Unlike non-commercial drivers, California law holds commercial drivers to higher standards. For instance, for one to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), he/she needs to pass a knowledge and skills test. These tests depend on what type of commercial vehicle he/she will drive. And if you are driving a commercial vehicle, you need to be as sober as possible in terms of drinking and driving. While the standard legal BAC limit is 0.08%, for commercial drivers, the limit is as low as 0.04%.

In case you get charged with drunk-driving while operating a commercial motor vehicle, your CDL may be suspended. However, you can still fight to stop the suspension by presenting evidence and valid reasons that show the suspension is unfair.  To do this, you need help from an experienced DUI defense attorney. In Orange County, you can seek the services of the Orange County DUI Defense Attorney Law Firm. Our attorneys will help you fight your case to prevent the suspension of your CDL.

California Law on Commercial DUI

California’s VC 23152 (d) sets forth the law on commercial DUI. According to this law, it is an offense to operate a commercial motor vehicle when you have a BAC of 0.04% or more. Note that 0.04% BAC only applies in the case of commercial vehicles. If it is a non-commercial vehicle, for example, a small truck, motorcycle, or car, the standard legal BAC limit of 0.08% applies.

It is critical to keep in mind that these are strict legal BAC limits. They will apply whether you were impaired by alcohol at the time of driving or not. Apart from license suspension, driving with a BAC of 0.04% or more for commercial drivers may lead to other severe consequences. They include fines, a jail sentence, probation, DUI School program, etc.

Classification of Commercial Motor Vehicles and Commercial Driver’s Licenses in California

California commercial DUI laws classify commercial motor vehicles into two, smaller commercial vehicles and large trucks. Large trucks include any vehicle that has a Gross Combination Rate Weight (GCWR) of over 26,000 pounds, or any 3-axle motor vehicle weighing more than 6,000 pounds. Smaller commercial cars, on the other hand, include:

  • Double trailers
  • Passenger vehicles that carry over ten passengers inclusive of the driver
  • School buses
  • Tank vehicles
  • Vehicles that transport hazardous materials and require placards
  • In given cases, farm vehicles

Note that recreational vehicles and agricultural vehicles that are driven by drivers not mandated to acquire a driver’s license are not classified as California commercial vehicles.

The law further establishes three types of CDL licenses:

  • Class A,
  • Class B, and
  • Class C.

All CDL types permit drivers to operate any commercial motor vehicle.

A Class A CDL permits you to drive large trucks (weighing 26000 pounds or more). The vehicle being towed should have a Gross Vehicle Weight Rate (GVWR) of over 10000 pounds. Class B license holders will operate any single vehicle that has a GVWR of 26000 pounds or more. The car being towed should not be more than 10000 pounds. If you hold a Class C license, you will operate any commercial vehicle that is not classified under Class B or A licenses. Vehicles driven by a Class C license are majorly smaller commercial vehicles.

Having a specific type of CDL further specifies what kind of vehicle you are allowed to operate. Class A commercial driver’s license holders will drive tankers, tractor-trailers, and combination trucks. On the other hand, Class B CDL holders will operate construction vehicles, delivery trucks, and city-operating buses. Class C CDL holders will operate Hazmat vehicles, passenger service vehicles, and school buses.

Drunk-Driving and CDL Suspension

California drunk-driving laws punish Commercial Driver’s License holders severely if they get convicted of DUI. One of those punishments is suspension or revocation of your CDL. Note that DUI charges are not only as a result of actual alcohol consumption but also result from other offenses related to alcohol.

The California Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) is the body that is mandated to issue or suspend driver’s licenses. After you have been arrested for DUI, your case is taken to the DMV. Your driving license is also confiscated and mailed to the DMV, and you are given a temporary license, pink in color, that lasts thirty days.

Typically, the DMV allows you ten days to demand a DMV administrative hearing seeking to prevent your license from being suspended. If you do not request a hearing within these ten days, your license automatically goes into suspension for one year upon the end of thirty days’ validity of the temporary license. Additionally, if the hearing is held and the findings are against you, your license will be suspended.

Also, remember that your case will be taken to a criminal court. Here, the prosecutor relies on the proof by witnesses as well as the arresting officer. Another proof the prosecuting attorney looks at to show you were under the influence is the results of the field sobriety tests. If convicted, the court may also suspend your license, a separate suspension from the DMV.

Apart from DUI charges, we have other situations that may lead to the suspension or revocation of CDL. They include:

  • Driving a commercial vehicle recklessly and in a manner likely to lead to a fatal crash, for instance, swaying between lanes or speeding.
  • Refusing to submit to chemical tests after a DUI arrest. Usually, after a DUI arrest, the arresting officer will request you to take chemical tests (breath, blood, or urine test). Refusing to take these tests will automatically lead to the suspension of your CDL.
  • Driving a commercial or non-commercial vehicle while your CDL has been suspended, canceled, or revoked. You are prohibited from driving when your driver’s license revoked or suspended until the suspension period is over, and you have restored it.
  • Fleeing an accident scene
  • Driving while intoxicated with a controlled substance
  • Using the vehicle to commit a felony that involves distributing, dispensing, or manufacturing controlled substances.

