Commercial drivers have a lower “legal limit” for driving under the influence offenses. California Vehicle Code §23152(d) makes it unlawful to drive a commercial vehicle with a BAC (blood alcohol content) of .04% or higher. That is one-half the legal limit of the blood alcohol level for other motorists.
However, the lower legal limit only applies if the driver operates a commercial vehicle. For example, a person with a CDL (commercial driver’s license) has a legal limit of .08% when operating a non-commercial vehicle.
Truck drivers need to understand the BAC limit of .04% is a strict limit. The police can charge you with DUI even though the alcohol in your system does not impair your driving abilities. Merely having a BAC of .04% or higher while driving a commercial truck creates the presumption your driving abilities are impaired.
The penalties for a conviction of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs for a commercial driver can be severe. However, there are DUI defenses to a chemical DUI test. You should contact a California DUI lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your legal options for fighting commercial DUI charges.
Why is the BAC Limit Lower for Commercial Truck Drivers in California?
One reason for a lower BAC limit for truck drivers is the danger posed by DUI accidents. Large truck accidents cause catastrophic injuries and traffic fatalities. Over one-third of the deaths and injuries from truck accidents are people not in the truck. Passenger vehicles cannot withstand the impact with a semi-truck.
What Happens if a Commercial Driver Refuses a Chemical Test After a DUI Arrest in California?
California’s implied consent law requires states that anyone who drives a motor vehicle in California gives their consent to a chemical blood test or breath test to determine the alcohol content in their blood. The implied consent law applies after the police lawfully arrest a person on a DUI charge.
A police officer may request that you take pre-assessment tests during a DUI stop. However, you are not required to submit to field sobriety tests, breath tests, or cheek swabs before a DUI arrest.
However, refusal to submit to a chemical test after being arrested for drunk driving results in automatic suspension of your commercial driver’s license. Furthermore, refusal to submit to a chemical test results in additional jail time for a commercial DUI conviction.
The loss of driving privileges for refusing a chemical DUI test for truck drivers depends on the number of prior DUI convictions within ten years. The penalties are:
- No DUI convictions within ten years – one-year license suspension, 48 hours added to your jail sentence, and six extra months of DUI school
- One DUI conviction within ten years – two-year license suspension and 96 hours added to your jail sentence
- Two DUI convictions within ten years – three-year license suspension and ten days added to your jail sentence
- Three or more DUI convictions within ten years – three-year license suspension and 18 days added to your jail sentence
Unfortunately, a commercial truck driver cannot obtain a restricted license to drive a commercial vehicle during the period of their driver’s license suspension.
However, they may want to talk to a Southern California DUI defense attorney about the possibility of obtaining a restricted driver’s license for non-commercial vehicles. California DUI defense lawyers can also represent commercial truck drivers at DMV hearings to fight the automatic suspension of a CDL after a chemical test.
A CDL driver may be able to downgrade their driver’s license to a Class C or Class M driver’s license to operate non-commercial cars and motorcycles. If so, the person might be able to qualify for a restricted driver’s license.
While truck drivers might lose their jobs because they cannot operate commercial motor vehicles, they could drive to and from another job other than driving a truck with a restricted license. Restricted driver’s licenses also allow the person to take a dependent child to and from school if no public bus service or school bus is available. They can also take themselves and family members for medical care.
Penalties for Commercial DUI Convictions in California
The DUI laws governing commercial DUI cases are strict. Whether your DUI arrest was in Long Beach, San Francisco, or elsewhere in California, you need experienced legal advice immediately after a commercial drunk driving arrest. Your job depends on the outcome of the DUI case.
The penalties for driving a commercial vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol depend on your prior DUI record and whether injuries or deaths occurred because of a DUI accident.
Commercial DUI First Offense Misdemeanor
The penalties for a first-time commercial DUI with no third party injuries are:
- Fines and penalty assessments between $1,500 and $2,000
- Up to six months in county jail
- Informal or summary probation for three to five years
- Court-approved DUI school for three months to nine months
- Driver’s license suspension for at least one year
As discussed above, if a commercial driver refuses a chemical DUI test, additional jail time is added to the sentence in addition to a mandatory one-year suspended driver’s license for refusal to take the blood or breath test after a DUI arrest.
Loss of CDL Driving Privileges for a DUI Conviction in a Non-Commercial Vehicle
It is also important to note that under California Vehicle Code §15300, a commercial truck driver convicted of a DUI offense in a non-commercial vehicle cannot operate a commercial motor vehicle for one year for a first-time DUI offense. Therefore, your CDL could be suspended even if you are convicted of drunk driving in your personal vehicle.
Lifetime Revocation of CDL Privileges for a Second DUI Conviction
You lose your commercial driver’s license for life for a second DUI offense. It does not matter whether you are driving a non-commercial or commercial vehicle. If the police arrest you for a second DUI offense, contact a California DUI lawyer immediately to discuss fighting the DUI charges.
Penalties for DUI Accidents Resulting in an Injury
If a CDL driver causes a drunk driving accident that injures a third party, the driver faces a misdemeanor or felony DUI charges. DUI resulting in injury is a wobbler offense. The prosecutor decides whether to charge the driver with a felony or misdemeanor based on the facts of the case.
A misdemeanor commercial DUI conviction with injuries can result in:
- Fines up to $5,000
- Five days to one year in county jail
- Summary (informal) probation for three to five years
- Suspended driver’s license for one or three years
- Payment of restitution to the accident victim
- Up to 30 months of court-approved alcohol/drug education program
Felony commercial DUI convictions increase the severity of the penalties. In addition, you can be punished by serving time in state prison. You could lose your driver’s license for five years and be designated as a Habitual Traffic Offender.
The exact punishment depends on prior DUI convictions, the number of people injured, and the severity of the injuries. If a third party sustains great bodily injury, it counts as a strike under California’s Three Strikes law.
Fighting Commercial DUI Charges in California
Drivers holding a CDL have a lot at stake when they face charges of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. First, do not talk to the police officers or the prosecutor without an attorney present. Contact an experienced California DUI defense attorney as soon as possible. The sooner you have a lawyer handling your DUI case, the better chance you have of beating DUI charges.
A DUI arrest is not a conviction. However, you need an aggressive defense strategy. Relying on “innocent until proven guilty” is not advisable.
Your DUI lawyer thoroughly investigates the circumstances of your DUI stop and DUI arrest. If police officers lack probable cause for a DUI stop or arrest, your attorney files a motion to suppress evidence. If the judge finds the police violated your rights, the evidence collected by the police could be thrown out. Without the evidence, the prosecution may be unable to prove the DUI charges against you.
Other potential defenses to DUI charges for a commercial driver include:
- Police officers violated Title 17 procedures while conducting a chemical test
- The driver has a rising blood alcohol level at the time of the blood or breath test
- The officers failed to explain to the driver the consequences of refusing a chemical DUI test
- The police arrested the truck driver after an illegal DUI checkpoint
- The driver had a medical condition that produced incorrect BAC levels and/or caused the driver to “fail” the field sobriety tests
Depending on the facts of your case, there could be other DUI defenses available. If you cannot avoid a DUI conviction, hire a California DUI defense attorney to negotiate a plea bargain. An attorney may be able to secure better terms for the plea agreement.
Instead of pleading guilty to DUI charges, your attorney may negotiate a wet reckless or dry reckless plea agreement. Avoiding a DUI conviction is the goal for a driver with a commercial driver’s license.