Commercial Driver Education in Rhode Island

For what Rhode Island may lack in size, it sure makes up for in natural beauty and historical American riches. If you'd like to travel and see all that the state has to offer, consider becoming a commercial driver.

You will need to apply for a Rhode Island commercial driver's license (CDL) through the RI Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Before receiving your CDL, you'll need to prove your mastery of all of the driving and safety skills required to operate a commercial vehicle by passing the DMV's CDL exams.

After receiving your commercial driver's license, you could be required to complete subsequent training, specific to the commercial vehicle that you'll be driving. Continue reading for more information about commercial Driver's Ed and required trainings.


Per new federal entry-level driver training requirements effective February 7, 2022, the RI Division of Motor Vehicles now mandates new CDL applicants complete an entry-level driver training course through an authorized provider. You’ll need to complete this training prior to applying for your first commercial driver’s license, upgrading your existing CDL class, or applying for a HAZMAT, school bus, or passenger endorsement.

Required CDL Training in Rhode Island

In Rhode Island, commercial driver license applicants are not state-required to take CDL courses in preparation for the Division of Motor Vehicles' CDL tests.

However, if you have earned a Rhode Island CDL with a school bus endorsement, you are state-required to complete specialized training through the Community College of Rhode Island.

RI School Bus Drivers

All RI school bus drivers are required to have the following documents before you're legally able to transport students:

To get your CDL with proper endorsements, you will need to do the following:

  • Pass DMV's written knowledge test.
  • Receive a CDL instruction permit.
  • Complete the required school bus training (detailed below) and testing.
  • Pass the road skills and inspection tests for your school bus driver certification and full CDL.

For initial certification, you'll have to complete 10 hours of school bus driver classroom instruction through the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI). The school district that's employing you is responsible for sending in a training application to CCRI where you'll complete all of the necessary school bus driver education and testing for your certificate and CDL. Your training ends with a written knowledge exam.

After passing your exam, you'll need to take and pass your driving skills and pre-trip inspection tests. Visit the DMV's school bus driver training guide for details on what to bring to the DMV once you've passed your exams.

For more information about school bus training in Rhode Island, contact the DMV's School Bus Safety office at (401) 462-5772.

RI CDL Testing Requirements

Although Rhode Island commercial driver's license applicants are not state-required to enroll in preparatory commercial Driver's Ed classes, doing so can really improve your chances of being able to pass the Division of Motor Vehicles' CDL exams on your first try. Additionally, many employers will require that you've had some form of education or training before they'll hire you.

The tests that all Rhode Island CDL applicants are required to pass are as follows:

  • Written general knowledge exam.
  • Behind-the-wheel CDL skills exam.

Also, depending on the classification and endorsement(s) attached to your commercial driver license, you could be required to pass additional CDL tests. To avoid any unpleasant surprises on testing day, make sure you know exactly which classification and endorsement(s) apply to your commercial driver's license.

If you'd like to learn more about CDL classifications and endorsements, check out our helpful guides:

Rhode Island CDL Test Prep Options

As mentioned above, it's optional for you to take Rhode Island CDL test prep classes. Despite this, taking a commercial Driver's Ed course can't hurt, and can ultimately be of great benefit for the following reasons:

  • Most employers will require that you've already had some formal commercial driver training before considering you for a job position.
  • CDL test prep courses are designed specifically to help you pass the RI Division of Motor Vehicles' required written and behind-the-wheel exams.

Different types of commercial driver's license test prep classes will help you pass DMV's exams in the following ways:

  • Enrolling in a classroom course will acquaint you with the format and material that you should expect to see on the DMV's written CDL tests.
  • Completing a behind-the-wheel training course will ensure that you're comfortable with the driving skills that you'll be expected to execute during the DMV's CDL road exam.

If you do begin to look into your Rhode Island CDL test prep options, make sure that you ask the following questions about each of the programs:

  • Does the tuition and duration of the course seem reasonable for your budget and schedule?
  • Are all of the classes taught by certified instructors who hold valid Rhode Island commercial driver licenses?
  • What does the curriculum include? Will it cover all of the material that you're expected to master for your particular CDL's written and road exams?

CDL Written Test Prep

A classroom course should give you adequate preparation for the Division of Motor Vehicles' written CDL tests as long as the curriculum covers the topics that you'll see on the written general knowledge exam, including (but not limited to):

  • Completing a complete vehicle inspection.
  • Learning basic controls.
  • Manual and automatic transmissions.
  • Maintaining a safe field of vision.
  • Controlling your vehicle's speed.
  • Noticing and managing hazards like:
    • Pedestrians and bicyclists.
    • Inclement weather.
    • Unpredictable drivers.
  • Dealing with emergency situations.

Remember, that you could have to take additional written tests if your commercial driver license has the classification and endorsement(s) to warrant it. The other CDL written exam topics you could have to master include:

  • Passenger transportation.
  • Vehicles with air brakes.
  • Handling hazardous materials.
  • Pulling a double or triple trailer.
  • Driving a combination vehicle.
  • Safely operating a school bus.
  • Transporting a gas or liquid-filled tanker.

When you feel comfortable with the material, make a written test appointment with the Division of Motor Vehicles' headquarters in Cranston, RI by calling (401) 462-4368.

CDL Road Test Prep

After passing all of the Rhode Island DMV's required written tests, you'll receive a CDL instruction permit. During this time, consider looking into a behind-the-wheel training program, which will familiarize you with the commercial vehicle and skills you'll need to be comfortable with for the Division of Motor Vehicles' CDL road skills test.

A quality behind-the-wheel training course will at least teach you the skills that you'll need to execute for your general CDL skills road test, including (but not limited to):

  • Steps to completing a full internal and external vehicle inspection.
  • Rudimentary backing skills (e.g. docking in an alley and parallel parking).
  • Procedure at railroad crossings.
  • Exiting and reentering the moving flow of traffic.
  • Practicing basic safety skills like:
    • Keeping both hands on the steering wheel.
    • Using turn signals.
    • Checking your mirrors.

Due to your potential CDL classification and endorsement(s), the Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles could expect you to demonstrate additional skills on your testing day. The other behind-the-wheel CDL skills you might have to master include:

  • Extensive pre-trip vehicle inspection for:
    • Trailers.
    • All types of buses.
    • Vehicles with air brakes.
  • Driving with a manual transmission.
  • Safely loading/unloading students from a school bus.

Once you feel absolutely confident and comfortable driving your commercial vehicle of choice, call (401) 462-2122 and make an appointment to take your CDL road skills test at the Community College of Rhode Island.

RI CDL Self-Study Guide

While preparing for the Division of Motor Vehicles' written and road CDL exams, you always have the option of studying on your own.*

All of the skills and material that you need to learn for the DMV's CDL tests are in the Rhode Island Commercial Driver License Manual. Since you'll have to pass tests based on your commercial driver's license's classification and endorsement(s), make sure that you read over every section of the manual that applies to your particular CDL.

As an additional study tool, you can take CDL practice tests, which are structured like the Rhode Island DMV's written tests and will familiarize you well with the expected format. Practice tests are also a useful way of gauging how well you know your material, and which sections of the commercial driver manual you might need to revisit.

As long as you're disciplined in your studies and dedicated to getting your Rhode Island CDL, you'll be able to pass the Division of Motor Vehicles' commercial driver exams with ease.

* NOTE: School bus drivers MUST complete mandatory training prior to taking the road test for their school bus certificate and full CDL.

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