If you have a commercial driver’s license (CDL), that license is issued by the state you live in. The rules that control the CDL, however, are regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Federal rules concerning public safety tend to be strict, and CDLs are no exception. 

A person with a CDL is held to a higher standard than an ordinary driver. This is especially true when it comes to DUI charges, where the punishments are incredibly harsh. Not only that, but because they’re set at the federal level, the penalties are completely non-negotiable.

A driver’s license suspension automatically disqualifies you from using a CDL.

If you hold a CDL in Indiana, there is a good chance that your ability to drive is directly related to your capacity to earn money. When you make your living driving a commercial motor vehicle (CMV), driving is not just related to your livelihood—it is your livelihood. 

CDL complications can be devastating, because even a temporary disqualification of your CDL could cost you your job. In the State of Indiana, there are a variety of offenses that can result in the disqualification of your CDL status. 

Some of these offenses are pretty straightforward and apply to both personal motor vehicles and CMVs. For example, leaving the scene of an accident results in a one-year CDL disqualification. 

A DUI arrest in your personal vehicle can also jeopardize your CDL. Indiana law specifically provides that any court judgment, court order, or administrative proceeding that results in a suspension of a person’s driving privileges also suspends any driver’s license or permit held by the person.

This means that even if you are convicted of a traffic offense on your own time and in your own vehicle, your CDL could still be disqualified—potentially ruining your ability to earn a living. This blog will cover: 

  • the violations that Indiana considers serious traffic offenses
  • offenses that result in a CDL disqualification
  • what a DUI means for a CDL holder; and 
  • what a CDL holder can do to protect their livelihood.

Serious traffic offenses have a greater effect on CDL holders.

In Indiana, there are certain traffic offenses that the State treats as serious. These offenses generate the usual criminal charges and fines, but they also have potentially devastating consequences for CDL holders. The list of serious traffic offenses includes: 

  • driving 15 mph or more over the speed limit;
  • reckless driving;
  • improper or erratic lane changes;
  • following too closely;
  • failing to stop at a railroad crossing; and 
  • texting while driving.

For the full list, a CDL holder should consult the Commercial Motor Vehicle / Driver Enforcement Deskbook.

If you’re convicted of a serious traffic offense twice within three years, your CDL will be disqualified for 60 days. For the third and any subsequent conviction within three years, that’s a 120-day suspension. It doesn’t matter if the offenses occurred in your personal vehicle.

DUI charges are incompatible with CDL work.

If you have a CDL in Indiana, a DUI is one of the most serious charges you can face. There are very few scenarios in which a first-time offender can have their life completely turned upside down based on a misdemeanor criminal charge. A CDL holder getting a DUI is one of these scenarios. 

In Indiana, the State sees driving as a privilege and it treats commercial driving as an exceptional privilege. This means different standards for commercial drivers. Where the intoxication threshold for an ordinary driver is set at an alcohol concentration equivalent (ACE) of .08*, for the person operating a CMV, the limit is only .04.

If you’re convicted of a DUI in Indiana—in your own car or a CMV—your CDL will be formally disqualified for a full year. Realistically though, you’ll be without your CDL for longer than that. 

The operator of a CMV is required to have a valid driver’s license and a CDL.

Let’s say you were arrested and charged in late December of Year X, and your driving privileges were suspended in January of Year Y. The suspension of your driving privileges prevents you from doing CDL work for the next six months, even though your CDL status has yet to be disqualified. You can’t use your CDL if you don’t have a valid driver’s license.

Whenever your DUI conviction is formally entered, that’s when the court is going to send the disqualifying information to the BMV. So if your case ends in July of Year Y, it will be July of Year Z before you can return to CDL work, even though you’ve been unable to use your CDL since January of Year Y.

In addition to a DUI (with alcohol or a controlled substance), you can also earn a year-long CDL disqualification for any of the following offenses:

If you commit any of the above offenses while transporting hazardous materials, it’s a three-year CDL disqualification. A second conviction for any of these offenses (in any combination) will result in a lifetime CDL disqualification. 

If you’re convicted of using a vehicle in the commission of a felony involving the manufacture, distribution, or dispensation of a controlled substance—which Indiana has defined extensively throughout schedules I, II, III, IV and Vthat’s a mandatory lifetime disqualification without possibility of reinstatement.

It does not matter what vehicle you were driving at the time of the offense.

To emphasize an earlier point, all of the above penalties apply to a CDL holder whether they’re driving their CMV or not. The State of Indiana expects the best from commercial drivers whenever they’re behind the wheel—not just when they’re on the clock.

So if you were convicted of leaving the scene of an accident in your personal vehicle 15 years ago, and today you blew a .04 while operating your CMV, that might well be the end of your CDL career. It’s an incredibly harsh standard, but there’s no flexibility to it, because the rules are set at the federal level.

Beyond the serious traffic violations and criminal charges that can result in jail time, fines, and CDL disqualification, there are ordinary traffic offenses to worry about. CDL holders are subject to the same point system as every other driver. 

That means if you accumulate 20 license points over the course of two years, your driving privileges will be suspended for a month. This suspension prevents you from using your CDL. If you manage to rack up 42 points across two years, that will earn you a year long suspension of your driving privileges.

An experienced attorney can help you file for specialized driving privileges, and this can allow you to drive for life’s necessities. It’s important to note, however, that an order for specialized driving privileges does not apply to CDL work.

On top of everything else, you have criminal charges to deal with.

If you’re a CDL holder charged with a DUI, you’re in a precarious position. Not only are you looking at a suspended driver’s license and the potential dissolution of your livelihood, you’re also facing criminal charges. These might include: 

It’s important to speak to an experienced Indiana DUI lawyer as soon as possible. A CDL disqualification may be inevitable, but an effective defense attorney can still do you a world of good, especially on the criminal front. 

Make the right call.

The Marc Lopez Law Firm deals with driver’s license issues every day. If you or a loved one find yourself facing a CDL disqualification, DUI charges, or both, you need a knowledgeable and skilled Indiana criminal lawyer to represent your interests. The attorneys at the Marc Lopez Law Firm understand how important CDL driving is for their clients. Give us a call at 317-632-3642 and remember—always plead the 5th!

* grams of ethanol per 100 milliliters of blood or 210 liters of breath

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