Often, the standard suspension period of your CDL is one year. However, there are exceptions where the suspension is extended. For example, if your offense involved DUI when operating a vehicle carrying hazardous materials, your CDL suspension would be three years.

Commercial drivers convicted of a DUI causing injury offense will have their license suspended as well. A DUI causing injury can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, and each charge has its suspension period. If convicted of a misdemeanor, your CDL will be suspended for one or three years. A felony conviction carries up to five years of CDL suspension.

Note that a commercial driver’s license suspension applies even if the commercial driver was operating a non-commercial motor vehicle at the time of the commission of the crime. The DMV enforces harsh rules on commercial driver’s license suspension while driving non-driving motor vehicles. This is because how a driver will drive a personal car reflects his/her respect for traffic rules and road safety.

Lifetime CDL Suspension

Commercial drivers who are convicted of a second or subsequent DUI offense are punished more harshly compared to first-time offenders. One of these harsh punishments includes a permanent CDL suspension. The reason for this is that commercial drivers receive high-quality training, and the kinds of vehicles they drive are highly risky if recklessly driven. The cars also require a high level of trust. Therefore, any traffic rules violation by drivers of these vehicles is not tolerated.

A lifetime CDL suspension may also occur if you are sentenced for a felony that involves controlled substances like marijuana. You may also get a permanent suspension if you are convicted of a DUI felony at the time when you are still serving a license suspension.

If your CDL is suspended for life, it means you can never operate any commercial vehicle again. However, you can still appeal the suspension. By appealing, you may be able to get the suspension period reduced, though it rarely happens. And if your appeal is approved, you may only be allowed to drive smaller commercial vehicles that require a Class C license. If you are a commercial driver and are facing a second or subsequent DUI charge, contact an experienced DUI defense attorney as soon as possible.

Commercial Driver’s License Specific Violations

In California, several requirements apply only to CDL holders. Most of the specifications are laid by the federal government. Commercial drivers may also get their licenses suspended if they commit the following offenses:

Carrying Oversized Goods

Commercial vehicles should have particular permits in case they are transporting oversized loads. Permits could be issued per trip or yearly. A permit used for one vehicle cannot be used for another car. Drivers found carrying oversized loads without permits may have their CDLs suspended.

Falsifying Logbook Entries

A commercial driver should have an updated logbook indicating the number of hours he/she has driven. Falsifying logbook information or failure to have a logbook may lead to federal penalties, which include license suspension. You may also be subjected to a maximum of six months of a jail sentence.

Speeding when Towing a Trailer

In case you are towing a trailer and are driving over 15mph over the legal speed limit, your CDL can be suspended.

Ignoring Grade Instructions

Commercial drivers who drive on roads where they are not allowed because of the roads’ grades (steepness), may face severe penalties. These penalties include up to 60 days of license suspension for first-time offenders.

A commercial driver is also prohibited from possessing two or more CDLs.If found in possession of multiple CDLs from different states, the driver will be subjected to a maximum fine of $5000 and a jail sentence. Additionally, the court may suspend your California CDL and return the other licenses to the respective states.

Personal Violations

A CDL holder may have his/her license suspended if he/she is convicted of given types of moving violations while driving his/her vehicle. Moving violations may arise if:

  • You lose your license to drive your car, either by it being canceled, revoked, or suspended due to a severe speeding violation. In this case, your CDL will be suspended for a period ranging from 60 to 120 days.
  • Your license is canceled, revoked, or suspended as a result of a DUI offense. In this case, your CDL suspension will last for a year.

As we mentioned earlier, a second DUI offense will get you a lifetime CDL suspension. This applies if, at the time of the crime, you were driving a personal vehicle.  Note that in California, there is a hardship license, which enables you to continue operating a commercial vehicle. However, you may not be able to acquire this license if your license to drive a personal car is also suspended. If you get sentenced for any traffic offense that is not a parking violation, you should inform your employer about that within thirty days. Notifying your employer is irrespective of what vehicle you were driving at the time the offense occurred.

Reinstating a CDL After a Suspension

After your license suspension period is over, there are steps you can follow to reinstate the license. The steps to follow, conditions you must adhere to, and the duration the reinstatement procedure takes depend on why your license was suspended. For instance, on average, the DMV takes at least a year to reinstate a CDL that was suspended due to a felony conviction, whereby a controlled substance wasn’t involved. Additionally, before your license can be restored, the DMV has to make sure you did not commit any violations during the suspension period.

If you have been convicted of multiple violations or have been convicted of severe DUI offenses, your CDL will not be reinstated for some time. This move is so to help you learn how critical it is for you to drive responsibly and safely at all times.

Before trying to restore a suspended CDL, first, you must make sure your personal/non-commercial license is still active. Your commercial driver’s license suspension can’t be lifted if your license is suspended, canceled, or revoked.

