CDL final rule toughens truckdriver penalties

| 8/5/2002
Q and A: How tough is tough?

Effective Sept. 30, 2002, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is making it tougher to keep your CDL if you run afoul of the standards set forth in the final rule. And the penalties established for certain traffic violations occurring while operating your commercial truck can turn around and bite you in the butt even while you're tooling down the boulevard in your Camaro.

To get a good idea of what changes have been made and why, OOIDA offers this CDL "Q and A."

Question: I thought these rules were set years ago. What's with the changes?
Answer: The final rule implements provisions of the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999 and combines two CDL rulemakings proposed in 2001.

Question: Why the emphasis on how truckers drive while in their personal vehicles?
Answer: In that act, the MCSIA of 1999, Congress issued instructions to FMCSA to issue regulations requiring the disqualification of CDL holders convicted of a serious offense while operating a non-CMV.

According to the July 31 Federal Register, which documents the proceedings, Congress chose not to distinguish between "risk-taking behavior" in a passenger car or a CMV, in "the interest of safety." Essentially, it said truckers are professional drivers. That's what they do. Drive. So we should expect them to be professionals all the time.

Question: So, can I lose my CDL if I am convicted of committing a serious traffic violation in my car?
Answer: Yes. The FMCSA will require states to revoke your CDL if you are convicted of any offense on their growing "serious traffic" violations list while driving your truck or while driving your personal vehicle (non-CMV).

Question: What's on the expanded list of "serious" violations?
Answer: The list of serious traffic violations has been expanded to include: (1) no driving a CMV if you have not obtained a CDL; (2) no driving without having your CDL in your possession; (3) no driving a CMV if you have not met the minimum standards for the specific class of CMV being driven or type of cargo being transported.

Question: What other offenses can disqualify me from driving my truck?
Answer: The rule also adds two new disqualifying offenses that only apply while driving your truck: driving a CMV after a CDL was revoked, suspended or canceled for operating a CMV; and causing a fatality through the negligent or criminal operation of a CMV.

In addition, are the new rules that will get you while you are driving a non-CMV as well. At least a one-year disqualification applies for leaving the scene of an accident or using the vehicle to commit a felony. If you are using the vehicle to dispense, distribute or manufacture a controlled substance, you are in big trouble and you'll lose your CDL for life, first conviction. This applies if you are driving a CMV or non-CMV.

Question: What about the final rules for drugs/alcohol? Are they different?
Answer: Under the current rule, a truckdriver can lose his/her CDL for a year if driving a truck with an alcohol level of .04 (or greater), or if they violate state DWI laws. What's different is you can lose your CDL now while driving a non-CMV. This means if you are guilty of a BAC of .04 while driving your truck, you lose your CDL for a year. If you blow .04 in your personal vehicle, you will not lose your CDL under the new rule, as FMCSA only has the authority to establish a minimum alcohol concentration disqualification standard for CDL holders. As with other minimum standards, each state is free to be more stringent, with both CDL and non-CDL holder licensed by their state. So if your BAC is found to exceed .08 or whatever your state law specifies, it doesn't matter what you are driving. Your CDL is history for at least one year.

Question: What happens if I refuse a BAC test?
Answer: If a CDL holder refuses to be tested, regardless of what he/she are driving, a one-year disqualification would follow. A second conviction leads to permanent disqualification.

Question: In what other areas did the rules get tougher?
Answer: The rules also call for harsher penalties for violating railroad crossing laws and out of service orders. Other parts of the new rules target state procedures that have allowed scofflaw drivers to escape notice. For example, some states issue "hardship" licenses to drivers who may lose their livelihoods if their license is suspended. States will no longer be allowed to issue such licenses for drivers whose CDLs have been suspended.

Question: What happens if the state does not comply with these federal rules?
Answer: Money will be the tool of persuasion. Within three years after the rule's effective date, FMCSA will penalize states not in substantial compliance by withholding Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) money. MCSAP funds provide financial assistance to states through federal grants.

Also, the new rule allows FMCSA to prohibit states that do not comply with this rule from issuing, renewing, transferring, or upgrading CDLs.

Question: If the state I live in does not comply, where am I supposed to get or renew my CDL?
Answer: You'll have to go to another state. States that comply with FMCSA CDL requirements will be permitted to issue non- resident CDLs to drivers living in states that have lost that privilege. Note, the rule says those states will be permitted, or allowed, to issue a CDL, but it doesn't say the state must do so.

Question: When I renew or transfer, do I have to tell the driver-licensing agency in my state where I used to have a license?
Answer: Yes. The final rule requires that applicants obtaining, transferring, or renewing a CDL tell their state driver-licensing agency where they previously held any kind of motor vehicle licenses for the past ten years. This enables the issuing agency to obtain a candidate's complete driving record.

For more information, go to the FMCSA's web site at There's a helpful fact sheet on this site.
-- OOIDA & Land Line staff