Commercial Drivers and Traffic Citations: Protecting Your Career

Everyone hates receiving traffic citations. For most of us it means paying a fine, an appearance in court, or maybe even traffic school. However, a moving violation or other traffic citation can have devastating consequences for commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders as it could result in disqualification of a license and loss of jobs.  Understanding your legal rights and defense strategies can make a huge difference in your ability to maintain your career.

With all types of driver’s licenses, whenever you plead or are found guilty of a traffic offense, points are added to your license. Accumulate enough points and your license can be suspended or revoked. Generally, CDL holders receive more points for the same types of offenses than a typical driver. In some cases, CDL holders receive double the number of points. Additionally, the more serious the offense, the more points that are added to your CDL. This means there is much less room for error for commercial drivers. As point systems vary from state to state, it can be difficult to calculate how many points have accumulated on your CDL. If you are unable to get a report from a DMV, it may take analysis of statutes, rules, and regulations from the states involved.

Regardless of how many points are on your CDL, a guilty plea or conviction of more serious offenses can mean an automatic disqualification of a CDL license for a year or more. These types of offenses include all felonies involving the use of a commercial motor vehicle, leaving the scene of an accident, and offenses involving controlled substances. Understanding the charges that have been made against you will inform your decision on how aggressive you should be in fighting the charge.

A common strategy for most drivers faced with a moving violation is to enter a plea of guilty or no contest which the court holds in abeyance for a specific period of time to see if the defendant can fulfill the obligations of a deal entered into with the prosecutor. These deals usually involve driving without incident for a specific period of time, paying a fine, and completing traffic school. If the terms are fulfilled, the court dismisses the charge. However, this strategy doesn’t do much for CDL holders as a plea in abeyance still appears on your record as a conviction.

Making matters more complicated is that prosecutors are often reluctant or fearful to engage in plea bargaining with CDL defendants due to federal regulations prohibiting “masking.” However, this is usually the result of a misunderstanding of the regulation. Masking occurs when a representative of the state, such as a prosecutor or court clerk, takes an action to prevent a conviction of a violation related to operation of a motor vehicle from appearing on a CDL holder’s driving record. Both the plain language of the regulation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) interpretation of the rule make clear that masking cannot occur prior to the actual entry of a conviction. Therefore, prejudgment plea bargaining is not prohibited in any way.

Our office is happy to advise you of the implications of the charges that have been made against you and work with prosecutors to secure a fair result that limits the impact on your career. Please call our office to schedule a consultation: (801) 365-1030.