Commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders’ play by a different set of rules when it comes to driving while intoxicated (DWI) charges in Texas.
A CDL is a special license designed for drivers who are responsible for:
- Transporting 16 or more passengers;
- Operating a motor vehicle with a gross weight rating of 26,001 pounds; or
- Transporting hazardous materials in large quantities.
Many people have CDLs as a means of livelihood. And without their CDL, they are unable to provide for their families. If you have a CDL it is imperative that you understand the ramifications associated with DWI charges and convictions in Texas.
What is the legal limit for CDL drivers?
Most of us know that it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) that is over .08%. If your BAC is .08% or more at the time of driving, you are per se intoxicated. The mere fact that your BAC is over .08% means that you can be guilty of DWI. Now, there are dozens of defenses that could be utilized, but you get the point.
Let’s say you were driving home after a few beers in your commercial motor vehicle. You feel fine, and your BAC comes back at .05%. You’re safe, right?
Unfortunately, no. Under both Texas Law and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, CDL holders driving their commercial vehicles are considered legally intoxicated if they have a BAC at or above .04%.
It is important to note that the .04% BAC level only applies when drivers are in their commercial vehicles. Drivers with a CDL that operate their personal vehicles are subject to the .08% BAC level. This means that it is much easier to get a DWI behind the wheel of your commercial vehicle than in your personal car.
What are the penalties for a DWI conviction?
The consequences of a DWI for CDL drivers are the same irrespective if you were driving in your personal vehicle or your commercial vehicle. If this is your first DWI and your BAC does not exceed .15%, then you will be looking at a Class B misdemeanor charge. This could include:
- Up to six months in jail
- Up to $5,000 in fines (including the new “superfine”)
- Mandatory attendance in an alcohol awareness program
- A 90-180 day Class C driver’s license suspension
- Community Service
If convicted of a DWI, what happens to my CDL?
A first-time DWI conviction will result in a one-year CDL suspension. However, if at the time of your DWI, you were transporting hazardous cargo, then the CDL suspension is bumped up to three years. Any second or subsequent conviction will lead to a lifetime disqualification from obtaining a CDL.
Can my CDL be suspended if my DWI was dismissed?
It depends. If your DWI was dismissed by way of deferred adjudication, the charge will be counted as a conviction for purposes of your CDL.
Your CDL can also be suspended for a year if you refuse to submit to a blood or breath specimen upon an officer’s request. The refusal itself is grounds for suspension, it does not matter if your DWI charge was later dismissed.
Do I get a hearing?
If you are arrested for DWI, your driver’s license and CDL will be taken and the police will issue a temporary driving permit that expires in 41 days from the date of issuance. This is a temporary license that allows you to continue driving your commercial vehicle.
If you want to contest the suspension of your driver’s license and disqualification of your CDL, then you must request a hearing:
- You have 15 days to request an administrative hearing if your CDL was suspended under the Administrative License Revocation (ALR) program (this only applies to refusal cases); otherwise
- You have 20 days to request a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) administrative hearing.
As long as your request is timely, Texas DPS will provide you with a hearing date. At the hearing, DPS will prove up the contents of your arrest, whether or not you refused to give a specimen, and your BAC. You also have the ability to put on evidence and show the judge why your CDL should not be suspended.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the administrative judge will render a decision regarding your CDL suspension. You can appeal the hearing decision, which is to be filed within 30 days upon receiving your suspension or disqualification letter.
You should be aware that a DWI offense while in possession of a CDL could also result in civil penalties under the FMCSA.
How do I get my CDL reinstated?
If your CDL has been suspended, and you’ve lived out the suspension period, you might be eligible to reinstate your CDL. You can do this by paying the reinstatement fees and submitting documents in accordance with the Texas DPS.
Although you may be able to have your CDL reinstated amidst your DWI charge, it may be difficult to obtain employment. Many companies are extremely weary of drivers who have had a DWI charge. Not only will insurance premiums be higher, but your tainted record poses heightened liability to companies.
It is not impossible to overcome a DWI charge if you have a CDL. An experienced and knowledgeable attorney can help you get over the hurdles that lay ahead. Contact me if you have questions about your DWI and CDL.