Can You Get a CDL With a DUI in Florida?

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It's far easier to lose a commercial driver's license (CDL) in the state of Florida than it is to get one. The state has a real interest in regulating those who drive commercial motor vehicles (CMVs), considering that CMVs include vehicles weighing over 26,000 pounds and those that carry hazardous materials. Anyone convicted of the crime of driving under the influence will quickly lose their CDL privileges. And anyone who gets caught driving under the influence (DUI), but doesn't yet have a CDL, will have to jump through a few extra hoops to get one.

Requirements for a CDL in Florida

Not everybody who drives a truck is required to have a CDL in Florida. A commercial driver's license is required only if the vehicle meets certain requirements. A driver must have a CDL to drive three categories of vehicles:

  1. A vehicle or a combination of vehicles that weighs over 26,000 pounds. 
  2. A vehicle designed to carry hazardous materials.
  3. A vehicle designed to carry 16 or more passengers.

Certain exceptions apply for machinery used around a farm, military vehicles, emergency vehicles, RVs and vehicles used to transport personal property. Three classes of CDLs – A, B and C – correspond to weight limits. A Class A CDL is required to drive the heaviest trucks and trailers. It can also be used for any vehicle of lower weight. A Class B CDL is required to operate straight trucks and buses over 26,000 pounds. A Class C CDL is needed to drive vehicles weighing 26,000 or less and transporting placarded amounts of hazardous materials, or vehicles designed to transport 16 or more people.

Special license endorsements are required for carrying passengers or hazardous materials. Each endorsement has its own rules and its own testing.

Getting Special Endorsements as a CDL Driver

Driving some vehicles require a special authorization. These authorizations are called "endorsements" in Florida, and most require special-knowledge testing and sometimes skills testing. An endorsement can be placed on Class A, B or C commercial driver licenses.

A commercial driver requires Florida CDL endorsements for:

  • Placarded Hazmat Endorsement (H) to transport placarded hazardous materials.
  • Tank Vehicles Endorsement (N) to drive tank vehicles.
  • Passengers Endorsement (P) to drive passenger vehicles designed to transport more than 15 persons.
  • School Bus Endorsement (S) to transport students between home and school.
  • Double/Triple Trailers Endorsement (T) to drive double- or triple-tractor trailers. 
  • Placarded Hazmat & Tank Vehicles Endorsement (X) for those who have both the H and N endorsements.

How to Apply for a CDL in Florida

Nobody can simply walk into a Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles office and walk out with a CDL license. Applicants must prove that they are a state resident at least 18 years old (21 to drive interstate) and that they hold a Florida driver's license. Once they make this showing, they can apply for a commercial learner’s permit. This allows the driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle while supervised by a driver over the age of 21 who holds a CDL.

To obtain the learner's permit, the driver must undergo a background check and pass a written test. After practicing driving commercial vehicles for two weeks, the driver can take the CDL driving test.

Anyone with two years or more of military service driving a CMV is exempted from taking the driving test. Instead, they must present a Certificate for Waiver of Skill Test for Military Personnel form filled out and signed by their commanding officer within 90 days after leaving the service. They still must pass all CDL knowledge and endorsement tests.

DUIs and Chemical Tests

Driving under the influence is a serious offense in Florida for any driver, but it can have especially serious consequences for someone with a CDL. Driving under the influence in Florida means a driver is operating a vehicle while their normal faculties are significantly impaired by alcohol, chemical substances or drugs. In the case of alcohol, a blood alcohol level or breath alcohol level (BAL) of 0.08 percent creates a legal presumption that the driver was impaired. For those driving with a CDL, the legal limit BAL is only 0.04 percent.

A driver's BAL is determined by a chemical test like a breathalyzer or blood test. Under Florida law, drivers are deemed to consent to take a chemical test if arrested for a DUI offense. Refusal to take a chemical test is itself an offense, and a Florida driver with a standard license can get fined and face administrative sanctions for a first refusal. The penalty for a DUI offense is a fine, a potential jail time/probation period and a suspension or revocation of their license and driving privileges.

DUI on Driving Record

If a driver wants to obtain a CDL in Florida, having a DUI charge on their driving record does not necessarily disqualify them. It depends on whether the driver completed the suspension or revocation period for that crime.

According to the Florida Commercial Driver's License Handbook, a person cannot apply for a CDL if their license to drive has been suspended, revoked, disqualified or cancelled in in Florida or any other state. That means that as long as a DUI license suspension or revocation is in effect, the driver cannot apply for a CDL. But once the license is reinstated, having a DUI in their driving history will not stop them from getting a CDL. It may, however, make it more difficult for that person to find work as a commercial driver.

CDL Penalties for DUI Offenses

For someone driving with a Florida CDL, the penalties are more severe for DUI offenses than for regular drivers. This is true whether the charges are based on impairment or on the driver's BAL.

When a CDL holder is arrested for a DUI, they are immediately placed on out-of-service status. This is the equivalent of an automatic administrative license suspension. A conviction for the offense results in the disqualification of the CDL for one year. The disqualification will be for three years if the driver was hauling hazardous substances at the time of the arrest. The driver will also face up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, probation, 50 hours of community service and time in DUI school.

If someone holding a CDL refuses to take a chemical test, their license can be disqualified for one year. This is true regardless of whether the driver is actually convicted of the DUI.

Other Reasons for Revocation

If a driver gets other criminal convictions or even violates the rules set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, their CDL can be revoked or suspended. Sometimes, the loss of license is for only a short period, but it can be for life.

If the driver commits more than one serious traffic offense in a three-year period, their CDL will be revoked for 60 days. If they have three or more violations in three years, the result is a 120-day revocation. Serious traffic offenses include speeding, improper lane changes, tailgating, leaving the scene of an accident and any traffic violation involving a fatality.

Holding a CDL involves following a set of driving rules. Any violation of these rules can cause the investigating police officer to issue the driver an immediate out-of-service order. A first offense brings a 180-day to one-year disqualification, a second offense in 10 years leads to a two- to five-year disqualification, while three offenses in 10 years can result in a three- to five-year license disqualification.

Other Relevant Criminal Convictions

Certain criminal convictions lead to a one-year disqualification of a driver's CDL. A second conviction results in a lifetime disqualification. In addition to a DUI and a refusal, these crimes include:

  • Leaving the scene of an accident .
  • Using a motor vehicle in the commission of a felony.
  • Driving a commercial motor vehicle while disqualified.
  • Negligently causing a fatality with a commercial motor vehicle.

The driver can also get a lifetime CDL disqualification for production or transportation of controlled substances using a motor vehicle.