To operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in the United States, a driver must possess a commercial driver’s license. CMV operators are subject to special driving rules as well as strict penalties for violations. This article outlines some of the state and federal CDL regulations related to revocation and suspension of commercial driving privileges.
The federal government has designated some traffic offenses as “serious traffic violations.” Commercial drivers with two serious traffic violations in three years will face a minimum 60-day CDL revocation. Having three serious violations in three years carries a minimum 120-day CDL revocation.
Under federal law, serious traffic violations include excessive speeding (usually 15 miles per hour or more over the limit), improper lane changes, following too closely, reckless driving, distracted driving violations, driving a CMV without the proper CDL in your possession, and any traffic violation that results in a fatality.
Federal law applies to all states. But individual states can—and often do—add violations to the list of serious traffic violations that are mandated by federal law. Some common violations that states define as serious violations include failure to render aid (hit-and-run) and possessing alcohol in a commercial vehicle.
The federal government also requires a minimum one-year CDL revocation for any “major violation” (the revocation is a minimum of three years if the driver was operating a hazmat CMV).
Major violations under federal law include driving under the influence (DUI), refusing a chemical test, leaving the scene of an accident, using a motor vehicle to commit a felony, driving a CMV while revoked, and negligently causing a CMV-related fatality. Many of these violations will lead to CDL revocation even if committed in a non-CMV vehicle. A second or subsequent major offense will result in lifetime disqualification, but many states allow reinstatement after ten years. Using a CMV for human trafficking or controlled substance distribution will result in permanent lifetime CDL disqualification (without the possibility of reinstatement).
Again, many states expand on the federal definition of major violations and also include offenses such as fleeing and eluding an officer and vehicular manslaughter. Some states also outright prohibit CDL issuance for certain convictions. For example, in Alabama, registered sex offenders can’t drive passenger or school bus CMVs.
While CMV operators are subject to all the standard rules of the road, they’re additionally subject to special rules related to railroad crossings and temporary “out-of-service orders.” Failing to properly stop at or obey railroad signs will result in a 60-, 120-, or 365-day CDL revocation depending on the driver’s record. Law enforcement can issue an out-of-service order for certain safety violations. These orders temporarily prohibit the driver from operating a CMV. Driving during an out-of-service order will result in CDL revocation of one-to-five years.
Federal law has many rules related specifically to CDL issuance and revocation. But anytime a CDL holder’s normal state driving privileges are revoked or suspended, so too are his or her CDL privileges.