What Happens When You Get a DUI as a Commercial Driver?

Holders of a CDL face tough consequences for a DUI

By Judy Malmon, J.D. | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on September 7, 2023

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Drinking and driving don’t mix. This is true for anyone sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle, but there are some added risks and stiffer consequences for drivers who possess a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).

Commercial drivers are held to higher standards of safety. Increased risk accompanies more time on the roads with large, complicated vehicles—including those carrying passengers.

Accidents involving commercial vehicles typically cause greater and more serious damage. As a result, most states prosecute driving under the influence more aggressively for CDL drivers than for non-commercial drivers. 

What is the BAC Legal Limit for CDL Holders?

Most state DUI laws follow the CDL and alcohol regulations set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Under these laws, if you’re charged with a DUI while operating a commercial vehicle, you will be found to be impaired if you have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .04 percent—half the .08 level required for other drivers.

If you’re driving a personal vehicle and receive a DUI charge, the .08 standard will apply, but penalties will come under your commercial licensure. 

Additionally, under the FMCSA regulations, commercial drivers cannot operate a vehicle or other “safety-sensitive functions” within four hours of having consumed alcohol.

What Are the Penalties for a CDL DUI First Offense?

DUI penalties vary widely by state but typically include some combination of fines, license suspension, jail time, mandatory treatment or counseling, and community service. The severity of the penalties depends in part on whether you’re charged with a DUI misdemeanor or felony.

By way of example, a state with some of the most severe penalties for a DUI conviction is Arizona. Penalties for a standard first offense include:

  • 10 days of jail time;
  • Fines;
  • License suspension; and
  • Having an interlock device installed on your vehicle for one year. This device tests a driver’s breath for alcohol before they can start the vehicle.

For CDL holders, the penalties only go up from there. A first-time DUI under a CDL is considered a class 1 misdemeanor, the most serious category of misdemeanor, and will result in a one-year suspension period of a commercial license. In addition:

  • The driver’s regular license will be suspended for 30 to 90 days;
  • They will face up to $2,500 in fines; and
  • Up to six months of jail time.

Additional requirements may also apply, such as mandatory alcohol counseling.

Employers face harsh consequences as well, including an increase in insurance rates and restrictions on employing drivers with a DUI record. Once fired because of a DUI, it can be hard to find another driving job, even after the license suspension has run out.

What Happens to My CDL After a Second DUI Offense?

If you receive a second DUI, it’s game over for your CDL.

Your CDL suspension will be permanent. This is true for any second DUI offense, whether you received your first DUI before or after you obtained your commercial license, and applies to all classes of commercial license (Class A, B, or C).

Can You Get a DUI for Drug Use?

Be aware that you can also be charged under state DUI laws for the presence of drug metabolites (byproducts) in your system.

Several states have enacted ‘per se’ prohibitions on driving privileges while drugs are present in your body in any amount, whether or not you are impaired. Legally prescribed medications are an exception to this type of prosecution, but obtaining a substance legally is not enough.

Get an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer for Your DUI Charges

Because a commercial DUI can have a devastating impact on a driver’s future, from loss of your CDL to jail time, it’s crucial that you have legal counsel if you’re facing such criminal charges.

Use the Super Lawyers directory to locate and contact a law firm, and an experienced DUI defense attorney will be able to assess your DUI case for potential challenges and defenses. 

For more general information about this legal area, including DUI per se versus impairment laws, blood alcohol concentration tests, and potential legal defenses, see our DUI/DWI law overview.

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