DUI convictions can have severe consequences for anybody, but for drivers with a commercial driver’s license, a DUI can also result in the loss of his or her livelihood. Commercial drivers operate large, cumbersome, and oftentimes dangerous vehicles and payloads. For this reason, the federal government, states, and interstate agencies have enacted laws specific to commercial drivers to ensure that the roads stay as safe as possible.
An accident involving a semi-truck last year illustrates why driving under the influence, especially while operating commercial vehicles, is so very dangerous and can have deadly consequences. A truck driver crossed a double-yellow line on a highway in rural New Hampshire while high on drugs and claimed he was reaching for a drink just before causing a collision which killed seven motorcyclists. The driver of the truck was a young man, who had a dubious driving record and is now fighting seven negligent homicide charges.
What is a Commercial DUI:
Drivers who operate commercial vehicles require special driving licenses, known as a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Commercial vehicles can include large semi-trucks with weights of up to 26,000 pounds or smaller vehicles like buses, tanks, or large trailers. The nature of commercial driving is often times very dangerous and for that reason, the legislature lowered the blood alcohol content (BAC) threshold for commercial drivers to be DUI.
In California, it is unlawful for a person who has a BAC of 0.04 percent or more of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a commercial motor vehicle. For non-commercial drivers, the blood alcohol content limit, as you may know, is 0.08 percent (0.05 percent in Utah). If a driver is above the threshold, they can be convicted of a DUI. They need not be impaired by the alcohol.
Additionally, a driver, regardless of whether they are commercial or not, can also be convicted for DUI if they are “under the influence” of drugs or alcohol, or a combination of both. A driver is considered “under the influence” if his or her mental or physical ability is so impaired that he or she cannot drive with the same caution and care that a sober driver would exhibit in similar driving conditions.
Penalties & Consequences of Commercial DUI:
Commercial license holders who are convicted of a DUI face all of the regular penalties that non-commercial drivers face for a DUI, which can, at a minimum, include probation, fines/fees, a DUI program, and a suspension of regular driver’s license. However, drivers who hold CDL licenses are also subject to a minimum one-year suspension of their commercial license. In some situations, like commercial drivers of hazardous materials, the suspension can be up to three years. If a CDL holder is convicted of DUI or refuses to be tested for a second separate incident, the CDL license can be revoked for life.
Interestingly, a person who has a CDL will lose the CDL if they are convicted of a DUI regardless of whether he or she was driving a commercial motor vehicle (and was either 0.04 percent BAC or higher, or was “under the influence”) or a regular, non-commercial vehicle (and was either 0.08 percent BAC or higher, or was “under the influence.”).
In other words, if a commercial driver is driving their commercial vehicle, and are convicted of a DUI because they were either at least 0.04 percent BAC or were “under the influence,” they will their CDL for at least a year.
Additionally, if a commercial driver is driving their regular, non-commercial vehicle, and they are convicted of a DUI because they were either at least 0.08 percent BAC or were “under the influence,” they will still lose their CLD for at least a year.
Getting a CDL Back:
If the circumstances warrant, some states will allow a driver to obtain a “restricted CDL,” with varying eligibility standards amongst those states. Other states do not allow restricted CDLs.
Some states, like California, do not provide for a restricted CDL, but allow the driver to downgrade to a non-commercial driver’s license and get a restricted license to drive a non-commercial vehicle, which allows the driver to go to and from work (other than as a commercial driver); drive themself and dependents to medical appointments, and transport dependents to and from school (if no public transportation is available). Generally, a commercial driver is eligible to downgrade to a non-commercial license if they haven’t had another violation in the last ten years, submitted to a BAC test, were at least 21 years old during the time of the DUI, and do not have a suspended license for a reason other than DUI, they may qualify for a restricted license to drive a non-commercial license. Other requirements include obtaining proof of insurance (“SR-22 Certificate of Financial Responsibility”), enrollment in a DUI program, and may include installation of an ignition interlock devise (IID).
If a state does allow reinstatement, generally, in order to have the CDL reinstated, a driver will need to wait out the entire suspension period, pay reissue fees, retake and pass the CDL driving tests, and take any court-ordered classes.
Whether a CDL can be reinstated after a lifetime disqualification, will also largely depend on the state where the CDL was issued. Federal law provides that a state may reinstate a commercial driver disqualified for life for DUI offenses after 10 years, if that person has voluntarily entered and successfully completed an appropriate rehabilitation program approved by the State. Unfortunately, in many states, like California, a lifetime disqualification truly means that a driver will never be allowed to hold a CDL from that state again.
On a final note, commercial DUI, like regular DUIs, is a criminal offense and as such, the driver is presumed innocent until proven otherwise. As is the case for all criminal cases, the prosecutor has the burden of proving to a jury, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the driver was DUI using the standards mentioned above. A good DUI defense attorney can go toe-to-toe with the prosecutor and perhaps, just perhaps, save a person’s CDL.
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