Bottom Line
Road Law
The eyes of Texas are upon you

Jeff McConnell
James Mennella
attorneys at law

Don’t mess with Texas. In this issue of Land Line, we’ll tell you about the end, and supposed final sunset, of your ability as a CDL driver to take traffic school (DDC) or get a deferral for most traffic tickets issued in Texas.

As you know, in 2002, the feds amended the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations to prevent states from dealing in what’s called “citation masking,” also known as hiding convictions of moving violations. Here are some of the most common questions we’ve received regarding the new federal regulations.

QuestionWhen I receive tickets in Texas, I can usually call the court and request traffic school for dismissal or a deferral. I recently got a ticket, but when I called the court, they said they no longer allowed traffic school or deferrals for CDL holders. What’s going on?

Answer: When the changes were made to the FMCSRs last year, a section was added that prohibits states from doing what the feds call “citation masking.” This means that if a state court requires you to plead guilty or no contest to a charge before they’ll grant a deferral or DDC, the court has to report that “guilty” or “no contest” plea to the state Department of Transportation even if your case was dismissed because you successfully completed your deferral or DDC.

In Texas, many courts would allow a commercial driver to take traffic school and/or allow a “deferred disposition” with an end result of dismissing the original charge. Now, with the new FMCSRs, Texas courts are prohibited from keeping your traffic conviction “in house.”

QuestionSo now what can I do if I receive a ticket in Texas?

Answer: If you receive your ticket before Sept. 1, 2003, and the court is still offering deferred disposition or traffic school, do it. However, many Texas courts have already stopped traffic school and deferred dispositions for CDL holders. Depending on the type of ticket you receive, you may want to have a trial. Remember, there are many violations as a CDL holder that you cannot afford to plead guilty or no contest to, and doing so may result in a license suspension or CDL disqualification. To stay qualified to drive, your only option may be to have a trial and then an appeal, if necessary. The bottom line ... with the changes that are taking place now, it’s even more important you consult with an attorney before you pay any citation.

QuestionWhat should I do when I get a ticket in a state besides Texas?

Answer: Although many states have a type of diversion or deferral program, all state laws are the same. For example, in some states, a pre-trial diversion/deferral does not require a defendant to enter a guilty or no contest plea, which is the key in the citation-masking provision. If a court will grant you a deferral/diversion without making you plead guilty or no contest to the charge first, you’re usually home free. But, if the state law requires you to plead guilty/no contest before you can request a deferral/diversion, the court must report your conviction to the state DOT even if you successfully complete your diversion/deferral/traffic school.

Remember: As long as you’re not required to enter a guilty or no contest plea and a court is offering to dismiss your ticket with timely completion of a traffic school or a diversion/deferral period, then you should have no problem participating in such a plea offer and keeping the “conviction” off your record.

We hope you can use the information in this column to help with everyday, real life problems you face on the road. We invite you to send us any questions or comments you may have regarding transportation law to Road Law, 1330 N. Classen Blvd., Suite 215, Oklahoma City, OK, 73106; fax to (405) 272-0558; contact us through our Web site at; or call us at (405) 272-0555. We look forward to hearing from you.