Driving Commercial Vehicles
Texas, of course, requires a driver's license to operate a motor vehicle on a public highway. Most of us operate our own vehicle or a vehicle owned by a family member or other individual. Many of us, though, drive commercial vehicles owned and operated for commercial purposes. A regular driver's license is enough to drive many commercial vehicles. A worker who hops in a small van to drop off a business delivery, for example, would be fine with the worker's ordinary driver's license. The ability and opportunity to drive a commercial vehicle can have a great job, career, and financial value. Ride-sharing drivers and truck drivers, even those without education or other skills, can make a good-to-great living. Know, respect, and protect the high value of your commercial driving job and opportunities. Don't throw away those opportunities by committing a DWI or failing to challenge a contestable DWI charge.
Commercial Driver's Licenses
Driving certain commercial vehicles in Texas and all other states requires a commercial driver's license, also known as a CDL. Getting a CDL can substantially increase a commercial driver's job market and earnings. Many commercial drivers, like small-package delivery drivers, don't need a CDL. But many of the best commercial driving jobs do require a CDL. States typically write their own traffic codes and laws, including for driver's licenses. But the Federal Motor Carriers Act conditions federal highway funds on state compliance with federal commercial vehicle license laws and regulations. Texas, naturally, follows those federal requirements, as do all other states. With exceptions for recreational, military, emergency, and farm vehicles, Texas law and the laws of all other states generally require a CDL when operating any vehicle:
- weighing 26,001 or more pounds;
- carrying sixteen or more passengers; or
- designed for hazardous materials.
Getting a Commercial Driver's License
Getting a CDL requires meeting medical, residency, knowledge, fitness, and skills requirements. Applicants with prior DWI convictions or other indications of a bad driving record may not qualify. Applicants must also decide what CDL class license A, B, or C, and what special endorsements for things like school buses, tank trucks, or tractor trailers, if any, they seek. The state first grants a permit to practice and then tests the applicant in vehicle inspection, basic controls, and road skills. States must mandate advanced training for certain CDL class licenses beginning in February 2022. A CDL is not the easiest thing in the world to get. Once you get it, protect it.
Losing a Commercial Driver's License
Commercial drivers have several ways in which they can lose their CDL by disqualification. One is repeated serious traffic offenses like speeding fifteen or more miles per hour over the limit or reckless driving. A first offense may have no effect, but a second offense within three years can result in a sixty-day CDL suspension. A third offense within three years can result in a 120-day suspension. Another way to lose a CDL is to misuse a commercial vehicle for a felony, such as to hide and transport illegal drugs. Seriously injuring or killing someone with the vehicle may also cause the CDL's loss, as can the traffic offense of leaving the scene of an accident. But a leading way that commercial drivers lose their CDL is to suffer a DWI arrest or conviction. You must notify your commercial vehicle employer the same day that you lose your CDL. Your employer must not allow you to drive a commercial motor vehicle without a valid CDL. Protect your CDL at all costs.
Losing a Commercial Vehicle Job
Losing a CDL because of a DWI is not exactly the same thing as losing a commercial vehicle job because of a DWI. If the commercial vehicle's operation does not require a CDL, then CDL laws will not disqualify the commercial driver who incurs a DWI arrest or conviction but keeps the regular driver's license. The question then is, instead, whether the commercial employer will retain the driver despite the DWI. Of course, if the driver loses the regular license, then the employer must terminate the driving employment. But many employers will terminate the driver's employment, even if the driver retains the regular driver's license, because of the danger risk and liability hazard. A DWI may be fatal to the job whether the job requires a CDL or not. Employers of commercial vehicle drivers also tend not to hire drivers with a DWI within the last five years, meaning a long time away from paid commercial vehicle driving.
Lower Blood-Alcohol Limits for Commercial Vehicle Drivers
Texas law governing driving commercial vehicles that require a CDL, like the federally influenced laws of other states, lower the legal blood-alcohol limit from .08 to .04. In other words, it only takes half as much alcohol to exceed the legal limit in a commercial vehicle as in a standard vehicle. Commercial vehicle drivers need to know that they can't get away with the little imbibing that non-commercial vehicle laws would permit. For a commercial vehicle driver, a little alcohol can go a long way toward a DWI.
DWI Penalties for a Commercial Vehicle Driver
A commercial vehicle driver who incurs a first DWI conviction faces the same Texas criminal penalties as drivers of personal vehicles committing a DWI. The penalties that the court imposes are neither worse nor better for a commercial vehicle driver. A first DWI is a Texas Class B misdemeanor carrying a minimum of three days in jail, a maximum of 180 days in jail, and up to a $2,000 fine. If the blood alcohol is .15 or greater, Texas law raises the offense to a Class A misdemeanor carrying a penalty of up to one year in jail and up to a $6,000 fine. Injury to another raises the offense to a third-degree felony, while the death of another raises the offense to a second-degree felony. A DWI conviction, refusal to take a blood-alcohol test, or failing a test also ordinarily result in driver's license suspension, typically for 180 days. Drivers receive a temporary license at arrest, good for forty days, and may challenge the suspension administratively within fifteen days.
