On July 31, 2002, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a final rule that included changes to the disqualification regulations (FMCSR 383.51) for drivers who possess a commercial driver’s license (CDL). This rule went into effect Sept. 30, 2002, and all states needed to be in "substantial compliance" no later than Sept. 30, 2005.
Understanding CDL Disqualifications
As fleet or safety professionals, it is important to understand that a number of requirements must be met for drivers to remain qualified to operate equipment that requires a CDL. Certain traffic violations that occur in or out of a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) and the driver’s personal vehicle may have an effect on the eligibility to drive a CMV.
Employers must not allow disqualified drivers operate vehicles at any time. To help employers comply with this rule, there are two regulatory safety nets in place.
The first is FMCSR 383.31, Notification of Conviction for Drivers. This regulation requires the driver to notify both the state and employer of any conviction(s).
The second is FMCSR 391.25, Annual Inquiry and Review Driving Record. This regulation requires the employer to review driver MVRs to ensure the driver is not disqualified and the employee is required to complete a certification of violations.
The driver, as well as the person responsible for reviewing MVRs, must understand the types of violations.
What Are the Major Offenses for CDL Suspension?
- Being under the influence of alcohol as prescribed by state law, or refusing to undergo testing.
- Being under the influence of a controlled substance.
- Leaving the scene of an accident involving a commercial motor vehicle.
- Using a vehicle to commit a felony.
- Using a vehicle in the commission of a felony involving the manufacture, distribution, or dispensing of a controlled substance.
What are CMV-Only Violations?
- Having an alcohol concentration of 0.04% or more.
- Driving with a revoked, suspended, or canceled CDL, or after being disqualified.
- Causing a fatality through the negligent operation of a CMV.
The CDL disqualification period for the first conviction is one year, three years if hauling HAZMAT. A second conviction results in disqualification for life.
If convicted of using a vehicle in the commission of a felony involving the manufacture, distribution, or dispensing of a controlled substance, a driver is disqualied for life with no eligibility for reinstatement.
Serious Violations that Impact CDL Qualification
Serious violations that will result in a CDL disqualification include:
- Excessive speeding — 15 mph or more above the posted speed limit.
- Reckless driving.
- Improper or erratic lane changes.
- Following too closely.
- A traffic violation arising in connection with a fatal traffic accident.
- Driving a CMV without having obtained a CDL.
- Driving a CMV without having a CDL in the driver’s possession.
- Driving a CMV without the proper class of CDL and/or endorsements for the specific vehicle group operated, for passengers or cargo type.
Differences in CDL Disqualification Periods
The time a driver is disqualified from a CDL varies by offense and includes:
- Two serious traffic violations in separate incidents during any three-year period: 60-day disqualification.
- Three serious traffic violations in separate incidents during any three-year period: 120-day disqualification.
If the driver is convicted of two or more serious traffic violations while operating a vehicle other than a CMV, he or she becomes disqualified only if there is a revocation or suspension of driving privileges.
Impact of Out-of-Service Violations
If a driver is convicted of violating an out-of-service order, he or she is disqualified for:
- First offense: 90 days – one year.
- Second offense in a 10-year period: one to five years.
- Third offense in 10 years: three to five years.
Penalties for HAZMAT drivers:
- First offense:180 days – two years.
- Two or more violations in a 10-year period: three to five years.
Railroad & Highway Grade Crossing Offenses
If a driver is convicted of operating a CMV in violation of federal, state, or local law pertaining to any of the six railroad-highway grade crossing requirements, per FMCSR 383.51(d), the following disqualification periods apply:
- First violation: minimum 60 days.
- Second violation during any three-year period: minimum 120 days.
- Three or more violations within any three-year period: minimum one year.
It is important to remind drivers that violations in any type of vehicle could result in a loss of their CDL.
All information reported in this article is based on regulatory minimums. Individual companies or organizations may have more stringent requirements and may remove a driver from operating a CMV. Only the state has the authority to suspend or revoke an individual’s CDL.