No one wants to suffer a DUI conviction in Florida. But when you drive for a living with a commercial driver’s license (CDL), a DUI conviction threatens your ability to make a living. How do Florida DUI laws and federal regulations affect professional drivers who depend on driving to feed their families?
Will you lose your job? Can you get a limited, hardship license to drive only for work? Will a previous DUI keep someone from getting their CDL? Will your CDL be revoked permanently if you get a DUI? This blog post will answer those and other questions to give every commercial driver the information you need to understand how a DUI will affect your life.
At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, we are committed to making sure each of our clients knows exactly how Florida DUI laws apply to their case, how the court process operates, and what we can do for them as their DUI defense lawyers. Our years of experience representing Tampa and St. Petersburg area residents in complex DUI cases enables us to know how each fact pattern includes grounds to challenge the state’s prosecution.
Defending DUI charges involving CDL drivers requires additional knowledge to find flaws in the evidence against them. Identifying those opportunities and aggressively advocating for our client’s rights is how we win dismissals and acquittals and get charges reduced whenever possible.
Commercial Drivers with (CDL) Need Less Alcohol for DUI
Drivers who hold a CDL are subject to much higher standards than non-commercial drivers in Florida. Federal law requires that every state enforce strict regulations when commercial vehicles are involved because of the added danger such large trucks and buses present to the public. A driver’s CDL is heavily regulated by tough federal rules and laws, but Florida laws are even more severe.
Florida Law Prohibits ANY Alcohol Consumption While In Possession of a Commercial Vehicle
While not technically a DUI conviction, any driver with a CDL behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle will suffer an administrative fine of $500 if they have ANY alcohol in their system. That absolute is applied to any truck, bus, or commercial vehicle operator whose blood alcohol content (BAC) is above 0.00 but lower than 0.04.
DUI for Commercial Drivers is a BAC of 0.04 or Higher — 1/2 of Other Drivers’ Level
The nationally recognized level of blood alcohol content that causes drivers to be too impaired to operate a motor vehicle legally is 0.08. But alcohol does not suddenly begin to affect a driver’s normal functioning when it hits that magic number. In fact, consuming any alcohol begins to affect the brain and contributes to changes in a driver’s normal abilities.i
Since the skills required to operate a commercial vehicle safely are so important, the laws are especially restrictive regarding alcohol and CDL operators. Federal regulation 49 CFR 383.51 declares that any holder of a CDL is illegally operating under the influence of alcohol when their BAC measures 0.04 or higher, or lower if state law declares the illegal level of alcohol to be lower.
Commercial Driver’s Penalty for DUI
Federal regulations provide for a one-year disqualification period for any driver holding a CDL following any alcohol-related traffic conviction, including DUI. If the conviction stems from an arrest occurring when the CDL holder was in possession of or operating a commercial vehicle, then there is no temporary hardship or conditional operator’s permit, as there may be for a person holding a non-commercial driver’s license. In the case of a Refusal of a Chemical Test, the driver’s CDL will also be disqualified for one year, but a hardship license might be granted if petitioned for within 10 days of the arrest.
A first offense DUI or Refusal of a Chemical Test for a driver with a CDL will result in a 1-year disqualification of their commercial driver’s license. Any alcohol-related offense must be reported to the driver’s employer. Unless their employer is willing to reassign the driver to other non-driving duties, the driver may lose their job. Other penalties mirror those imposed on other drivers who hold only standard driver’s licenses.
A second offense DUI or Refusal of a Chemical Test requires a lifetime CDL disqualification, essentially an occupational death penalty for a commercial driver. While some states allow for possible reinstatement of a CDL after ten years, Florida does not permit any reinstatement following a second conviction.
Will a Prior DUI Prevent You from Getting Your CDL?
Commercial Drivers Licenses (CDLs) are granted only to trained and tested professional drivers who can demonstrate a reliable ability to operate big rigs and other large vehicles safely. Some drivers are even trusted with transporting hazardous materials across state lines.
If you had a DUI conviction many years before you apply for a CDL, that conviction must be disclosed during the application process. When it is disclosed, the facts of the case will be important in determining whether you can qualify for a CDL. One key fact will be the age of the conviction. If your convictions occurred more than 3 years prior to applying for a CDL, your chances of qualifying are better. However, if you were convicted of DUI within the previous 3 years, your CDL application will be denied.
What is a Commercial Vehicle?
A commercial vehicle is defined under federal regulations as one with a gross weight of 26,001 pounds or more, or a vehicle designed to transport 15 or more people – including the driver.
Avoiding DUI Convictions Requires Experienced DUI Defense Lawyers
DUI conviction remains on the public record and is accessible to current or potential employers, landlords, bank loan officers, neighbors, relatives, friends, and even your kids. When a professional commercial vehicle driver suffers a DUI or Refusal conviction, the collateral consequences can reverberate in their life for many years.
CDL DUI Charges Can Be Defeated
A CDL holder who is arrested for DUI and/or Refusal of a Chemical Test may feel like all hope is lost. But a conviction is not automatic. Skilled DUI lawyers who know the federal regulations applying to CDL drivers are better equipped to fight the charges and can often win. Special procedures must be followed by law enforcement officers at the scene of a DUI arrest involving a commercial driver. Because the offices are rarely faced with the situation, many commit procedural errors when reciting the required warnings to the driver with the CDL.
Other important issues good DUI defense lawyers challenge involve the reasonableness of the traffic stop, the basis for their claimed probable cause to arrest, and the accuracy of how any physical or chemical tests were administered. Any one of these issues can prevent a DUI conviction if handled skillfully by an experienced criminal defense lawyer familiar with CDL law.
For immediate help with your commercial driver DUI case, contact us at Stechschulte Nell today. Call 813-280-1244.