What Violations and Convictions Can Result in a CDL Being Revoked?

Circumstances that can lead to the loss of commercial driving privileges and how long these revocations last.

Commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers must go through extensive training, testing, and medical examinations in order to receive a commercial driver's license (CDL). But even a highly trained and experienced driver can lose his or her CDL for missteps. Some circumstances can even lead to CDL revocation for life.

This article outlines some of the most common reasons for CDL revocation, how the revocation process works, and how a driver might be able to avoid losing their commercial driving privileges.

Reasons a CDL Could be Revoked or Suspended

While each state enacts its own laws governing and managing commercial licenses, many of the rules related to CDL revocation come from federal regulations.

Federal regulations set out categories of offenses and circumstances that can result in the loss of commercial driving privileges. The Federal regulations use the term "disqualified," while many states use the terms "revocation" and "suspension." However, all these terms generally mean the same thing: loss of commercial driving privileges.

"Serious Traffic Violations" With a CDL

One of the most common causes of CDL penalties is the accumulation of "serious traffic violations."

CDL Revocation for Serious Violations

Commercial drivers face a minimum CDL revocation of:

  • 60 days for two serious violations within three years, or
  • 120 for three serious violations within three years.

When a driver's CDL is revoked, it generally doesn't affect the driver's license to operate personal vehicles.

Examples of Serious Violations

Some traffic offenses are only considered serious violations if they occur in a CMV. Some examples of these types of serious violations include:

Other offenses are considered serious violations when committed in any motor vehicle. Some examples of these types of serious violations include:

  • traffic violations that result in fatalities
  • violations listed above that are committed in a personal vehicle and result in the suspension of the driver's standard license.

Also, states are also allowed to, and many do, expand on what counts as a serious violation.

"Major Traffic Violations" With a CDL

Major violations result in more severe consequences than serious violations. Also, most offenses in this category count as major violations regardless of whether committed in a personal or commercial vehicle.

CDL Revocation for Major Violations

Commercial drivers face a minimum CDL revocation of:

  • one year for a first major violation (three years if operating a hazmat CMV), or
  • lifetime for a second major violation.

Many states do offer programs for permanently revoked drivers to reapply after ten years.

Examples of Major Violations

Examples of major violations include:

Additionally, there are some major violations that do not require a criminal conviction. A driver will end up with a major violation for:

As with serious violations, many states expand on the federal definition of major violations and also include offenses such as fleeing and eluding an officer.

Violations that Result in Lifetime CDL Revocation

Using a CMV to transport drugs or traffic persons will result in permanent disqualification.

Some states have laws that expand the lifetime ban for other offenses. For example, in Texas, drivers who use a CMV to transport or harbor illegal aliens face a lifetime disqualification. And, in Alabama, registered sex offenders are outright prohibited from driving passenger or school bus CMVs.

Violations of CDL Rules That Can Result in Revocation

Most of the violations listed are rules and traffic laws that apply to all drivers, though the consequences of violations can be different for CDL holders. However, there are some special rules that apply to CMV operators only, such as random drug and alcohol testing and railroad crossing restrictions.

Railroad Rules for Commercial Vehicles

In addition to the standard traffic laws for crossing railroad tracks, CMV operators must also abide by restrictions related to front, back, and vertical clearance.

Failure to comply with these railroad rules will result in a 60-day revocation for a first offense, a 120-day revocation for a second offense, and a one-year revocation for a third offense within a three-year period.

Out-of-Service Orders

If a police officer or vehicle inspector finds that the driver or CMV is unsafe to drive (possibly because the driver has consumed alcohol or the CMV has faulty equipment), the CMV or driver can be placed "out-of-service."

Driving in violation of an out-of-service order will result in CDL revocation based on the number of prior offenses in the last five years. Generally, a first offense will be a 180-day revocation, a second offense will be a two-year revocation, and a third will be a three-year revocation. These penalties are higher for hazardous material drivers.

Clearinghouse for Drug and Alcohol Use

Under the Clearinghouse program, most drivers are required to submit to random drug and alcohol testing by their employers. Generally, drivers who fail or refuse testing will be revoked until they complete a clean test or a required treatment program.

How to Avoid CDL Suspensions and Revocations

Most offenses and violations that lead to CDL revocation require a criminal conviction. If the driver isn't convicted, their CDL privileges are safe.

So the best way to avoid a CDL suspension or revocation (apart from not receiving any violations in the first place) related to a conviction is to beat the charge in court. Of course, winning a case in court is often difficult. To find out what your options are, it's best to contact a knowledgeable attorney in your area.

If a suspension or revocation is from administrative action by the DMV rather than a criminal conviction, there are procedures for requesting an administrative hearing and contesting the DMV's action. Again, getting an attorney involved is usually the way to go.