After addressing various topics concerning marijuana use related to DUI law in my previous blog articles, I will return to discussing the nuts and bolts of DUI law. I will now discuss DUI law as it relates to those with commercial driver’s licenses who drive commercial vehicles.
A commercial driver’s license (CDL) holder who drives a commercial vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .04 or above or any concentration of THC in his or her blood is committing the offense of DUI in Washington State. See RCW 46.25.120(4). THC is the ingredient found in marijuana which causes one to get high. While a CDL holder with a BAC of less than .04 may not be above the legal limit, any alcohol concentration detected in the driver’s blood (i.e., BAC of .01) will lead to the driver being issued with an “out-of-service” order during which he or she is not allowed to operate or drive the commercial vehicle for a twenty-four hour period. See RCW 45.25.110.
Jail time and fines are the same for commercial and noncommercial drivers. So for a first DUI where the offender’s BAC is below a .15, a minimum of one day in jail and a fine of $940.50 is frequently imposed. For detailed information on the applicable fines and penalties imposed for DUI violations, one may refer to the DUI sentencing grid provided at the Washington Courts website at http://www.courts.wa.gov/newsinfo/index.cfm?fa=newsinfo.displayContent&theFile=content/duigrid/index&preview=true&site_id=50.
It is important to note for CDL holders that even if the DUI conviction is not based on driving a commercial vehicle, but takes place while the CDL holder is driving another noncommercial vehicle such as driving his or her own car or truck then CDL license will still be subject to disqualification and the same penalties are imposed as though the CDL holder were driving a commercial vehicle. So if for instance a CDL holder gets a second DUI while driving his or her own vehicle then he or she is looking at losing the CDL for life. However, when CDL holders drive a noncommercial vehicle such as their own personal vehicle then the legal limit is not .04 BAC, but is the standard .08 BAC which applies to all drivers in general except for minors.
While one can be convicted of DUI by driving a vehicle with a BAC above the legal limit, the public is often unaware that a DUI conviction can be based on a BAC concentration below the legal limit. There exists a misperception that to be convicted of DUI, a certain threshold level such as a BAC of .08 must be established. In addition to being above the legal limit, one may also be convicted of DUI with a BAC below the legal limit if it can be established that the person driving the vehicle was under the influence of or affected by alcohol. The same logic applies to marijuana smokers where the driver faces a DUI conviction for driving a vehicle with a THC concentration of 5.00 or greater, but can still be convicted of DUI with less than a 5.00 THC concentration as long as the THC level impairs his or her driving.
CDL holders are held to a much more stringent standard under DUI law compared to those who possess a regular driver’s license. The reason for the stricter laws is that not only do commercial vehicles tend to be larger and heavier than other vehicles and therefore pose a greater danger to other occupants of smaller vehicles in the event of an accident, but they may also carry dangerous loads such as flammable liquids which add to the potential for catastrophe in case of impact.
While others may be able to work without the need to drive a vehicle, CDL holders must drive for a living. Although it is a good policy to not drink and drive for all drivers, it is especially true for one who possesses a CDL.