What Happens if a Commercial Driver Gets a DUI?

The rules for impaired driving for CDL holders and the possible penalties of a violation.

Commercial drivers are generally subject to more stringent rules and requirements than most other drivers. And the rules related to alcohol consumption and impaired driving are certainly no exception.

For commercial drivers, the amount of alcohol it takes to get a DUI is much lower, while the consequences of DUI a conviction can be more severe.

This article outlines the rules related to alcohol consumption and driving under the influence for commercial drivers, including how the standards and consequences differ depending on whether the CDL (commercial driver's license) holder is operating a personal or commercial vehicle.

What Is a Commercial Driver's License?

Generally, a CDL is required to operate any commercial motor vehicle. The "commercial vehicle designation" generally includes any vehicle weighing 26,001 or more pounds, designed to carry hazardous materials, or carrying 16 or more passengers. (Though a few exceptions to the CDL requirement exist for emergency response vehicles, RVs, and farm equipment used on or near the farm.)

The operation of certain commercial vehicles requires more than just a CDL. Endorsements are enhancements to a CDL that grant special privileges. Normally, enhancements are required for transporting passengers, carrying hazardous materials, or pulling multiple trailers. Each endorsement carries additional requirements such as extra training and testing.

What Are the Legal Alcohol Limits for CDL Holders?

DUI standards (the amount of alcohol it takes to get a DUI) differ depending on the type of vehicle the CDL holder is driving. Also, even if a CDL holder hasn't had enough alcohol to get a DUI, it doesn't necessarily mean they're able to lawfully operate a commercial vehicle.

When a CDL Holder Gets a DUI in a Personal Vehicle

While driving personal vehicles, CDL holders are subject to the same DUI standards as everyone else. Generally, you can get a DUI for operating a vehicle:

The specific standards related to what constitutes being "under the influence" differ somewhat by state. But in every state, you can be convicted of a DUI based on BAC or actual impairment from drugs or alcohol.

Getting a DUI in a Commercial Vehicle

When a commercial driver is operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV), federal law (which all states must follow) sets the BAC limit at .04% or more.

The DUI laws of many states also make it illegal to operate a CMV with any amount of controlled substances in your body.

Out-of-Service Orders for Commercial Drivers

No one wants commercial drivers drinking and driving. The operation of commercial vehicles is already dangerous. Adding alcohol to the equation, even a small amount, can only increase the likelihood of an accident.

Federal regulations prohibit the operation of a commercial vehicle within four hours after consuming alcohol or being under the influence of alcohol. Drivers who are caught violating this rule are subject to an immediate out-of-service order. The out-of-service order will prohibit the CDL holder from operating a commercial vehicle for at least 24 hours.

So even if a CDL holder hasn't had enough alcohol to get a DUI, it doesn't necessarily mean they're allowed to get behind the wheel of a CMV.

What Happens to Your CDL If You Get a DUI?

For the most part, the penalties and consequences for a DUI conviction are the same for CDL holders as they are for most other drivers. However, the differences that do exist are fairly significant.

Jail Time and Fines

The possible jail time and fines you'll face for a DUI conviction are the same for all drivers. In other words, you generally won't be looking at higher fine amounts or more time in jail just because you have a CDL or were operating a commercial vehicle.

License Suspension

Typically, all DUI convictions will lead to at least some period of license suspension. As with fines and jail time, CDL holders who are convicted of a DUI are looking at the same suspension periods as other drivers.

But the suspensions we're talking about here are for driving privileges for non-commercial vehicles. Following a DUI conviction, a CDL holder's driving privileges for personal vehicles will typically be restored before commercial privileges.

CDL Revocation

CDL holders who receive a qualifying impaired driving offense will lose their CDL privileges for a period of time. Qualifying offenses include:

Test failures and refusal don't necessarily require a DUI conviction. Generally, when a driver fails or refuses alcohol testing, it will lead to license suspension administratively imposed by the DMV. These violations—along with DUI convictions—will also lead to the following CDL consequences.

CDL Revocation for First DUI Conviction

A first DUI conviction (or test failure or refusal) leads to a minimum one-year CDL suspension. This revocation is increased to a minimum of three years for hazmat drivers and maybe even longer for bus drivers.

CDL Revocation for a Second DUI Conviction

A driver who's convicted of a second DUI or other qualifying offense will face a lifetime CDL revocation. However, the driver may be allowed to reapply for a CDL after ten years of revocation.

DOT Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse

In February 2022, the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) started the Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCSA) Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.

Among other things, the Clearinghouse requires all commercial drivers to submit to random drug and alcohol testing as part of their employment. Drivers who fail or refuse testing are generally prohibited from operating a commercial vehicle until they comply or complete a mandatory substance abuse evaluation and program.

What Happens If a CDL Holder Violates an Out-of-Service Order?

If a commercial driver receives an out-of-service order (due to alcohol possession, alcohol consumption, or any other unsafe practice), the order will designate how long they are prohibited from operation. Generally, this is around 48 hours and gives the operator enough time to remedy any unsafe conditions that may exist. If the driver chooses to drive in violation of the out-of-service order, the penalties will quickly escalate.

Driving in violation of an out-of-service order will result in CDL revocation of 6 to twelve months. A second or third violation in a ten-year period will result in a two-to-five-year revocation and three-to-five-year revocation, respectively. These penalties are increased for CMVs designed to carry passengers or hazardous materials.

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