If you are eligible to restore your suspended CDL, the DMV will send you a notification. The notification will include instructions on how to reinstate the license and when you can commence the process to restore it. If the reason for license suspension was a DUI offense, you might have been degraded to a non-commercial driver’s license. This would enable you to acquire a restricted personal license while still on probation. In this case, to restore your CDL, the DMV may require you to reapply for it.

A CDL reinstatement can’t occur until you undergo a medical test. You also need to complete and submit a ten-year History Record Check form as well as the required application fee. The DMV may also require you to complete driving skills and knowledge tests again before they reinstate your CDL. It is especially so if your CDL was suspended, and you have been degraded to a non-commercial driver’s license.

Note that you should only try to reinstate your CDL after serving the whole suspension period as the DMV or court had ordered. Also, you cannot restore your CDL if your license still shows as a rejected status in the DMV system. Before you can successfully reinstate your CDL, you will first use a commercial driver’s permit for a considerable time.

When trying to reinstate your license, we recommend that you consult with an experienced DUI defense attorney. You can also consult with a DMV representative so you can review the fees, steps, tests, and forms required for the process.

Since it may not be easy to reinstate a suspended CDL, you must avoid any situation that could result in a suspension. One common reason that can make your license be suspended is if you are titled a negligent operator. The negligent operator title is given if you commit a traffic offense, irrespective of whether it’s a major or minor one. Any traffic violation adds points to your driving record. When the points accumulate, you ultimately qualify to be a negligent driver.

For example, for minor offenses like speeding, not paving the way for pedestrians, improper changing of lanes will earn you a single point. Severe offenses like hit & run, DUI, and driving on a revoked/suspended license, earn you two points. The DMV accumulates these points after one, two, or three years. If you accumulate up to a given number of points, the DMV suspends your license for a given period.

Negligent Operator Hearings

If you have accumulated enough points to qualify for the negligent operator title, the DMV will send you a letter to notify you of the same. If you receive this notification, we advise you to request the DMV to grant you a negligent operator hearing. The hearing won’t be automatically given to you. You have to ask for it within ten days of being notified.

This hearing gives you a chance to stop your CDL from being suspended. If you don’t demand it, your CDL is automatically suspended. And if the DMV cannot grant you a hearing before the set license suspension date, the suspension is usually postponed to wait for the outcome of the hearing. However, there is an exception to this if you have developed a medical or physical condition the DMV believes is a driving hazard. If that is the case, your CDL will be suspended immediately and won’t be postponed.

Note that the repercussions of CDL suspension can be as devastating as a jail sentence. Thus, though negligent operator hearings are not criminal proceedings, you still need an attorney to represent you. The hearing officer may have a biased conclusion that you’re a negligent operator. That is why it is crucial to hire a lawyer. A skilled DUI defense attorney understands California Vehicle Codes and the DMV procedures. He/she may help you win the case and avoid a suspension.

Negligent operator hearings serve three purposes:

  • Critically assessing your driving history
  • Determining whether or not the DMV should declare you a negligent operator
  • Determining what action the DMV should take against your license

During the hearing, the DMV hearing officer considers the following factors:

  • Whether or not your driving history is accurate
  • Whether there is any pending court charge or conviction that is not in the DMV record
  • Whether or not you are liable for the crashes on your driving history
  • Whether alcohol contributed to offenses on your driving history
  • Whether there are any aggravating or mitigating factor that should be considered in your case
  • Whether mental or physical conditions played a role in the offenses present on your driving history

In a court case, the prosecuting attorney has to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that you are guilty. But, in a negligent operator hearing, the DMV hearing officer only needs to show by a preponderance of the evidence that you’re a negligent operator. However, to win a negligent operator hearing, you still need to lay down a strategy and defenses to show you are not a negligent operator. The arguments you can use include:

  • Proving that you aren’t liable for accidents on your driving history. For example, in case the DMV claims that you were responsible for those accidents, you can show that it wasn’t your fault. You may demonstrate that you attempted to prevent the crash, but it was beyond your ability. Also, you can show that the accident was not due to poor driving habits.
  • Arguing that your driving record is acceptable, therefore, there is no reason to title you a negligent operator. Here, you can let the DMV hearing officer know the efforts and steps you have taken to maintain careful driving.
  • Claiming that you drive more than an average driver, thus, you are more likely to receive several citations compared to other drivers.

Find a Orange County DUI Attorney Near Me

Your CDL getting suspended may have severe consequences on your life, mainly if you depend on commercial driving to provide for your family. If you are on the verge of losing your license due to a DUI, contact Orange County DUI Defense Attorney Law Firm as soon as possible. Our attorneys are ready to offer legal assistance in court, at DMV hearings, and negligent operator hearings. This legal assistance may yield the best probable results that may prevent license suspension. Call us now at 714-740-7866 for our services and free consultation in Orange County and the surrounding areas.