A disqualification or suspension of a commercial driver’s license (CDL) can be financially devastating. Avoiding a suspension/disqualification or getting the license reinstated needs to be every commercial driver’s top priority. CDL holders should understand what can lead to suspension or disqualification, learn how to avoid it, and know how to get a suspended CDL reinstated.
The Difference Between CDL Disqualification and Suspension
Some traffic offenses and other violations will result in a CDL disqualification while others will result in a suspension. A disqualification allows the driver to continue operating a standard vehicle but not a commercial motor vehicle (CMV). A suspension means the driver may not operate any kind of vehicle.
While the terms are often used interchangeably, they are different. The conditions that result in a CDL disqualification do not necessarily result in a suspension, although some violations can result in both, depending on state laws—e.g. DWI convictions can result in a suspension as well as a disqualification.
Violations that Can Result in CDL Disqualifications
|Disqualification Period||Disqualifying Offense|
|60 Days||Two serious traffic convictions within 3 years (see below).|
One railroad-highway grade crossing violation while operating a CMV.
|90 Days||First traffic conviction for violating an out-of-service order while person is operating a CMV.|
|120 Days||Three or more serious traffic convictions within 3 years (see below). |
Second railroad/highway grade crossing violation while operating a CMV.
|180 Days||First traffic conviction for operating a CMV while under an out-of-service order.|
First traffic conviction for transporting hazardous materials while under an out-of-service order.
First traffic conviction for transporting 15 passengers or more while under an out-of-service order.
|1 Year||Driving a CMV with a BAC of 0.04% or higher.|
Driving personal vehicle (non-CMV) under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Refusing breathalyzer or chemical test.
Fleeing the scene of an accident resulting in injury or death.
Using a CMV to commit a felony.
Driving a CMV with a revoked, suspended, canceled, or disqualified privilege.
Causing a fatality through the negligent or criminal operation of a CMV.
Making a false statement on any application for a CDL.
Third or subsequent railroad-highway grade crossing violation within three years while operating a CMV.
|2 Years||Second traffic conviction within 10 years for driving a CMV while out-of-service.|
|3 Years||First conviction for one the first seven violations listed under 1-year disqualification while transporting hazardous materials.|
Third or subsequent conviction within 10 years for violating out-of-service orders while operating a CMV.
Second or subsequent conviction within 10 years for violating an out-of-service order while operating a CMV and transporting hazardous materials or transporting 15 passengers or more.
|Lifetime Disqualification||Second conviction for one the first seven violations listed under 1-year disqualification.|
First conviction for using a motor vehicle in the manufacture or illegal distribution of drugs.
Serious Traffic Violations
As mentioned in the chart above, serious traffic violations can result in a CDL disqualification. FMCSA considers the following to be “serious”:
- Excessive speeding (15+ mph above the limit).
- Reckless driving.
- Improper or erratic lane changes.
- Following too closely.
- Using a cell phone or texting while driving a CMV.
- A traffic violation associated with a fatal traffic accident.
- Driving a CMV without a CDL.
- Driving a CMV without a CDL in possession.
- CDL class violation (operating a CMV of a class not covered by the existing license and/or without endorsements for the specific vehicle group operated, for passengers or cargo type).
License Suspensions for CDL Holders
CDL holders can have their license suspended in accordance with the traffic laws of the state in which they are licensed. For example, drivers who receive their CDL from New York State can have their license suspended after three speeding convictions within 18 months—even if none are considered excessive speeding by FMCSA. In addition, a person can have their license suspended in New York after being convicted of traffic violations worth 11 points or more, such as a cell phone violation (5 points) and two red light violations (3 points each).
When a CDL holder’s license has been suspended, the person cannot drive under any circumstances. This means he/she cannot drive a personal vehicle or any of the CMV classes for which he/she is licensed.
It should be noted that license suspensions for non-traffic-related offenses (e.g. failure to pay child support) will also affect one’s CDL and the ability to drive both a CMV and personal vehicle.
CDL Holders and Out-of-State Traffic Violations
CMV drivers often spend time on the roads in states other than the one in which they are licensed. Violations that occur out-of-state are almost always reported back to the licensing state, which means they will appear on one’s driving record. While an outside state cannot suspend a license, it can suspend or revoke driving privileges within those state limits. This suspension will almost always be reported back to the licensing state, which may choose to suspend the license entirely.
How to Avoid a CDL Suspension or Disqualification
The most effective way to avoid losing one’s CDL license or qualifications is to not get convicted of the many traffic offense and other violations that can cause the problem. CDL holders should make every effort to beat or plea down traffic tickets or other charges that can have an impact on their license status. The best way to do that is by hiring an attorney with experience working with commercial drivers. An attorney can evaluate the charges and develop a strategy with the best chance of keeping points off the license and preventing a conviction.
What to Do If Your CDL License is Suspended or Disqualified
Restricted Licenses for Commercial Drivers
A person whose CDL was suspended for alcohol or drug-related offenses may be eligible for a conditional license. This can be used to drive to and from pre-authorized locations but cannot be used to drive a commercial vehicle. Drivers who had an alcohol-related conviction in the past five years are not eligible.
Those whose CDL was suspended for any other reason may be eligible for a restricted license. This is only available for those who have never previously had their license suspended. In addition, a driver cannot receive a restricted license if there are actions the driver can take to lift the suspension (e.g. paying a past-due traffic ticket). Whether or not the restriction will allow the driver to operate a CMV will be up to the judge based on the circumstances of the case.
Appealing a Suspension or Disqualification
A suspension or disqualification of one’s NYS-issued CDL can be appealed through the court where the traffic offense occurred. CDL holders are advised to contact a traffic ticket attorney with experience helping commercial drivers. A skilled attorney can evaluate the evidence of the case and develop a strategy to help get ones CDL reinstated. Read more about appealing CDL suspensions here.
Who Should You Contact?
If you or someone you love has had their CDL suspended, disqualified, or is concerned a violation will result in such action, it is imperative that you get legal advice right away. The attorneys of the Rosenblum Law have defended many commercial drivers from license-impacting violations and life-impacting suspensions. Email or call 888-883-5529 for a free consultation about your case.