Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and DWI Laws

semi truck on a foggy road with motion blur - DWI with a CDL concept

In North Carolina, those who hold commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) are held to a greater degree of care than other motorists. There are more stringent criteria in place to obtain a CDL — and those who have obtained them are held to a much higher standard on the road. Not only does this include operating a vehicle safely, but there are also harsher consequences imposed on CDL holders who drive under the influence.

What are the Consequences of Getting a DWI if You Have a CDL?

Many drivers in North Carolina can face the consequences of a DWI before their case even goes to trial, especially drivers who hold CDLs. Under North Carolina’s Civil Revocation Law, a person arrested for a DWI who provides a chemical test sample of a BAC of .08 or higher will face a 30-day license suspension. This standard is much stricter for CDL holders — a breath or blood test of .04 or higher is all that is needed for the 30-day license suspension.

A CDL holder can face the following consequences for a DWI, depending on the circumstances:

  • First offense — Critically, the 30-day license suspension automatically triggers a one-year suspension which bars a CDL holder’s operation of a commercial vehicle during that time.
  • Second offense — A second DWI can result in jail time and loss of a commercial driver’s license. Not only does this mean you would lose your current job, but you would also lose all future employment opportunities requiring a CDL. In some cases, you may be able to get your license back in ten years.
  • Third offense — A third DWI for a CDL holder can mean permanent revocation of a commercial driver’s license with no possibility of reinstatement, as well as jail time.

The penalties can be increased if you were transporting hazardous material in the commercial vehicle. In such cases, you may be prohibited from operating a commercial vehicle for up to three years. It’s essential to note that there are no options for limited driving privileges for CDL holders who have been convicted of a DWI. Although you may be able to obtain an LDP for your class C license, a DWI conviction bans your class A license for a year. “Hardship” CDL licenses are not permitted.

Does it Matter if You Were Off-Duty at the Time of DWI Arrest?

It's crucial to understand that CDL holders are held to the same standard, whether they were operating their personal vehicle at the time of a DWI arrest or driving a commercial vehicle. Not only does driving while intoxicated by alcohol have harsh penalties for CDL holders — but driving under the influence of drugs can also result in jail time and license suspension or loss.

Your BAC level must reach .08 when driving a passenger vehicle in order for a DWI conviction to affect your CDL license. However, driving a passenger car with a BAC of .04 will not lead to a CDL suspension.

What Happens if Your BAC Level is Below .04?

Under North Carolina law, it is a Class 3 misdemeanor to drive a commercial vehicle after consuming any amount of alcohol, regardless of your BAC level. In the event you are convicted of driving a commercial vehicle after consuming alcohol and have a detectable BAC lower than .04, you may incur a fine of $100 and face a 10-day license suspension. A second conviction within a period of seven years can disqualify you from operating a commercial vehicle for a period of one year.

Can You Get a CDL with a DWI?

If you have been charged with a first DWI, you might still be able to get a commercial driver’s license, depending upon how long ago the charges were brought. Many employers require that a DWI is 5-7 years old before they will hire someone with a DWI on their record. A second conviction can ban you from ever getting a commercial driver’s license during your lifetime. If certain circumstances are met, you may be able to have the restrictions lifted after ten years.

In addition, a CDL holder with a prior conviction for a hit-and-run, driving while license revoked, or a similar offense can face a permanent CDL suspension.

Contact an Experienced North Carolina Traffic Law Attorney

Retaining your license is essential to your livelihood if you’re a CDL holder. If you’ve been charged with a DWI, it’s vital to have a knowledgeable attorney by your side who can protect your rights and obtain the best possible outcome in your case. The skilled Johnston County traffic lawyers at Reece & Reece, Attorneys at Law provide high-quality legal services to CDL holders for a wide range of traffic offenses, including DWIs. Call (919) 300-1249 to schedule a consultation and learn how we can help.

Categories: DUI/DWI