to operate their vehicles safely and competently. You are required to have a Medical Examination Report (649-F) and carry a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) medical certificate if you operate a vehicle weighing more than 4,536 kgs. (10,000 lbs.) in interstate commerce.

You must carry a current copy of your medical examination certificate with you when you drive.

Minimum Training Requirements

There are no federal standards in place for on-the-road commercial driver training. The government only requires that you take and pass your CDL knowledge (written) and skills (driving) tests. Longer-combination-vehicle (LCV) drivers must receive training in driver wellness, driver qualifications, hours of service, and whistleblower protection.

In order to pass your driving skills tests, you will need to learn how to inspect vehicles before driving, learn how to couple and uncouple tractors and trailers, and have plenty of practice driving. This includes driving in different conditions and on different road surfaces, turning, parking, backing up, and braking.

Many motor carriers train their employees, while other drivers take courses at private driving schools, vocational or technical schools, and community colleges. Individual states often approve or certify training courses. The Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) has set minimum standards for training curriculums and certifies driver training courses that meet industry and Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FHA) guidelines. Many employers require their drivers to take PTDI-approved training.

Hazmat Background Checks

Under the USA PATRIOT Act, commercial drivers transporting hazardous materials (hazmat) must pass a background records check and be fingerprinted. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is responsible for conducting the background checks for all commercial drivers with hazmat endorsements or who want to add hazmat endorsements to their licenses. The TSA developed this program to carry out the USA PATRIOT Act mandate and protect citizens from the potential threat of terrorists using hazmat cargo.

If the TSA disqualifies you because of your background, you can appeal their finding or seek a waiver. However, if you are found guilty of a disqualifying crime, you must declare any disqualifying conditions and surrender your hazmat endorsement (if you already have it) to your state's department of motor vehicles or other licensing agency.

Applying for a Hazardous Materials Background Check

After you get a CDL, apply for a background check from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) if you'll be obtaining a hazardous materials endorsement. You may do this online or by contacting a TSA agent. They will ask for:

  • Your CDL or CDL permit number.
  • Proof of legal status.
  • Proof of Identity.

Next, the TSA will ask you to go to a fingerprint office to give your fingerprints. The TSA and the FBI will conduct background investigations. Since Rhode Island is a TSA Agent state, you will pay:

  • $38 for fingerprints.
  • $34 for the TSA background check.
  • $14.50 for the FBI background check.

The TSA attempts to finish background checks within 30 days. You will be notified by mail. If you are approved, you can then go to your state's licensing authority (wherever you got your CDL) to complete your hazmat application process. If you are denied, you can appeal or seek a waiver.

  • Hazmat endorsements must be renewed at least every 5 years.
  • Your state might require renewal more often.
  • Get a new background check each time you renew your hazmat endorsement.

You must arrange for the background check no less than 30 days before the expiration of your current approval, or your CDL may be canceled.

Disqualifying Crimes

Conviction of any of the following crimes will disqualify you from being eligible for a hazmat endorsement:

  • Terrorism
  • Murder
  • Assault with intent to murder
  • Espionage
  • Sedition
  • Kidnapping or hostage-taking
  • Treason
  • Rape or aggravated sexual abuse
  • Extortion
  • Robbery
  • Arson
  • Bribery
  • Smuggling
  • Immigration violations
  • RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) violations
  • Unlawful possession, use, sale, distribution, or manufacture of an explosive device, firearm, or other weapon
  • Distribution of, intent to distribute, possession, or importation of a controlled substance
  • Dishonesty, fraud, or misrepresentation, including identity fraud
  • Crimes involving a severe transportation security incident
  • Improper transportation of a hazardous material
  • Conspiracy or attempt to commit any of these crimes

Remember that your state also has its own guidelines that may be stricter than the federal ones. For more information, consult your employer, the DMV, or the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association.

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