Criminal Law and the CDL


A Commercial Driver License (CDL) is a driver license authorizing an individual to drive a class of commercial motor vehicle, which is defined as any motor vehicle designed or used to transport passengers or property if the vehicle:

  1. has a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  2. is designed to transport sixteen or more persons, including the driver; or
  3. is transporting hazardous materials and is required to be placarded in accordance with 49 CFR Part 172, subpart F.[1]

The three classes of Commercial Driver Licenses are:

Class A. Any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds provided the GVWR of the vehicle(s) being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.

Class B. Any single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle not in excess of 10,000 pounds GVWR.

Class C. Any single vehicle, or combination of vehicles, that does not meet the definition of Class A or Class B, but is either designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver, or is transporting material that has been designated as hazardous. Note: A bus may be either Class B or Class C depending on whether the GVWR is 26,001 pounds or more.

Federal law requires that CDL drivers crossing state lines must be 21 years of age. States may set different age limits for commercial drivers that operate solely within the state. An applicant for a CDL possesses highly specialized knowledge and skills to operate a commercial motor vehicle, and must pass written and driving tests. Individuals who possess a CDL are held to much higher standards than non-commercial drivers. And for many, the loss of a CDL can mean the loss of the ability to earn a good living, where the employment requires the operation of commercial vehicles and possession of a valid CDL.[2]



Drivers holding a CDL are affected more harshly than the holder of a regular driver license. A DUI or DUAC conviction, as well as the accompanying breath, blood or urine testing, can result in the loss of the CDL for longer periods, and thereby the loss of employment.

In South Carolina, a CDL holder is disqualified (the term used with CDLs as opposed to suspended) from driving a commercial vehicle for one year if the driver:

  1. Refuses to submit to a breath, blood, or urine test;
  2. Is convicted of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or Driving with an Unlawful Alcohol Content (DUAC) while operating any vehicle; or
  3. Submits a breath sample of .04% BAC (breath alcohol content) while operating a commercial vehicle.

The risk of disqualification for a CDL is not only present with DUI and the associated breath, blood and urine testing, but a number of other criminal offenses will also result in the loss of a CDL, such as:

  1. Use of a Vehicle in the Commission of a Felony Offense;[3]
  2. Leaving the Scene of an Accident;
  3. Negligent Operation of a Commercial Vehicle Resulting in Death; and
  4. Driving Under Suspension (with the disqualification for a CDL increased to a period of 3 years if the individual was transporting hazardous materials while under suspension)

Additionally, a second offense of any of the above offenses, or any combination thereof, the CDL disqualification is for life.


Ordinary traffic offenses classified as “Serious” for purposes of the law can also result in CDL disqualification. The violation of 2 serious traffic offenses within a three-year period results in a sixty-day disqualification, and a third violation within the three-year period increases the disqualification to one hundred twenty days. SC Code 56-1-2030(22) enumerates the offenses classified as serious traffic violations as follows:

  1. Speeding 15 MPH in excess of the posted speed limit;
  2. Reckless Driving;
  3. Following Too Closely;
  4. Improper Lane Change;
  5. Operating a Commercial Vehicle without a Physical Possession of the CDL;
  6. Violation of a Traffic Law Resulting in Death or Serious Bodily Injury;
  7. Operating a Commercial Vehicle without a valid CDL;
  8. Operating a Commercial Vehicle without the Proper Class of CDL for the Commercial Vehicle Being Operated, Type of Passenger or Cargo Being Transported; and
  9. Any other offense listed in 49 CFR 383.5 and 383.51.


Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Offenses include:

  1. The driver is not required to always stop, but fails to slow down and check that tracks are clear of an approaching train;
  2. The driver is not required to always stop, but fails to stop before reaching the crossing, if the tracks are not clear;
  3. The driver is always required to stop, but fails to stop before driving onto the crossing;
  4. The driver fails to have sufficient space to drive completely through the crossing without stopping;
  5. The driver fails to obey a traffic control device or the directions of an enforcement official at the crossing; and
  6. The driver fails to negotiate a crossing because of insufficient undercarriage clearance.


Violating a driver or vehicle out-of-service order transporting hazardous or non-hazardous materials or while operating a vehicle designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver.

Roadside Inspectors follow Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) criteria for placing drivers Out-of-Service (OOS) for regulatory violations. During a routine stop, the Roadside Inspector will ask the driver some basic questions about his or her recent activities and ask for the day’s log sheet as well as the previous seven days’ worth, and possibly various supporting documents such as trip bills, receipts, tolls, etc.

