DUIs in personal vehicle lead to trucker losing CDL for life

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor
Getting busted for DUI in his personal vehicle, twice, means a Pennsylvania man will be looking for a new job.

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled Feb. 7 in the case of James Sondergaard v. the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation and Bureau of Driver Licensing, that Sondergaard’s CDL would be suspended for life.

The ruling ends a two-year legal battle over Sondergaard’s CDL.

According to court records, Sondergaard was convicted twice of DUI in 2010. Both arrests occurred while Sondergaard, a CDL holder, was driving his personal vehicle. The Pennsylvania Driver Licensing Bureau then suspended his CDL for life in August 2011.

Sondergaard took his case to Monroe County Court, which ruled in his favor on Jan. 13, 2012, and reinstated his license. Sondergaard claimed the state law under which his license was suspended was vague. He argued it was not clear that DUI convictions in personal vehicles could lead to the CDL suspension.

The Monroe County Court agreed and overturned the CDL suspension.

The state appealed the lower court’s ruling and eventually won out on the suspension when the Commonwealth Court ruled in favor of the state.

The court initially agreed that the law was not expressly clear on whether personal vehicle DUI convictions factor into the CDL suspension. However, in writing the opinion, Judge James Gardner Collins states it was clearly the Pennsylvania legislature’s intention for truckers to lose their CDLs for life if they are convicted of two DUIs – even in their personal vehicles.

The ruling reinstated the lifetime suspension of Sondergaard’s CDL.

While the state law may not be straightforward, the federal regulations governing truckers is crystal clear.

The federal regulations outline varying durations of disqualifications under 383.51 The regulation spells out the various “major” and “serious” violations. The lengths of the various disqualification are a minimum standard set out to the states. States have the option of increasing the length of the suspensions if they so choose.

Federal regulation 383.51 states that the first conviction of being under the influence – even in a non-CMV – results in a one-year suspension. The second conviction is a lifetime suspension.

However, lifetime may not necessarily be lifetime. Reinstatement is possible after 10 years if that person has voluntarily entered and successfully completed an appropriate rehabilitation program approved by the state, according to 383.51(5).
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