A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) opens many doors for interesting and lucrative careers. If you are currently trying to obtain a CDL license, you may wonder if a felony conviction will prevent you from getting your CDL. The quick answer is most felonies will not prevent you from obtaining your CDL. However, there are some exceptions. CDLs are issued by individual states, which have its own rules, procedures and standards for issuance of CDLs. Some states even have stricter standards than federal laws.

For the purpose of this article, a conviction means any determination of guilt, or finding an individual has violated or failed to comply with the below listed laws by a court of original jurisdiction, regardless of sentence order. In other words, if an individual is given a diversionary, supervisory, or a probationary sentence, it is counted as a conviction.

Certain Felonies May Disqualify You from Obtaining a CDL

The minimum requirements and qualifications for CDL holders have been standardized at the federal level since the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act was passed in 1986. Since then, Congress passed the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act, which created the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in 1999. The FMCSA is a separate administration within the U.S. Department of Transportation and has the responsibility of promulgating regulations, including the standards and qualifications of CDL drivers. Under current FMSCA regulations, there are several offenses for which any conviction will result in a disqualification from obtaining a CDL. A list of these restrictions is found at 383.51.

In every state, a CDL applicant must certify they are not disqualified under 383.51. States are required to review an applicant’s driving and criminal history to ensure they are not subject to disqualification. There are several levels of disqualification set forth in the federal regulations and some only apply to current CDL drivers. For this article, we are focusing on first time CDL applicants with felony convictions. We also have other articles, which addressed as qualifications for current CDL holders.

A person applying for a CDL is disqualified if they have been convicted of a felony, which involves the use of a vehicle for one (1) year for a first offense and for life (with the possibility of reinstatement after 10 years) for a second offense. These disqualifications also apply if an individual refuse to be tested under the applicable state law.

Lifetime CDL Disqualification

There are two categories of felonies, which carry a lifetime CDL disqualification without possibility of reinstatement. Anyone with a felony conviction for using a vehicle for the manufacture, dispensing, or distribution of a controlled substance is disqualified from holding a CDL for life, with no possibility of reinstatement. Second, any conviction for a felony, which involves the use of a commercial motor vehicle in the commission of a felony involving human trafficking.

HAZMAT Opportunity

Many CDL drivers want to obtain a Hazardous Materials Endorsement (HAZMAT) to enhance their potential employment. The list for disqualifying felonies is much more extensive for this endorsement. A CDL driver will be disqualified from holding a HAZMAT if they were convicted or found not guilty by reason of insanity, within the last seven (7) years or was released from prison within the last five (5) years for any of the following crimes, provided the crimes were considered felonies in the appropriate jurisdiction:

  • Assault with intent to murder
  • Kidnapping or hostage taking
  • Rape or aggravated sexual abuse
  • Unlawful possession, use, sale, manufacture, purchase, distribution, receipt, transfer, shipping, transporting, delivery, import, export, or dealing in a firearm or other weapon
  • Extortion
  • Dishonesty, fraud, or misrepresentation, including identity fraud
  • Bribery
  • Smuggling
  • Immigration violations
  • Violations of RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act or a comparable state law of an Interim Disqualifying crime
  • Robbery
  • Distributions of, possession with intent to distribute, or importation of a controlled substance (State laws vary on the quantity of marijuana required for the offense to be considered a felony. Typically, however, to be convicted of felony marijuana possession, a person must possess a quantity of marijuana greater than an amount considered for personal use)
  • Arson
  • Conspiracy or attempt to commit any of these crimes

A CDL driver who has ever been convicted or found not guilty by reason of insanity of any of the following crimes will be permanently disqualified from ever holding a HAZMAT:

  • Espionage
  • Sedition
  • Treason
  • Any crime listed in 18 U.S.C. Chapter 113B; Terrorism or a comparable state law
  • A crime involving a severe transportation security incident (i.e, security incident involving a significant loss of life, environmental damage, transportation system disruption, or economic disruption in a particular area)
  • Improper transportation of a hazardous material under 49 U.S.C. 5124 or a comparable state law (minor infractions involving transportation of hazardous materials will not disqualify a driver. For instance, no driver will be disqualified for minor roadside infractions or placarding violations)
  • Unlawful possession, use, sale, distribution, manufacture, purchase, receipt, transfer, shipping, transporting, import, export, storage of, or dealing in an explosive or explosive device
  • Murder as defined in 18 U.S.C. 1111
  • Conspiracy or attempt to commit any of these crimes
  • Violations of RICO (Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations) Act or a comparable state law of one of these Permanently Disqualifying crimes

Discuss your felony circumstances with an Illinois traffic attorney from Driver Defense Team. If you’ve been charged with a felony and want to discuss your CDL options, you can schedule a consultation to review your situation. Call us at 312-940-8330 to set up an appointment.