Wheels of Justice
DUI laws and you
Drivers write me asking how the Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol (DUI) laws vary and why it makes a difference with the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Association rules on CDL drivers.
Let me explain the difference between a driver’s license you receive from your state and the CDL license regulated by the federal government. A state driver’s license is the base, the foundation, of your CDL. You must first receive a state license before you can apply for a CDL since the CDL is an endorsement on your state license.
You can also lose your CDL license and still keep your state license. The CDL is an endorsement, and if you lose it, you lose the CDL, but you can still drive a car. However, lose your state license, and you cannot drive anything until you get it back.
Additionally, the breath alcohol content (BAC) is much lower for your CDL than it is for the state license. You are DUI if your BAC is 0.04 with a CDL and 0.08 for a state license.
The federal government finally convinced all states to adjust their per se intoxication levels to 0.08 BAC in August 2005. This level of 0.08 BAC means that any driver at or above a BAC of 0.08 is considered to be intoxicated under the law, and no additional proof of driving impairment is required.
Additionally, for drivers under the age of 21, all states have zero tolerance laws that target lesser levels of alcohol in their systems such as a BAC of 0.00 up to 0.02. These zero tolerance laws increase the penalties for underage drivers in an effort to stop or decrease underage drinking and driving.
Most states increase the penalties for DUI offenders with a BAC of 0.15 or 0.20 and over. These drivers with “double drunk” BACs usually will face additional jail time, larger fines, longer suspensions and additional punishments such as community service, mandatory alcohol education, assessment and treatment, confiscation of vehicles and ignition interlocks.
Remember that a DUI has two sides associated with it. The first is the criminal side with fines and jail time. The second is the administrative side where the license suspension is determined. You can win the criminal side, lose the administrative side, and still lose your license. You can win the administrative side, lose the criminal side and you might be able to keep your license. The penalties increase with each DUI conviction.
DUI charges are serious and can ruin your driving career. Most carriers will fire a driver if he is charged with a DUI or at least take him out of the truck until the DUI is either won or lost by the driver.
Jim C. Klepper is president of Interstate Trucker Ltd., an organization that provides legal defense protection to commercial drivers. Jim is a lawyer who focuses on transportation law and the trucking industry in particular. He works to answer your legal questions about trucking, and he holds his Commercial Drivers License.