How FMCSA Punishes CDL Driver with Disqualifications, Stricter Enforcement Coming

WHAT IS CDL DISQUALIFICATION AND HOW TO HOW TO FIX IT

FMCSA recently published research that found broken CDL disqualification processes at the State level and wants to fix them.

Safety is the most important aspect of federal and state trucking regulations because CMV crashes are disproportionately high compared to that of passenger vehicle crashes and are more likely to be fatal to non-CMV passenger vehicle occupants.

This is why serious and major traffic offenses can temporarily or permanently withdrawal a person’s privilege to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV).

Let’s take a closer look at common driver disqualifications, their repercussions, and how the FMCSA is looking at improving State processes of the citation, adjudication, disqualification, and roadside detection processes.

What is a disqualification?

Let’s start with the basics. A disqualification is the temporary or permanent withdrawal of a person’s privilege to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV).

Depending on the state and the seriousness of the traffic offense, a disqualification can be for a minimum of 60 days or for a lifetime.

Disqualification of a driver’s CDL for driving a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) can result from either an accumulation of certain offenses defined as SERIOUS TRAFFIC OFFENSES or as a result of a single conviction for a MAJOR OFFENSE or for a RAILROAD-HIGHWAY GRADE CROSSING OFFENSE that occurs while the driver is operating a CMV or is transporting hazardous materials that is required to be placarded.

Related: Are there automatic health disqualifications for a CDL driver?

What is a serious traffic offense?

While states differ, a serious traffic offense is a violation of the Vehicle Code that may result in the disqualification of your privilege to drive a CMV.

Serious traffic violations have disqualification implications under 49 CFR 383.51 upon the second conviction. Subsequent convictions of serious traffic violations (after a second conviction) that would implicate a longer length of disqualification require that the subsequent serious traffic violation happen within a 3-year period.

It is important to note that not all serious traffic violations require that the conviction involves the operation of a CMV. Some serious traffic violations committed in a non-CMV bear disqualification implications for a CLP or CDL holder.

In Pennsylvania, if you are convicted of 2 serious traffic offenses within a 3 year period, you will be disqualified from driving a CMV for 60 days. If you are convicted of 3 serious traffic offenses within a 3 year period, you will be disqualified from driving a CMV for 120 days.

As an example, in Pennsylvania, these are the Serious Offenses:

  • Improper passing on the right (3304**)
  • Improper passing on the left (3305**)
  • Improper passing on a hill (3306(1)(1)**)
  • Improper passing at a railroad crossing or intersection (3306(a)(2)**)
  • Improper passing at a bridge or tunnel (3306(1)(3)**)
  • Driving roadways laned for traffic (3309)
  • Following too closely (3310**)
  • Failure to yield in construction and maintenance areas (3326)
  • Exceeding maximum speed limit 15 mph or more (3362**)
  • Exceeding special speed limit for trucks on downgrades (3365(c)**)
  • Reckless driving (3736***)

** These offenses will also result in points being assessed to your driving record if committed in Pennsylvania.

*** This violation will also result in the suspension of your driving privilege if committed in Pennsylvania.

What is a major offense?

A major offense is a violation of the Vehicle Code that, upon conviction will result in the automatic disqualification of your privilege to operate a CMV.

Some major offense convictions invoke a lifetime disqualification without eligibility for reinstatement upon the first conviction whereas other major offense convictions start with a 1-year disqualification, followed by a lifetime disqualification after a second conviction. If the driver was operating a CMV transporting hazardous materials, the first conviction for a major offense incurs a 3-year disqualification followed by a lifetime disqualification after a second conviction.

It is important to note that not all major offense violations require that the conviction involve the operation of a CMV. Some major offense violations committed in a non-CMV bear disqualification implications for a CLP or CDL holder.

In Pennsylvania, a disqualification of a major offense could be for a minimum of 6 months or for a lifetime for a single offense.

As an example, in Pennsylvania, these are the Major Offenses:

  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substance (3731(i)**)
  • Accidents involving death or personal injury (3742**)
  • Accidents involving damages to attended vehicles or property (3743**)
  • Accidents involving damages to unattended vehicles or property (3745***)
  • Requirements for a commercial driver’s license (1606(c)(1))
  • Driving a commercial motor vehicle without a valid CDL (1606(a))
  • Refusal to submit to chemical testing (1613)
  • Any misdemeanor or felony offense in which a CMV was used involving the manufacture, distribution or dispensing of a controlled substance
  • The commission of a misdemeanor or felony offense in which a court determines a CMV was essentially involved.
  • Pennsylvania Crimes Code **

** These offenses will also result in the suspension of your driving privilege.

*** This offense will also result in points being assessed to your driving record if committed in Pennsylvania.

Can a disqualified CDL driver operate a non-commercial vehicle?

Yes. If a driver holds a valid CDL license or permit and is only disqualified from operating a CMV, the person is eligible to apply for a non-commercial Class C or M driver’s license to drive a non-commercial motor vehicle during the period of disqualification.

An application to apply for a non-commercial Class C and/or M license will be enclosed with the disqualification notice.

How do I get my CDL privilege restored?

In addition to serving the time required for the disqualification, the person may have to pay a restoration fee to their state agency before their CDL will be returned to them.

Are states disqualifying drivers appropriately?

Each State has its own systems and processes for disqualifying CDL holders when they are convicted of major offenses and traffic violations.

