Commercial drivers are held to strict rules to ensure safe operation and are subject to harsher penalties for traffic violations. For commercial driver's license (CDL) holders, even a speeding ticket can lead to the loss of commercial driving privileges.
This article explains when a speeding ticket can impact a CDL and what options might exist for lessening that impact.
The impact a traffic violation has on commercial driving privileges depends on whether the violation occurred in a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) or a personal vehicle.
The consequences of a speeding ticket are generally more severe if the CDL holder received the violation while operating a commercial vehicle. But the amount by which the driver exceeded the speed limit is also a factor that affects how the ticket will impact commercial driving privileges.
A conviction for exceeding the speed limit will be recorded on the driver's record and may result in license demerit points. Some states, like California, assign a higher number of points for violations that occur in a CMV. Accumulating too many points within a certain time period (usually, within one to three years) can lead to the suspension of commercial and personal driving privileges.
Operating a CMV 15 miles per hour over the speed limit will lead to the standard fines, fees, and demerit points, and will also be recorded as a "serious traffic violation" against the driver's CDL.
Under federal law, a CDL holder with two serious traffic violations will lose their CDL for at least 60 days. A third violation in three years will result in a minimum 120-day revocation.
Some states specify that speeding in a CMV is a completely different violation than speeding in a personal vehicle. In these states, the penalties are more severe for certain speeding violations in commercial vehicles.
In California, for example, speeding at least 15 miles per hour over the limit in a CMV is a misdemeanor offense (speeding is usually just an infraction) and carries up to six months in jail and $1,000 in fines.
Some states also have specific CMV speed laws that increase the penalties for violations involving vehicles with dangerous cargo or transporting passengers (like a school bus with children aboard).
Generally, a speeding ticket in a personal vehicle will not affect the driver's commercial driving privileges. However, there are a few exceptions, which are discussed below.
When a driver's license is suspended, that suspension applies to the driver's commercial driving privileges as well.
For example, a Kansas driver with three speeding tickets in a one-year period will face up to a one-year suspension. Also, in most states, drivers who accumulated too many points will face license suspension.
So, basically, any license suspension will also result in the loss of commercial driving privileges.
When a traffic violation results in the suspension of standard driving privileges, it may be recorded as a serious traffic violation for CDL purposes in some states.
For example, speeding 30 miles per hour over the limit in Oregon will result in mandatory revocation. Not only will the driver's privileges be revoked, but the offense will be recorded as a serious traffic violation against the driver's CDL.
If excessive speed results in the injury or death of another person, it counts as a serious traffic violation against the driver's CDL.
Some of the options drivers would normally have for keeping a traffic ticket off their record aren't available to commercial drivers. But there are still a few strategies that could work.
Federal law prohibits CDL-holders from utilizing any diversion, traffic school, or plea bargaining that would prevent the violation from being recorded.
Probably the best way to keep a ticket from affecting commercial driving privileges is to beat the ticket altogether in court.
However, it might also be possible to convince a judge that you didn't exceed the speed limit by the amount that would result in CDL consequences. For example, a skilled attorney may be able to cast doubt on the prosecution's evidence that you were exceeding the speed limit by at least 15 miles per hour. If the judge thinks it's possible you were only going 14 miles per hour or less over the limit, the conviction won't count as a serious traffic violation.
The length of time between violations is important. Although traffic violations generally stay on the commercial driver's record for life, they will typically affect CDL privileges only for a limited period of time. Calculation of serious traffic violations only goes back three years and license demerit points normally expire after two or three years.