What happens to my CDL after a DWI arrest?

Many people have a commercial driver's license, or CDL. You may need that for your job, which means that if you lose your CDL, you could lose your job. So, the most important question you may have is whether you are going to be keep your CDL.

The rules for CDL holders are different from those that apply to those who hold a regular operator's license. If you are arrested for DWI, your operator's license can be suspended before you ever go to court. Your license can be suspended if you refuse a breath or blood test, or if you agree to the test, and fail.

In most cases, your license will be physically taken from you, and you will be given a paper that serves as a temporary license. Once the suspension period is over, you have to apply to get your license re-instated.

The terminology used for your operator's license is "suspension"; your license is suspended for a certain amount of time, and you have to get it re-instated when the suspension period is up. For a CDL, the terminology is different. You are either qualified or disqualified to operate a commercial vehicle. Section 522.081sets out the rules for disqualification. The statute covers several different situations - such as multiple traffic tickets - but here we are only going to address an arrest for driving while intoxicated.

For starters, if you refuse a breath or blood test, you will be disqualified from operating a commercial vehicle for one year. That means that even if you are able to get an occupational license to drive during the time your license is suspended, you will still be disqualified from a operating a commercial vehicle during that period, and will still be disqualified after you get you operator's license re-instated.

Subparagraph (b)(4) covers those situations where you agree to provide either a breath or blood test. This section also imposes a one year disqualification period, and covers situations where you were arrested while operating a commercial vehicle, and those situations where you were not.

  • If you were operating a commercial vehicle, and you had an alcohol concentration of more than .04, you are disqualified for one year;
  • If you operating another vehicle, and you had an alcohol concentration of more than .08, you are also disqualified for one year.

It is important to recognize that there are no exceptions or alternatives to disqualification. You cannot get some type of permit, or provisional license. As I said earlier, an occupational license does not authorize you to drive a commercial vehicle; it simply allows you to drive to and from work.

The impact of disqualification can be far more severe than the impact of a DWI conviction. It could mean the loss of employment if you must have a CDL to perform your job. For example, if you are a truck driver, there's not much you can do without your CDL.

If you are in this situation, you need to get help now, and find a lawyer with experience in handling DWI cases and license suspensions. This is not the time to cut corners, or cut costs. 

Walter Reaves
Criminal Defense Attorney Walter Reaves has been practicing law for over 35 years.