Consequences of DUI Arrests for Washington Commercial Drivers

Loss of CDLs for Arrests While Driving Non-commercial Vehicles

By Patricia Fulton

A Washington DUI arrest can have devastating consequences for any of our clients - but this is particularly true of those who drive a commercial vehicle for a living.

Not only are clients with a Washington Commercial Driver's License (CDL) subject to the typical licensing consequences of a DUI arrest - but they also face CDL disqualifications under Washington's Uniform Commercial Driver's License Act (found at RCW 46.25 et. seq.). This is true even when the Washington DUI arrest occurred while driving a personal, non-commercial vehicle.

The Washington Uniform Commercial Driver's License Act (UCDLA) has recently undergone a number of changes significant for our commercial driver clients. The legislature enacted these changes to bring Washington in step with Federal law governing commercial vehicles and drivers.

Prior to 1986, each state created its own set of rules and guidelines governing the operation of commercial vehicles within its borders. In order to create consistency throughout the country and to improve highway safety by ensuring that drivers of large vehicles and buses were qualified, the U.S. Congress enacted the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986. This act, while retaining the state's right to issue driver's licenses, established the minimum national standard a state must meet when licensing commercial drivers.

In 1999, U.S. Congress enhanced the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 with the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act and instructed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to significantly revise the federal rules governing commercial driver's licensing programs. In response, the FMCSA issued a final rule in September of 2002 addressing a number of issues, including the disqualification of commercial drivers for violations occurring while driving non-commercial vehicles.

The FMCSA gave states three years to develop state laws consistent with the minimum standards set out in their final rule or risk losing federal funding. In the 2004, 2005, and 2006 legislative sessions, the Washington legislature passed a number of bills to bring the Washington UCDLA into compliance with the Federal regulations. Most relevant for this topic are SHB 2532 and SSB 6552.

In order to fully understand the intricacies of these changes, a carefully reading of the relevant Washington CDL statutes is necessary.

There are numerous repercussions for our clients with CDLs who are arrested for DUI and other criminal matters involving even a personal motor vehicle.

One crucial new change in Washington's UCDLA is the expansive new definition of conviction. Prior to the enactment of SSB 6552, the definition of conviction used by the UCDLA and all of Title 46 RCW was contained in RCW 46.20.270.

Effective June 7, 2006, the definitions of conviction in both 46.20.270 and 46.25.010(7) were expanded to include both the payment of a fine "or court costs." This leaves open the possibility that the Department of Licensing could attempt to disqualify a client's Washington CDL even when a criminal charge is resolved with a dispositional continuance or stipulated order of continuance agreement.

This language additionally creates confusion with what protections a deferred prosecution really offers our client's with CDLs - will the Department consider a deferred prosecution a "conviction" because of the payment of costs?

I think it is important to note that the legislature omitted from RCW 46.25.010(7) the language in RCW 46.20.270 which specifically exempts entry into a deferred prosecution from the definition of "conviction".

Even more troubling, in RCW 46.25.010(7) the definition of conviction was further expanded to include "a violation of a condition of release without bail." Will the Department attempt to disqualify a client's CDL due to a failure to obtain an alcohol evaluation as a condition of pretrial release? This question remains to be answered.

Using the links below, I have added a brief flow chart outlining the basic repercussion for a Washington commercial driver arrested for DUI in his or her personal, non-commercial vehicle. Please keep in mind the expansive definition of conviction and the still unanswered questions surrounding the UCDLA when reviewing this chart.

Click Here to view the 
CDL Disqualification Chart RCW 46.25.090 as a PDF File.

1.    Former RCW 46.20.270(4): For the purposes of Title 46 RCW the term "conviction" means a final conviction in a state or municipal court or by any federal authority having jurisdiction over offenses substantially the same as those set forth in Title 46 RCW which occur on federal installations in this state, an unvacated forfeiture of bail or collateral deposited to secure a defendant's appearance in court, the payment of a fine, a plea of guilty, or a finding of guilty on a traffic law violation charge, regardless of whether the imposition of sentence or sanctions are deferred or the penalty is suspended, but not including entry into a deferred prosecution agreement under chapter 10.05 RCW.

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