DWI Impacts on a Commercial Driver's License
Texas law imposes CDL suspensions of from one year to three years for a DWI. A one-year CDL suspension accrues either for operating a commercial vehicle with a blood-alcohol level of .04 or greater or operating a non-commercial personal vehicle at .08 or greater blood alcohol. In other words, both a commercial vehicle DWI and a personal vehicle DWI result in one-year CDL suspensions. Drinking and driving either on the job or off the job can affect your CDL. Refusal to take a sobriety test also results in a one-year CDL suspension. Drivers of commercial vehicles carrying a placard for hazardous material, who incur a DWI or refuse a test, incur three-year CDL suspension. A second DWI revokes the CDL permanently, for life. Commercial drivers need to protect their CDL against a DWI.
The Effect of Special Pleas
New Texas laws have eliminated some loopholes through which to potentially save a CDL from suspension or revocation due to a DWI arrest. Deferred-sentence arrangements, under which the court dismisses the DWI after the defendant completes the imposed terms, now count as a DWI conviction for purposes of CDL suspensions. Texas law treats no contest and guilty pleas in the same way, counting them as a conviction for CDL suspensions. When the question comes to driving a commercial vehicle on a CDL, the law looks to public safety, not to the driver's efforts at rehabilitation. Commercial drivers charged with a DWI need to face the charges and beat them head-on.
How a Commercial Employer Discovers a DWI
The temptation of some commercial drivers may be to conceal their DWI arrest, deferred sentencing, or conviction, hoping that they can continue to drive. We can respect the need and desire to continue earning a living to provide for one's family. But both federal regulations and Texas law require drivers to report a DWI to their commercial employer. There's no hiding a DWI. And the driver who does hide a DWI from their employer even for a relatively short time runs the risk of job termination for the concealment, if not for the DWI. Employers retaining commercial drivers expect disclosure, which federal and state law also compel. Even if a commercial driver were to try to hide a DWI, the employer is almost sure to find out.
Protecting Your CDL in Administrative Hearing
A commercial driver charged with a DWI needs to take swift action to protect the driver's CDL. The temporary driver's license that the arresting officer leaves with the driver when confiscating the driver's regular license gives the driver fifteen days within which to challenge the driver's license suspension by requesting an Administrative License Revocation (ALR) hearing, if the suspension was under ALR procedures. License suspension under alternative Texas Department of Public Safety procedures grant twenty days to make the request. The ALR or DPS hearing typically occurs relatively quickly, often around the end of the forty-day period for which the temporary license lasts, although that temporary license continues if the hearing occurs later. The short time to prepare for the hearing and the hearing's lower preponderance-of-the-evidence proof burden means that you need skilled and dedicated representation. When retained for the administrative hearing, national DWI expert Doug Murphy can challenge license suspension both at the hearing and, if necessary, in an appeal, in several ways, including:
- the arresting officer lacked reasonable suspicion for the stop;
- the officer lacked probable cause to suspect intoxication;
- the defendant was not in actual control of the vehicle;
- the vehicle was not operated in a public place;
- the defendant was not intoxicated beyond the legal limit;
- the officer did not inform of the consequences of refusing a test.
Protecting Your CDL in the DWI Prosecution
The administrative license hearing is plainly important to preserving the commercial driver's licenses. But the criminal DWI prosecution is every bit as significant and even more so, given the criminal penalties and other collateral consequences that a DWI conviction can carry. When Board Certified DWI Specialist Doug Murphy represents a commercial vehicle driver in the ALR hearing, he is able to learn more through cross-examination of the arresting officer and other witnesses about the criminal DWI prosecution. Attorney Murphy's skilled and aggressive representation in the DWI court proceeding can defend and defeat a DWI charge on any one or more of the following grounds:
- violation of constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure;
- violation of constitutional rights to remain silent and have counsel present;
- challenges to field sobriety, breath, and blood test results;
- challenging the Drug Recognition Expert protocol and its results;
- filing and arguing motions to suppress inadmissible evidence;
- challenging the credibility of prosecution witnesses;
- presenting defense witnesses exonerating the defendant; and
- identifying and presenting evidence mitigating any crime.
Retain a Premier DWI Lawyer to Protect Your CDL
The one thing that a commercial driver charged with a DWI can best do to increase the chances of retaining a CDL is to clearly and convincingly beat the DWI charge. And the best way to increase the chances of beating a DWI charge is to promptly retain Board Certified DWI Specialist Doug Murphy. Your CDL, and your commercial driving job, career, and income, are worth hiring a national DWI expert to protect them. Attorney Murphy has the reputation and standing in the Houston area and surrounding counties, and vast experience and expertise, to defend and defeat DWI charges. Commercial drivers rightly retain and rely on 2021 Houston DWI Lawyer of the Year Doug Murphy when facing DWI charges. Attorney Murphy is one of only two Texas lawyers holding both DWI Board Certification and Criminal Law Certification. Contact Doug Murphy Law Firm online or at (713) 229-8333 to discuss your case today.