DUI/DWI & Commercial Driver's Licence (CDL) in New York: Consequences & Next Steps

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New York has strict drinking and driving laws, and a conviction of driving while intoxicated (DWI or DUI) is something everyone wants to avoid. This is particularly true for commercial drivers who make their living behind the wheel. Anyone with a commercial driver's license in the New York area should be informed of how New York State deals with commercial drivers who get caught driving under the influence.

CDLs in New York State

State laws define who needs a commercial driver's license. Some states include ride-sharing drivers as commercial drivers, while the New York definition is much more limited. Under the state's Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 501(a)(1), a commercial driver's license (CDL) is any class A, B or C driver’s license with an H, P or X endorsement that allows the driver to operate a commercial vehicle. Commercial vehicles generally include:

  • Vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 26,000 pounds.
  • Vehicles designed to transport 15 or more passengers in addition to the driver.
  • Vehicles classified as buses.
  • Vehicles used to transport hazardous materials.
  • Tow trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 8,600 pounds.
  • Vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds and used by a business to transport property.

In New York, there are different types of CDLs, each allowing the driver to operate a different category of vehicle. To get a CDL, drivers must sit for the written test for the particular CDL they wish to get, then take a road test with that vehicle. To get a CDL for the first time in New York, a person first has to obtain a commercial learner permit for the proper class and type of vehicle they will be driving.

To be eligible to get a CDL, a person must hold a New York driver's license that isn't suspended, revoked or cancelled. If a person has a DWI on their record, they must wait a full year from the date of the DWI arrest to apply for a CDL. Although it may be possible to obtain a CDL, it can be difficult to get a job with a poor driving record.

Commercial Drivers and DWIs

Driving a commercial vehicle in New York while under the influence of alcohol can occasion serious penalties. It is illegal for commercial drivers to get behind the wheel while intoxicated, as is the case for all drivers in New York. But the "per se" DWI law is much stricter for commercial drivers than for regular drivers.

A per se DWI is the legal limit for alcohol law, making it a crime to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher. The BAC is determined by chemical testing, either a breath test, a urine test, a blood test or a saliva test. Under the law, anyone who drives in New York is deemed to have consented to a chemical test if stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence. Refusal to do so is itself a crime.

For someone with a CDL, the per se DWI legal limit is half that for regular drivers. So if a commercial driver's chemical testing shows a BAC level of 0.04 percent or above, they are driving illegally and will be charged with a per se DWI level I. This is an infraction, the equivalent of a conviction of driving while ability impaired. A BAC of over 0.06 is a DWI level II for a commercial driver. This is a misdemeanor and the equivalent of a DWI.

Additional Consequences for CDL Holders

It is important for anyone with a CDL to realize that they are subject to all of the regular laws set out in the state's Vehicle and Traffic Law, as well as the CDL-specific violations. That means that CDL holders in New York will face penalties specific to their CDL in addition to all the other penalties that non-CDL holders face. They can be charged with the CDL-specific offenses and, simultaneously, be charged with other non-CDL DWI offenses.

For example, a commercial driver found to have a BAC level of 0.08 percent can be charged both with a per se DWI for having a BAC over 0.08 percent and also for driving a commercial vehicle with a BAC of .06 to .08 percent.

Penalties for a DWI in New York State

Not only is the legal BAC limit lower for persons driving with a CDL in New York, but the penalties for a DWI are greater. Commercial drivers will have their licenses revoked for a year after a first offense, or for three years if the driver was transporting hazardous material. A second offense results in a lifetime suspension that can be reviewed after 10 years. A third offense results in a lifetime suspension that cannot be reviewed.

By comparison, someone with a regular driver's license must get repeat offenses within 10 years to qualify as a repeat offender. For a commercial license holder, there is no 10-year limit.

What if a CDL holder refuses to take a chemical test? This results in an automatic 18-month suspension of their license and being subject to a fine of $550. For someone with a regular driver's license, the suspension is for 90 days.

Impact of a Commercial DWI on a Regular License

Note that the commercial driver's regular New York license will also be suspended for any of these offenses. However, the suspension period will be shorter. And while a conditional license may be available for a regular license that is suspended or revoked, this is never the case with a CDL.

CDL Penalties for Regular Driving

What happens if a person holding a CDL is stopped in their personal vehicle for a DWI? It is a common misconception that in order to have a CDL suspended or revoked by a DWI in New York, the driver must have been stopped while driving a commercial vehicle. That had been the law for some years, but in 2005, the New York state assembly enacted stricter laws for CDL holders that remain in effect today.

Current law requires the DMV to consider all DWI convictions of a CDL holder, whether or not the offense occurred in a commercial vehicle. That is, the same CDL-specific penalties apply to a DWI committed in a regular car by a driver who has a commercial license as would apply if they were driving a commercial vehicle.