Some examples of violations resulting in an OOS include:

On Duty Beyond Maximum Periods Permitted
No driver shall drive after being on duty in excess of the maximum periods permitted by this part. Part 395.13 (b)(1).

No Record of Duty Status (RODS)
No record of duty status in possession, when one is required. Part 395.8(a)

No Previous 7 Days Logs
Failing to have in possession a record of duty status for the previous seven (7) consecutive days. Part (395.8(k)(2) — See Exception in Part 395.13(b)(3) – if the duty status is not current on the day of examination and the prior day, but driver has completed records of duty status up to that time (previous 6 days) — the driver will be given the opportunity to make the duty status record current, but may be cited for 395.8(f)(1) – Driver’s record of duty status not current (which is better than an OOS).

False Record of Duty Status
A false record of duty status is one that does not accurately reflect the driver’s actual activities and duty status (including time and location of each duty status change and the time spent in each duty status) in an apparent attempt to conceal a violation of an hours of service limitation within the current 60/70 hour rule period. Part 395.8(e)

Consequences of Being Placed Out-of-Service
• The driver must be placed Out-of-Service for ten (10) consecutive hours. The driver cannot drive any commercial motor vehicle while in OOS status.
• In addition, a driver may get a fine up to $200, per violation, per log-book page.
• The company may receive a $1,000 or greater fine by the FMCSA after a compliance audit or CSA intervention.
• The company will get CSA points.

Drivers can be placed Out-of-Service, if not medically fit, missing their prescription glasses or contacts, ill, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, not having a CDL in their possession, driving on a suspended license, etc.

Drivers should abide by any and all OOS orders. Fines to a company for violation of an OOS order can run in thousands of dollars and/or result in suspension of credentials to operate.


There are a number of requirements that apply only to those with a commercial driver’s license. Many of these requirements are set on the federal level. Drivers can also be penalized for the following CDL related offenses:

  • Overweight. Vehicles must have specific permits if they carry an oversized load. Permits can be issued annually or per-trip and cannot be transferred from vehicle to vehicle.
  • Log Books. CDL drivers must have a logbook that is up to date and that reflects hours driven. Falsifying or failing to keep a logbook can result in federal penalties and is punishable by up to six months in jail.
  • Speeding while towing a trailer. If driving above 15 miles per hour over the speed limit, this can result in suspension of a license.
  • Grade restrictions. A commercial driver who drives on a road where he or she is not permitted due to its grade (steepness) can be subject to penalties up to a 60-day license suspension for a first offense.

Drivers are also not allowed to have more than one CDL. If you are found having multiple CDLs from different states, you may be fined up to $5,000 and jailed. The court can also keep your home state license, and will return licenses from all other states.


The Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999 states that drivers with a CDL will have their CDL disqualified if they are convicted of certain types of moving violations in their personal vehicle. These may occur if: (1) a driver loses his license to operate his personal vehicle, whether by having it suspended, canceled or revoked, and the cause was a serious speeding violating, he will lose his CDL from somewhere between 60 and 120 days, and (2) the personal vehicle license is revoked, suspended or canceled due to an alcohol violation, the CDL will be lost for one year. The CDL will be lost for life if the driver receives a second alcohol conviction, even if the offense was committed in is personal car. Something called a “hardship” license to operate a CMV exists, but drivers may not obtain one of these if they have lost their license to operate personal vehicles. If you are convicted of any traffic violation other than parking violations, regardless of what type of vehicle you are driving, you must tell your employer of that within 30 days.

Last, in the event an individual fails a drug or alcohol test, or refuses to submit to the test, the individual is disqualified for the CDL. The disqualification for this situation continues until the individual receives federally approved drug and alcohol counseling. If an individual is disqualified in this situation three times within a five-year period, the disqualification is for life.

[1] Subpart F includes items such as explosives, poisons, flammable material, oxygen, gas, and radioactive material.

[2] CDLs are governed pursuant to the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999 (subsequently modified by the Patriot Act, to provide that out-of-state transfers of CDLs were subject to certain security measures particularly in regard to transportation of hazardous materials.

[3] An individual who commits a felony offense involving the manufacture, distribution, or dispensing of a controlled substance or possession with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense a controlled substance is disqualified from driving a commercial vehicle for life.