Blood Alcohol Limits for Driving Commercial Vehicles

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 What is a Commercial Driver's License?

A commercial driver’s license, or CDL, is required in order to operate certain types of motor vehicles. This typically includes commercial vehicles which have a gross weight of more than 26,000 pounds. This may include:

  • Tractor-trailers, also called big rigs;
  • Tow-trucks;
  • Buses; and
  • Hazardous material transports.

Obtaining a commercial driver’s license is very similar to obtaining a non-commercial driver’s license from the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The individual attempting to obtain the CDL is required to take a series of examinations as well as provide proof of training with a certified organization.

Commercial driver’s licenses are subdivided into different categories that are based on the weight and the purpose of the vehicle.

What is an 18 Wheeler?

An 18 wheeler is a type of commercial vehicle that many drivers are used to seeing on the roadways. It consists of a tractor, a trailer, and usually has 18 wheels, hence the name.

These larger vehicles may also be called big rigs, semi trucks, or tractor trailers. These vehicles average weight is roughly 35,000 pounds, not including the cargo.

If the 18 wheeler is loaded, it may carry up to 8,000 pounds. This is in contrast to the average car which weighs only 5,000 pounds. In other words, an 18 wheeler weighs 16 times more than a standard vehicle.

These vehicles are much more difficult to drive and stop, even when traveling the legal speed limit. They require longer braking distance as well.

This is an example of why individuals are required to have special licenses to operate these types of vehicles, as they are different to operate than a standard card. In addition, if the driver is under the influence of alcohol, the consequences may be catastrophic for the truck driver as well as others on the roadway.

Are Commercial Drivers Held to Different Standards than Other Drivers?

Yes, individuals who hold a CDL are held to a higher standard of responsibility. They may face greater penalties if they violate the rules of the road.

This is because the operation of a commercial vehicle typically requires greater amounts of skill and care than regular automobiles. A CDL holder who breaks the law may face consequences including:

  • More points on the individual’s driving record for violations, typically ½ point higher than normal;
  • There are no traffic schools available to clear the driving record of violations;
  • Certain offenses can be elevated to a misdemeanor charge. A misdemeanor may result in fines and jail time of less than one year; and
  • A violation of a CDL provision may lead to the suspension or complete confiscation of driving privileges, which can potentially result in the loss of employment for the commercial driver.

What is Driving Under the Influence in the U.S.?

Every state in the United States has laws making it illegal to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. In each state, the blood alcohol content (BAC) has a legal limit of 0.08% for ordinary, non-commercial vehicles.

DUI stands for driving under the influence. Every state in the United States has a version of a DUI statute that prohibits an individual from operating a motor vehicle while being under the influence or intoxicated by a substance that is known to impair an individual’s motor skills.

There are certain states which have different classifications for DUIs involving different substances such as:

  • Alcohol;
  • Illegal drugs; or
  • Over the counter medications.

Some states also include different types of vehicles such as:

  • Bicycles;
  • Mopeds; or
  • Golf carts.

Other names which may be used to identify the offense of DUI include:

What is the Blood Alcohol Content Limit for Commercial Vehicles?

For a licensed driver of a commercial vehicle, the legal BAC limit is typically much lower. In California, for example, a driver may only have a BAC of 0.04% while driving a commercial vehicle is .04%. This is similar to the laws of the majority of other states.

How Do Drunk Driving Charges Affect a Commercial License?

The majority of states hold a commercial driver to higher standards in terms of drunk driving (DUI) and blood alcohol content limits. For example, as noted above, CDL drivers are typically limited to a maximum of 0.04% BAC when operating the commercial vehicle.

A DUI conviction is a serious offense and may have serious consequences for a commercially licensed driver. In addition to state DUI penalties, and DUI fines and costs, a CDL driver can have their commercial license suspended for a year.

A subsequent conviction can lead to extended periods of suspension or can result in a complete revocation of their driving privileges. If a CDL holder refuses to submit to chemical testing during a DUI arrest, they may also be subject to harsher penalties. If a CDL driver has multiple or repeat convictions, subsequent convictions are treated more severely, and may lead to felony criminal charges.

What is the Process After an Arrest?

Following an arrest for DUI while driving a commercial vehicle in California results in an immediate administrative license suspension. This suspension lasts, at least, until the conclusion of the trial.

If the defendant CDL driver is found not guilty of DUI, their commercial driver’s license is restored. If the individual is found guilty of drunk driving, their commercial driver’s license may be suspended for an additional period of time.

What are the Penalties for a Commercial Vehicle DUI?

Almost every other state in the United States also has an administrative license suspension for DUI while operating a commercial motor vehicle. If a driver of a commercial vehicle is convicted of a DUI, they can expect to lose their license for at least one year. This time period may be longer if they were moving a hazardous substance.

In addition, the majority of states impose fines and add the possibility of incarceration for individuals convicted of multiple offenses. The fines are typically up to $1,000 for the first offense.

Can a Suspended Commercial Driver’s License be Reinstated?

Typically, if an individual is convicted of operating a commercial vehicle while intoxicated, they can have their driver’s license suspended immediately for the duration of their trial, as discussed above. After a not guilty verdict, their license can be reinstated.

In some states, the individual’s commercial driver’s license is not immediately restored and they must submit a formal reinstatement request. If the individual was found guilty of DUI, they will most likely have to complete their suspension period prior to reapplying for another commercial driver’s license. Reinstatement typically includes paying a fee and retaking all of the required exams with the DMV.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

It is very important to seek the help of an experienced DUI attorney as soon as possible. This is because violating commercial driving privileges is serious and may lead to criminal charges on your record.

If you have any issues with your commercial driving privileges, you should contact an attorney immediately. In some cases, a lawyer may be able to have your charges reduced or dropped, depending on the facts of your case and the evidence involved.


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