The Collision between CDLs and OWIs in Iowa

I was recently watching videos from an OWI arrest when one of my clients asked the officer, “does the legal limit of .04 for a CDL (i.e. Commercial Driver’s License) holder apply all the time or just when driving a commercial vehicle.”  I was caught off guard because the client was not operating a commercial vehicle when he was stopped but still was under the belief that the legal limit of .04 might apply to him.  The client expressed his belief that his confusion was common with CDL holders.  I began thinking back to my previous cases in which my clients held a CDL license and quickly realized that my client was correct and that many of my CDL clients who were driving non-commercial vehicles when stopped erroneously believed that the legal limit was .04.

Iowa Code Section 321.208 provides the basic framework for when and how a long a person’s CDL license may become disqualified. As it relates to OWI type offenses, this statute provides that a person who is operating a commercial motor vehicle is subject to disqualification if they operate a commercial motor vehicle with an alcohol concentration over .04.  A person is also subject to loss of their CDL license if they are operating a commercial vehicle while impaired which generally occurs when the person has an alcohol concentration over .08 or while having any amount of a controlled substance in their system.  Finally, a person’s CDL license is subject to disqualification when they are operating a commercial vehicle if they refuse to submit to test requested by the officer after implied consent is invoked.

A person may also be subjected to a loss of their CDL license when they are operating a non-commercial vehicle but hold a commercial driver’s license. This generally occurs when the person has an alcohol concentration over .08, has any amount of a controlled substance in their system, or refuses to consent to the chemical test after an officer invokes implied consent.

The length of suspension is one year if the person has not had any prior CDL suspensions for any previous OWI related situations.  If there was a prior OWI related disqualification, then the person is likely going to be facing a lifetime disqualification which could be subject to a ten (10) reduction pursuant to 49 C.F.R. § 383.51.  Generally, a person who is facing one of these disqualifications has the right to appeal the disqualification but must do so within ten (10) days of the triggering incident.  If the person’s license was otherwise valid, a timely appeal will generally stay (i.e. stop) the disqualification from going into effect until after the person has completed the appeal process.

One final note of importance.  Although a person who holds a commercial driver’s license may obtain a temporary restricted license to operate a non-commercial vehicle, a temporary restricted license does not authorize a person to operate a commercial vehicle.  In short, my client’s confusion, and apparently the confusion held by many others is justified.  However, the reality is that the .04 threshold only applies if the person is operating a commercial motor vehicle.  In any event, a person facing a CDL disqualification is well advised to seek competent legal counsel to discuss their options for preventing the imposition of a CDL disqualification if faced with one of these triggering events.