In December, FMCSA released a study’s findings that research questions on the citation, adjudication, and roadside inspection process. What they wanted to find were:

  1. What percentage of potentially disqualifying violations recorded during a roadside inspection
    result in a potentially disqualifying citation offense?
  2. What is the distribution of 49 CFR 383.51 violations that result in guilty verdicts, not guilty verdicts, or are otherwise adjudicated?
  3. How frequently do citations of the offenses in 49 CFR 383.51 result in a dismissal of charge, or other adjudication, that results in the driver not having their CDL disqualified?
  4. How often do charges result in a conviction under 49 CFR 383.51 and the CDL holder’s disqualification?
  5. How often does the ticketing of a 49 CFR 383.51 “administrative per se” properly result in a CDL holder’s disqualification?
  6. What percentage of drivers are disqualified for safety reasons as opposed to suspended for non-safety reasons?
  7. At what rate do roadside inspections of disqualified drivers appropriately identify them as disqualified?

The research team examined data from eight States over a 3-year period, from 2016 to 2018, and analyzed the full life cycle of potentially disqualifying (PDQ) violations from issuance to disposition, including subsequent detection of disqualified drivers during inspections.

What the research found and recommendations to fix state disqualification processes.

According to the report, they found that:

  • PDQ violations assessed at the roadside did not always have a matching PDQ citation at the court.
  • Once citations get to court, the court data showed potential masking (as defined in 49 CFR 384.226) in 0.5 to 18 percent of the PDQ court citations among the States with data, typically related to conviction of a reduced (non-PDQ) charge.
  • Convictions do not always properly result in a CDL holder’s disqualification for 49 CFR 383.51 violations.
  • Most drivers are disqualified for safety-based reasons.
  • Looking across all States and focusing only on inspections where the disqualification had a specific date to reinstate the license, the detection rates ranged from 24 to 66 percent. The research found that these disqualifications had higher detection rates at roadside inspections than those without a known reinstatement date.

The project illuminated five key points where disruptions can occur along the disqualification path.

  1. An inspector utilizes discretion to assess the citation at a PDQ or non-PDQ level (research question 1). The ability for inspectors and law enforcement personnel to utilize discretion in determining whether or not to assess a citation as a PDQ offense presents an opportunity for CDL holders to avoid PDQ violations at the roadside. This discretion could undermine the disqualification process by allowing drivers to avoid PDQ violations.
  2. A PDQ citation goes to the State Court system and is either adjudicated or not; if adjudicated, the court may dismiss or reduces the charge, divert to probation before judgment, or convict on the PDQ charge (research questions 2–3). Once citations get to court, there are several possible outcomes. PDQ convictions were the most common outcome for most of the States with available data, but there were a couple of States where this was not the case. Among the States with data, the court data also showed potential masking in 0.5 to 18 percent of the PDQ court citations, typically related to conviction of a reduced (non-PDQ) charge.
  3. As a PDQ citation becomes a PDQ conviction it passes through multiple Federal, State, and sometimes local record keeping systems (research questions 2–5). Records may be lost or compromised through process or data deficiencies among the various parties involved; convictions may not be recorded on the CDL holder’s State or Commercial Driver’s License Information System (CDLIS) driver record.
  4. When a PDQ conviction is processed and posted by the SDLA, the SDLA may fail to apply the mandatory withdrawal as per 383.51 (research questions 4–5). PDQ convictions that should result in a disqualification do not always properly result in a CDL holder’s disqualification for 49 CFR 383.51 violations.
  5. After the disqualification process is complete and a CDL is disqualified, the disqualification may not be detected during a roadside inspection (research questions 6–7). Research question seven examined the extent to which disqualified CDL holders are detected at the roadside. Looking across the eight States, and focusing only on inspections during “fixed” disqualifications, the detection rates ranged from 24 to 66 percent.

To remedy these broken processes, the project recommended FMCSA to consider these follow-on steps:

  1. FMCSA could explore tightening the voluntary, free-form citation field on the roadside inspection form, while still leaving the discretion currently allowed to inspectors with an entry of “No Citation.” This would allow more accurate results for future FMCSA efforts to track the origin and outcomes of disqualifying violations assessed at the roadside.
  2. FMCSA could examine the specific applications of inspector discretion to determine more precisely when and how officers elect to not issue a PDQ citation when a PDQ violation is assessed. The flexibility offered to officers to assess potentially disqualifying violations but not issue a corresponding citation when conducting a roadside inspection or traffic stop is the same practice that is compromising the outcomes on the CDL driver record. FMCSA could explore training officers on the safety consequences of not assessing or recording the associated citation, or even consider making citations mandatory for a limited number of PDQ violations (e.g., Reckless Driving, Alcohol-related). FMCSA could offer training on existing mandatory practices, such as administrative per se withdrawals on Drug and Alcohol violations, and on prohibited practices like the masking of PDQ citations.
  3. Lastly, FMCSA could consider conducting further research into “definite” versus “indefinite” disqualifications to determine whether inspectors and law enforcement treat these disqualifications differently.

Need CDL licensing help?

CNS has been handling our clients’ licensing and permitting needs for over 30 years.

We offer a number of DOT Licensing Services to make your interaction with government authorities easy, fast, cost-effective, and with the least amount of stress as possible.

Our DOT Licensing Specialists will learn your operation so we can accurately set up and renew your required DOT authorities.

We offer a long list of licensing services and are always adding more to accommodate our clients, including obtaining DOT numbers, MC authorities, vehicle registration, UCR and so much more.

For more information, call (888) 260-9448 or email us at info@cnsprotects.com.

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