In the state of North Carolina, laws for drivers who carry a commercial driving license (CDL) are different from laws pertaining to regular drivers. CDL drivers in North Carolina are forced to meet stricter requirements in order to be licensed, and must also follow more comprehensive rules while on the road. The reasoning behind this is obvious: a commercial vehicle, such as a semi or other large truck or van, can potentially cause serious accidents and do major damage if not operated properly.
Commercial Driver's License Applications
Any applicant for a driver's license must meet certain criteria, such as completing a driver's training course and meeting certain physical specifications. Applicants for CDLs must meet these requirements plus several additional ones: specialized training and a variety of physical and mental tests are required, along with extensive testing in both written and behind-the-wheel formats.
Any violations while driving will come with higher penalties and increased severity. Moving violations on a CDL in North Carolina are a serious situation; many employers of those with CDLs have a zero tolerance policy for such charges, and a single violation may result in the loss of a job. More than one violation may also lead to the suspension or total removal of the CDL. If a CDL driver is convicted of actions in his or her personal vehicle that result in the suspension of a license, he will also have his CDL suspended.
CDL drivers convicted of moving violations in North Carolina are penalized with points on their records, which will accumulate. Too many points can result in the loss of a CDL and in North Carolina, violations committed by a CDL holder result in increased points in comparison to drivers of personal vehicles. Some samples of common moving violations and the subsequent points on the CDL holder's record are as follows:
- Speeding 15 mph over posted limit: 3 points
- Speeding in a school zone: 4 points
- Failure to stop for siren: 4 points
- Reckless driving: 5 points
North Carolina law also states that a person who is found guilty of a violation while driving a commercial motor vehicle, along with increased points, will also be penalized with double the amount of any fines or other penalties, such as jail time, that would ordinarily be assigned to that particular violation.
Commercial motor vehicle drivers are subject to various rules that don't apply to other types of vehicles. A sampling of CDL-specific laws and the penalties for violating them are outlined below.
Vehicles that are over the typical weight limit for a particular area or road require a permit in order to travel in that area. Commercial drivers are responsible for having legal permits in place before hauling an overweight vehicle through such an area. Each permit is customized – it may be issued for a single trip or, if a certain vehicle commonly makes "overweight" hauls, the driver may be issued an annual overweight permit. Permits are not transferable from vehicle to vehicle.
Drivers traveling with overweight loads are required to meet specific criteria, such as loading the vehicle using specific methods and the licensing of the vehicle for maximum allowable weight. Any commercial driver found in violation of overweight laws in North Carolina may be subject to the suspension or revocation of his permit for the state.
All CDL drivers are required to keep log books stating the miles they travel and when they travel them, along with records of stops, check-ins, deliveries, pick-ups, etc. These books are meant to show the DMV in writing exactly what the driver has done at what times, and to illustrate that he is following the rules for driving long-haul, including such restrictions as not driving for more than a specified number of hours to avoid exhaustion. A driver found guilty of a violation in North Carolina can be subject to federally-mandated penalties. Under federal law, failure to keep a log book, or falsifying one, is typically considered a misdemeanor and can be punishable by up to six months in jail.
Speeding While Trailer Towing
A CDL driver found speeding with a trailer towing behind his rig is subject to various penalties in North Carolina, up to and including suspension of the license if the speeding violation is severe enough. Typically 15 MPH or more over the posted limit is considered "severe."
Grade Restriction Violations
Grade restrictions are laws that refer to certain roads and areas where commercial vehicles may not be allowed to go, due to the grade, or steepness, of the road. A steep road combined with a heavy commercial vehicle can be dangerous, and in such areas, the drivers are expected to take alternate routes. A driver found violating a grade restriction can be subject to fines and penalties, including revocation of the driver's license for 60 days for a first offense.
A commercial motor vehicle driver found violating lane restrictions, i.e. driving in a lane in which he is not allowed for whatever reason (typically related to weight, size or other considerations), is subject to multiple fines and fees. A lane violation can result in a revocation of the license for 30 to 60 days, with longer periods (including permanent revocation) for repeat offenses.
A DUI charge is a serious event in any situation, but for holders of CDLs, it's particularly bad on one's driving record and potential future employment.
North Carolina considers an individual to be legally intoxicated, and hence guilty of a DUI, if he or she is found to be operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of .08 or greater. However, when the vehicle in question is a commercial vehicle and the person operating it has a CDL, the blood alcohol content cut-off changes to .04. Should a driver of a commercial motor vehicle be found operating the vehicle with a blood alcohol content at .04 or above, or if he fails to submit to a chemical test, he is considered to be in violation of North Carolina state law and will be arrested for DUI.
Penalties for DUIs by commercial drivers escalate according to the number of violations, per the following:
- First violations result in revocation of the CDL for one year, along with applicable fines and penalties that may include jail time, community service and educational programs. The revocation of the license may be increased to a period of three years if the driver was hauling hazardous materials at the time of arrest.
- Second violations will typically result in revocation of the CDL for life. In some situations, at the discretion of the court, this may be adjusted to revocation of the license for 10 years (along with applicable fines and penalties).
- Third violations result in mandatory revocation of the CDL for life (along with applicable fines and penalties).
It sometimes occurs that a driver will be stopped under suspicion of DUI, and will be found to have alcohol or drugs in his system, but the amount will be less than the legal limit of .04 percent. In these situations, the driver will be issued what North Carolina refers to as an "out of service" notice, which prevents him from driving for 24 hours after the issuance.
Finally, should the holder of a CDL be found guilty of a DUI while driving a personal vehicle and have their personal license revoked, he or she will lose the commercial license as well.
Impact of Other Violations on Commercial Driver's Licenses
Many drivers make the mistake of assuming that citations received in a regular vehicle, or those received while "off the clock," will not be a problem. The opposite is true, not only in North Carolina but across the US. Professional drivers are expected to use their skills at all times, and careless, reckless or otherwise citation-worthy actions taken by a driver will impact his CDL status, regardless of whether he was in a commercial vehicle at the time.
It's also important to note that a driver with a North Carolina CDL who receives a violation in another state, whether as a commercial driver or on his personal record, will be subject to penalties back in North Carolina. The fact that a violation occurred in another state is no barrier to the driver being penalized by North Carolina in the same way as if the offense had occurred there, up to and including the suspension of the license.
Options for Defense
A CDL driver who is charged with an offense isn't entirely without options. It is possible, in some cases, to defend oneself against the charges. Even if the driver does not wish to deny the charge, he or she may be eligible for some type of plea bargain that will reduce the sentence, or at least allow him to substitute certain penalties for others, in order to potentially keep the offense from adversely affecting his driving record to the point where it interferes with his career.
In some cases, a driver charged with a violation may be able to argue semantics, such as making the case that the ticket was not properly issued, or that there was a mistake made at the time of issuance that makes the ticket invalid. In other cases, the driver may admit to the charge but plead external circumstances that led to it, such as poorly posted traffic signs, speed traps or a variety of other factors that make the violation not necessarily his "fault."
The details of how to defend oneself against such charges will vary largely by case, and any CDL holder charged with a moving violation, regardless of how minor it may seem, would do well to seek the services of a qualified lawyer.