The Consequences of a DUI on a Commercial Driver’s License

A DUI can cost an ordinary driver his driver’s license, typically for a few months or a few years. The consequences of a DUI on a commercial driver’s license are even more serious, and they are easier to trigger.

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What is a Commercial Driver’s License?

A commercial driver’s license (CDL) is a special driver’s license that allows the driver to operate dangerous vehicles that require a high degree of skill to drive, almost always for commercial purposes. Examples of vehicles that require a commercial driver’s license to operate include everything from Greyhound busses to cement mixers. Although commercial driver’s licenses are issued by states, the federal government has established standards that states must adhere to.  

Three Different Types of CDLs

Federal law mandates the issuance of three different types of CDLs:

  • Class A drivers are authorized to operate the heaviest vehicles (or combination of vehicles, in case of a tow).
  • Class B is an intermediate CDL that restricts the diver from operating some of the heaviest vehicles that Class A drivers are allowed to drive.
  • Class C is a catch-all category that includes hazardous materials drivers and drivers of passenger vehicles of 16 or more passengers, regardless of weight.

What are the Minimum Standards for Holding a CDL?

Federal law also requires states to set minimum standards for the issuance of CDLs, including:

  • Minimum Age – Although most states will allow a 16-year-old to hold an ordinary driver’s license, federal law requires that the minimum age for holding a commercial driver’s license be set at no lower than 18 years old. Indeed, 18 is the minimum age in every state except Hawaii and New York. In Hawaii the age is set at 21, while in New York the age is 18 or 21, depending on the class of the license issued (Class A, B or C).
  • Minimum Age to Cross State Lines – If you are under 21, federal law mandates that you may not cross a state line in a commercial vehicle even with a valid CDL. You are also forbidden from driving a commercial vehicle in any state other than the state in which you live.
  • Other Deviations in the Minimum Age – You must be 21 or older to operate a school bus (with passengers on board who are under 21 years of age). You must also be 21 to transport placarded hazardous materials. The 21-years-old age restriction is also sometimes applied to other drivers with certain types of medical issues.
  • Tests – A state may issue you a CDL only after administering both a written test and a road test, or after having an approved testing facility administer the test. The contents of the tests are partially determined by standards set by the federal government.
  • Medical Clearance – You must obtain medical clearance to obtain a CDL. Certain issues such as bad eyesight or epilepsy might prevent you from obtaining one.

DUI-Related Offenses that Will Trigger a CDL Suspension

A DUI will result in the disqualification of a CDL for at least a year under the following circumstances:

  1. A finding of guilt, whether based on conviction or on a guilty plea. It is irrelevant whether the sentence includes suspension of your ordinary driver’s license.
  2. A suspension of your ordinary driver’s license for violation of the state’s implied consent laws (refusing to submit to a breath, blood or urine test designed to detect the presence of intoxicants in your bloodstream). Note that in this case, conviction of DUI is not required for such a refusal to trigger suspension of your CDL. 
  3. A hazardous materials driver might see his license suspended for up to three years for violating a state implied consent law, even without a DUI conviction.

Suspension of your CDL is mandatory under federal law when it is triggered by one of the circumstances described above. Accordingly, they apply in every state and the District of Columbia. They also apply even if you were driving your personal vehicle at the time you were pulled over for DUI. 

The 0.4 Percent BAC Rule

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has recommended that states apply a lower standard for DUI alcohol intoxication when it comes to a CDL holder driving a commercial vehicle, and most states have complied with this recommendation. Under the FMCSA recommendation, you are considered legally intoxicated if you hold a CDL and your Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is 0.4 percent or higher. 

To put that into perspective, 0.4 percent is half of the level required to convict a non-commercial driver of DUI, and it is a level of alcohol concentration that in many states is not even illegal for non-CDL holders to drive on, even under semi-DUI offenses such as “wet reckless.”. Under the same FMCSA rules, a commercial driver cannot operate a commercial vehicle within four hours of consuming any alcohol at all, no matter how slight.

Unlike non-commercial drivers, commercial drivers may be required to submit to random alcohol testing. You might also be tested after an accident, when there is reasonable suspicion that you have been drinking alcohol, or as a condition of allowing you to return to commercial driving after you violated an alcohol policy. Note that you can lose your CDL driving privileges even if your violation of an alcohol policy doesn’t amount to a DUI.  

The Burden of Proof

Although as a CDL holder you are treated differently (and more strictly) than ordinary drivers’ license holders, there is one way in which you will be treated exactly the same — the presumption of innocence of the crime of DUI. Since the prosecutor must prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt, all a defense attorney needs is reasonable doubt to have you acquitted of DUI.   

Reinstatement of a CDL

If your CDL is suspended because of an alcohol violation, it might be possible to reinstate it in advance of the end of the expiration period. Nevertheless, you will have to start from the beginning and reapply for your CDL as if you had never held one in the first place. It is even possible to reinstate a CDL subject to a lifetime ban by completing a court-ordered rehabilitation program, even though this loophole is seldom resorted to by courts. 

DUI Resources

DUI Resources

DUI Resources is a website dedicated to providing help and information to individuals who were arrested under the suspicion of driving under the influence.
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