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How do Michigan’s OWI laws work for commercial drivers?

On Behalf of | Jan 30, 2024 | Criminal Defense

It’s dangerous to drive while intoxicated due to alcohol, drugs or a combination of the two. Intoxication impairs a driver’s senses, reaction time and judgment, making them a hazardous liability on the road. This is why Michigan treats operating while intoxicated (OWI) as a criminal offense.

But what happens when an officer arrests a commercial driver’s license (CDL) holder for OWI? Is the CDL holder subject to the same laws as regular drivers?

Changes to legal limits

Normally, for a driver to face OWI charges their blood alcohol content (BAC) level must be at least .08% at the time of the offense. This is determined through chemical testing, such as the breathalyzer test.

However, CDL holders are held to a higher safety standard than ordinary drivers. Because of this, the legal limit for a CDL holder’s BAC is stricter at .04%.

Penalties for CDL holders

The consequences of an OWI for a CDL holder can be career-altering. The punishments on conviction include:

  • First offense: The offense is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 93 days of imprisonment and $300 in fines. In addition, the driver faces a minimum one-year CDL disqualification and possible vehicle forfeiture.
  • The offense was committed within seven years of a prior conviction: The offense is still a misdemeanor. However, the court may sentence the driver to imprisonment for up to a year and pay $1,000 in fines. Officials may also disqualify the driver’s CDL for life, though drivers may be able to apply for reinstatement after 10 years.
  • The offense was committed within 10 years of two or more prior convictions: The offense becomes a felony at this point. This also leads to lifetime CDL disqualification. Convicted drivers will have to pay up to $5,000 in fines and serve one of these two possible sentences:
    • Up to five years of imprisonment under the Department of Corrections.
    • Probation with imprisonment in county jail for up to a year, with up to 180 days of community service.

A suspended CDL can financially hurt drivers who rely on their commercial driving jobs. Worse, the conviction stays on a driver’s record, which could affect their future job applications.

Michigan’s OWI laws impose stringent standards on commercial drivers to ensure safety on the roads. The repercussions of an OWI can be profound for those who depend on their CDL for their livelihood. If you’re a CDL holder facing charges, consider seeking help from a legal professional who can help guide you through the court process and protect your rights.

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