Attorneys at Law
In this issue we address changes in traffic laws that are strangling the legal, pretrial options available to commercial drivers across the United States. You may recall, the Feds issued a “citation masking” prohibition in changes made to the FMCSRs in 2002. According to those changes, the states have until Sept. 30, 2005, to be in substantial compliance with the new rules, but many are not waiting. Here’s what’s happening.
Question: I recently got a ticket in Kansas for speeding 15 mph over the posted limit. Normally, I just call the court or county attorney and work out a plea. But, when I called this time, I was told that they no longer offer any pretrial relief to CDL holders. Now what do I do?
Answer: You’re not the only one having this problem. Many of the states where relief was readily available are no longer able to offer that same relief because of the new government mandates. In your particular situation, you still have two options: You can plead guilty to the charge and pay the fine, or plead not guilty and have the matter set for trial.
Remember, you are charged with a “serious” violation under the FMCSRs and will need to check your MVR prior to pleading guilty to the charge. If you have had a “serious” violation in the last three years, your only option would be to plead “not guilty” and set the matter for trial.
Question: I got a ticket in California for “Improper Lane Use.” I called the clerk to get traffic school, but she told me that I wasn’t eligible for traffic school as a CDL holder. Aren’t we allowed to take traffic school every 18 months in California?
Answer: Usually a driver can qualify to attend traffic school for a California traffic citation every 18 months in order to dismiss a single violation. However, there are many courts that no longer allow CDL holders to take traffic school at all. This may be in part to the new citation masking provisions. Remember, citation masking prohibits a state from accepting a “guilty” or “no contest” plea and then failing to transmit the conviction to the state department of motor vehicles.
Be careful with an offer from a court to attend traffic school. Many traffic school programs require that you plead guilty to the charge, but upon completion of the traffic school, the case is dismissed. These “dismissal with traffic school” cases are potentially the very ones that may end up being reported and appear on your driver abstract even though you attended and successfully completed the required traffic school program in a timely manner.
In fact, there is a bill pending in the California Legislature that would prohibit CDL holders from taking traffic school for any type of violation. If this bill becomes law, your options will diminish significantly.
Question: So, what are CDL holders supposed to do when we get tickets in jurisdictions where we can’t get pretrial relief?
Answer: It’s simply going to depend on each driver’s own predicament. Your MVR, company policy, suspension/disqualification criteria of your licensing state and insurance premiums will dictate how to proceed. It’s going to take a large number of trials in order to get the courts to find more creative ways to offer relief to CDL holders, because, as you very well know, CDL holders simply can’t plead guilty to and pay traffic violations and expect to remain qualified to drive.
Question: I got a speeding ticket in Texas recently and called the court to see if I could get it amended to a non-moving charge. The judge answered the phone and told me that she couldn’t give me any relief on the matter and that my only option was to go to trial. I live in Wisconsin, and I don’t drive a designated route in Texas. It would be almost impossible for me to come back to Texas for a trial. What can I do?
Answer: Well, now may be a good time to check the status of your frequent flyer miles, get a cheap plane ticket and go back to Texas and testify to your innocence at trial. Taking your case to trial is quickly becoming the only option for a lot of commercial drivers.
Unfortunately, recent changes in Texas law, as well as the FMCSRs, have made it almost impossible for the courts in that state to grant any pretrial relief. Texas has, in particular, become extremely “hard-core” to requests for relief by CDL holders.
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, 3441 W. Memorial, Suite 4, Oklahoma City, OK 73134; fax to (405) 463-0565; contact us through our Web site at www.roadlaw.net, or call us at (405) 463-0566.