DWI with a Commercial Driver’s License

Obtaining a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) in North Carolina is more difficult than a standard driver’s license. It requires an applicant to have a more in depth knowledge of the rules of the road, their vehicle, and submit to more tests. Because of this, North Carolina, and most other states, hold CDL drivers to a higher standard than other motorists. While any traffic violation can create problems for a CDL holder a DWI is especially serious. In addition to the standard criminal punishments, a DWI places the CDL driver at risk of suspension and/or full revocation of the CDL depending on the specifics of a given case.

How is a CDL treated differently from a standard license?

In the context of DWI, the most important difference between a CDL and a regular license is the amount of alcohol the driver is legally allowed to have in their system. The legal limit for a standard license is a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of .08. However, it is illegal for a person to drive a commercial vehicle with a BAC of .04 or more. Additionally, if the driver of a commercial vehicle is found to have some alcohol in his system but is below the .04 limit, North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) guidelines state that the driver will be out of commission for a full 24 hours.

Another key difference applies to refusal of field sobriety tests. Both regular and CDL drivers have the right to refuse to perform any field sobriety testing. However, NCDOT considers a CDL driver’s refusal a violation (more on violations below) that could lead to a year or more suspension of the CDL.

The final major difference deals with what type of material is being transported in the commercial vehicle. The NCDOT punishment is much more severe if the driver was transporting hazardous materials at the time of his arrest. NCDOT regulations state that the same conduct that would earn a 1 year CDL suspension for a driver transporting regular, safe, materials, is automatically bumped up to a 3 year suspension if it involved hazardous materials.

How are CDL DWI punishments determined?

In addition to the standard criminal punishments that come with a DWI conviction, CDL drivers who are convicted of a DWI face a number of serious restrictions. Any violation of the rules and obligations that come with a CDL can result in some form of suspension, but violations involving impaired driving are all treated in the most serious category. North Carolina law and the North Carolina Department of Transportation list a number of serious offenses that automatically result in a one year suspension of a driver’s CDL:

– Driving a CMV (Commercial Motor Vehicle) if your blood alcohol concentration is .04% or higher.
– Driving a CMV under the influence of alcohol.
– Refusing to undergo blood alcohol testing.
– Driving a CMV while under the influence of a controlled substance.
– Leaving the scene of an accident involving a CMV.
– Committing a felony involving the use of a CMV.
– Driving a CMV when the CDL is suspended.
– Causing a fatality through negligent operation of a CMV

A first offense for any one of these violations is a one year suspension. However, as you read above, if a driver is transporting hazardous materials at the time of the violation his suspension is bumped up to 3 years.

A second offense of any of these violations results in a lifetime ban from obtaining a CDL. Under some circumstances, a driver will be eligible for removal of the lifetime ban and reinstatement of the CDL after a full 10 years.

Finally, a third offense of any of these violations will result in a lifetime ban and remove the possibility of reinstatement.

Again, it is important to note that these punishments are in addition to any criminal punishment that arises out of the DWI/traffic violation.

Violations committed while not operating a commercial vehicle:

It is important to note that the .04 BAC limit imposed on commercial drivers is only in effect while they are in the act of operating a commercial vehicle. Driving a personal vehicle with a BAC above .04 but below .08 is not a violation even if the driver has a CDL.

However, any violations committed by a CDL holder while not driving a commercial vehicle can still result in suspension of CDL privileges. For example, a drivers CDL will still be suspended for a year if the driver is convicted of DWI even if he was not operating a commercial vehicle at the time of offense.

The suspension or revocation of a CDL can have a devastating impact on a person’s livelihood. Adding in the already severe consequences of a standard DWI conviction makes these charges very serious. It talks a talented and experienced attorney to present your best case and ensure the best possible outcome.