As a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) holder, you probably spend a lot of time behind the wheel of your work vehicle, not to mention your personal car. There’s a chance that at some point you may receive a ticket for some type of traffic violation. However, Pennsylvania law holds you to a higher standard than other drivers, which means a CDL traffic violation carries more severe penalties and other consequences. Not only can you face fines and rising insurance rates — your whole livelihood may be threatened.
When a ticket impacts your entire household and ability to earn a living, representation from an experienced CDL traffic attorney is essential. At Worgul, Sarna & Ness, our Pittsburgh traffic lawyers understand that CDL traffic violations and tickets can have a considerable impact on your career and family. There are ways to defend these cases and avoid negative effects on your CDL license. Let us help you obtain the best possible outcome.
Overview of Pennsylvania CDL Laws
The Federal Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act was enacted in 1986, requiring all US states to implement laws and regulations regarding CDL licenses and activities within their respective jurisdictions. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is the state agency that administers the program, ensuring that commercial drivers have the proper skills and knowledge to operate vehicles falling into different classes.
- Class A: A vehicle or combination of vehicles weighing 26,001 or more pounds, comprising cargo that weighs more than 10,000 pounds. By “combination,” the statute refers to a semi towing a trailer.
- Class B: A single vehicle weighing 26,001 or more, in which the cargo is 10,000 or less.
- Class C: This category includes all other vehicles that don’t meet the criteria of Class A or Class B, but which are intended to transport 16 or more passengers. Vehicles carrying hazardous materials are also categorized within Class C.
Categories of CDL Traffic Violations
As part of its duties, PennDOT also oversees CDL traffic violations, license suspensions, and disqualifications for a CDL license. There are several violations that can lead to a CDL ticket or other charges. Offenses can be considered “serious” or “major” traffic violations.
Serious CDL Traffic Violations
These CDL violations are not as grave as those designated as “major,” mainly because the conduct doesn’t present as considerable of a risk to the public. Still, the laws are still very strict. Serious CDL violations are:
- Speeding at a rate of 15 miles per hour or more in excess of the posted limit;
- Improper lane changes;
- Following too closely;
- Driving without a CDL, or driving without a properly issued CDL in your possession;
- Operating a commercial vehicle without the proper Class CDL, according to weight, number of passengers, and type of hazardous material as described above;
- Driving recklessly or in a way as to demonstrate a disregard for the safety of people or property; and,
- Additional serious traffic violations listed by statute.
Major CDL Traffic Violations
Some violations of traffic or CDL laws are classified as “major” because they’re quite severe and present a safety risk to others on the road. Examples include:
- Leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident;
- Refusing to take a chemical test to determine blood alcohol concentration (BAC), in violation of Pennsylvania’s implied consent statute;
- Using the commercial vehicle in connection with committing a felony, including various acts that violate Pennsylvania law on drug possession, trafficking, or manufacturing;
- Operating a commercial vehicle while the CDL has been suspended or revoked, or having some other CDL disqualification;
- Causing a death through negligent operation of a commercial vehicle; and,
- Other violations considered major under federal and state law.
DUI as a CDL Holder
If you’re charged with drunk driving in Pennsylvania, the matter is automatically considered a major violation. Acts that could lead to an arrest include:
- Driving any vehicle while under the influence of controlled substances;
- Operating a commercial vehicle with a BAC of .04 or higher;
- Driving any vehicle in violation of state drunk driving laws.
When you are a CDL holder, it doesn’t matter whether you were operating a commercial vehicle or your personal car. If you’re arrested for DUI because you’re impaired or your BAC is above the legal limit of .08 percent, your conduct is a major CDL violation.
Penalties for Traffic Violations With a CDL
As a CDL holder, the sanctions under federal or state law depend on whether the offense is a major or serious violation and the number of prior offenses.
Serious Violations: There are no CDL violation points or other implications for a first-time serious traffic offense. However, the stakes are higher for subsequent serious violations. If you have a second offense within three years from the first, you will face a 60-day CDL suspension. A third serious violation within three years is a 120-day CDL suspension.
Major Violations: Even the first time you commit a major violation, your CDL is disqualified for one year. If you were hauling hazardous materials at the time, it could lead to an automatic three-year disqualification. Your second major violation is a lifetime CDL suspension, though you may qualify for reinstatement after 10 years.
For any felony that involves your CMV and controlled substances, you can lose your CDL for life regardless of prior offenses.
Other Consequences of a Traffic Conviction
In Pennsylvania, Commercial Driver License holders are required by law to notify their employers within 30 days of receiving a traffic violation. This can affect your ability to get a promotion or keep your job. If you were looking for a new job, it will make it tougher for you to do so.
From a practical standpoint, any disqualification or suspension of your CDL could put you out of a job. Your employer will likely terminate you since you cannot work in the position for which you were hired. Plus, many trucking companies and carriers have internal policies that prevent them from hiring anyone who has a violation in their past history.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration created the National Driver Register to prevent commercial motor vehicle-related injuries and fatalities, particularly where CDL drivers have been convicted of serious traffic violations or had their licenses revoked or suspended. This list is serious and could mean that your driver’s license application in a different state will be denied or revoked for renewal.
Defenses and Strategies for CDL Ticket Dismissal
The first thing to do after you’ve been charged with a Pennsylvania Commercial Driver’s License traffic violation is to look over what the listed violation is, as well as the fines. Also double-check your name, address, date of birth, vehicle information, and license number. If something is wrong, contact the court to get it corrected. A misspelling of your name won’t get you out of a ticket. You should also know that you have 10 days to respond to the traffic citation. If you ignore it, you may have additional fines and a driver’s license suspension to contend with.
Due to the serious implications for your CDL and livelihood, anyone can see the advantage of retaining experienced CDL defense lawyers. Just like any criminal charge or traffic citation, you won’t be subject to any punishments unless a prosecutor proves you guilty. A CDL traffic ticket attorney can assist by pointing out weaknesses in the evidence or by negotiating for a result with less of an impact.
Many of the same defenses that apply to other drivers are available for CDL holders. For instance, CDL traffic lawyers can present evidence showing:
- A lack of probable cause to pull you over;
- Evidence that refutes impairment under DUI laws;
- Facts making the BAC chemical test results inadmissible; and,
- Many other defenses that may be relevant to your case.
Working with a CDL traffic attorney is critical when fighting the charges and defending your interests. Our lawyers for CDL drivers know that any disqualification can be disastrous to your career, household, and family. We will explore all potential strategies to ensure you stay on the road whenever possible.
Speak to a Pittsburgh CDL Traffic Lawyer Today
It’s important for commercial drivers and truckers to have clean driving records to maintain employment as well as commercial driver’s insurance coverage. If you received a ticket and are facing CDL suspension, disqualification, or other penalties for CDL violations, please contact Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys right away. We’re better able to assist you with CDL ticket dismissal and defense when we get involved with your case as early on as possible.