Truck Drivers and DUI:
A Guide to Understanding the Risks and Consequences

A glum commercial driver due to dui

Driving under the influence (DUI), often referred to as driving while intoxicated (DWI) or operating while intoxicated (OWI) depending on the state, is a serious offense with grave implications, especially for commercial drivers like truck drivers.

This article delves into the intricacies of DUI with a truck driving job, addressing key questions and concerns.

DUI or DWI or OWI: Understanding the Terminology

While the terms DUI, DWI, and OWI are often used interchangeably, there can be subtle legal differences depending on the state.

  • DUI (Driving Under the Influence): This is the most common term and generally refers to operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) exceeding the legal limit (typically 0.08%).
  • DWI (Driving While Intoxicated): This term is often used in states where the focus is on the driver’s level of intoxication using a specific drug or alcohol test, regardless of the specific substance involved.
  • OWI (Operating While Impaired): This term emphasizes that the driver’s ability to operate the vehicle safely is impaired, not necessarily by alcohol but also by drugs, fatigue, or other factors.
Truck driver DUI, DWI, and OWI may vary by state

Truck Driving and DUI: A Dangerous Recipe

The sheer size and weight of a commercial truck make it a potentially lethal weapon in the hands of an impaired driver. A DUI-related truck accident can cause catastrophic damage, resulting in multiple fatalities and injuries.

According to MJTSA’s 2019 Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), in 2019, 4.8% of large truck drivers involved in fatal crashes tested positive for alcohol, and 7.1% tested positive for any drug. However, it’s crucial to note that these figures alone cannot conclusively determine the cause of the accidents.

The risk is amplified by the demanding nature of truck driving, with long hours, tight deadlines, and pressure to meet delivery schedules. Fatigue and stress can further exacerbate the impairment caused by alcohol or drugs, creating a perfect storm for disaster.

Can You Get a Commercial Driver's License with a DUI Record?

The short answer is maybe, but it’s a complicated situation with several factors to consider:

State Laws​

Each state has its own regulations regarding DUI offenses and their impact on commercial driver’s license (CDLs).

Some states have stricter policies, imposing mandatory CDL suspension or even revocation for DUI convictions.

Federal Regulations

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has stricter regulations for CDL holders compared to regular driver’s licenses.

Any alcohol related convictions can lead to a one-year CDL disqualification, with potential extensions for subsequent multiple offenses or refusal of testing.

Trucking Company Policies

Individual trucking companies may have their own internal policies regarding driver hiring and background checks.

Many companies have zero tolerance for DUI convictions and may refuse to hire drivers with a DUI charge on their record, regardless if they are drug related charges or alcohol related offenses.

How Long After a DUI or DWI Will a Trucking Company Hire a Driver?

A potential truck driver waiting for his opportunity

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The wait time depends on several factors, including:

  • Severity of the offense: A single DUI with no alcohol-related driving offenses or injuries will likely be viewed differently than multiple DUIs or one causing an accident.
  • Time since the offense: The further in the past your DUI or DWI was, the more opportunities you’ve had to demonstrate responsible behavior and increase your chances of getting hired.
  • State regulations: Each state has its own rules regarding commercial driver’s license issuance and how DUIs affect eligibility. Some states are stricter than others.
  • Company policies: Individual trucking companies have their own risk tolerance and hiring criteria. Some may have blanket no-tolerance policies for DUIs, while others may be more flexible, especially for older offenses or drivers with a strong clean record otherwise.
  • Your efforts at rehabilitation: Completing court-mandated programs, maintaining a clean driving record since the DUI, and demonstrating a commitment to responsible behavior can increase your chances of getting hired.

Here’s a breakdown of the possibilities:

Can’t drive at all: If your commercial license is currently suspended due to the DUI, you cannot legally operate a truck until your license is reinstated.

May be able to drive after a waiting period: Most companies will not consider hiring you with a DUI on your record for several years, typically at least two or three years.

May be able to drive at certain companies: Some companies specialize in hiring drivers with past offenses, offering them a pathway back into the industry. These companies may have stricter requirements and lower pay, but they can be an option if you have a DUI on your record.

Can You Be a Truck Driver with a DUI on Your Record?

While a DUI conviction can pose a significant challenge to your aspirations of becoming a truck driver, it doesn’t necessarily signify the end of the road. With targeted efforts and perseverance, you can increase your chances of achieving your career goals. Here are some professional steps to consider:

Demonstrate Responsible Conduct

  • Maintain a clean driving record: Following traffic laws and avoiding any further violations is crucial. This demonstrates proactive responsibility and commitment to safe driving.
  • Complete court-mandated programs: Engaging in required DUI rehabilitation programs shows a willingness to learn and address past mistakes.
A commercial vehicle with the word hope on the cargo

Enhance Your Qualifications

  • Upgrade your skills: Consider pursuing additional training, certifications, or endorsements relevant to the trucking industry. This demonstrates initiative and expands your career opportunities.
  • Maintain excellent physical fitness: Truck driving demands physical well-being. Regular exercise and a healthy lifestyle showcase dedication and commitment to the job’s demands.

Approach the Job Search Strategically

  • Target trucking companies with “second chance” programs: Research companies known for offering opportunities to drivers with past offenses.
  • Be transparent and upfront: Honesty is key. Disclose your DUI during the application process, but frame it as a learning experience and emphasize your personal and professional growth since then.
  • Highlight your strengths and experience: Focus on your positive attributes, past driving experience, and skills relevant to the job. Demonstrate your passion for truck driving and commitment to excellence.

Key Things to Remember

  • The road to success may be longer: Be prepared for a longer wait time compared to candidates with clean records.
  • Persistence is key: Don’t be discouraged by initial setbacks. Remain optimistic, continue improving your qualifications, and network with established professionals within the industry.

By demonstrating responsible conduct, enhancing your qualifications, and approaching the job search strategically, you can navigate the challenges of a DUI on your record and increase your chances of securing a fulfilling career as a truck driver.