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Can a Felon Get a CDL?

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When it comes to getting a job after their release from prison, felons find it challenging. They may think no one will hire them, but there are resources available.

Those felons with experience and interest in driving might think of becoming a commercial driver. This blog post will address the issue of whether or not a felon can get a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).

  • What is a CDL?
  • What is Required to Get a CDL?
  • An Opportunity for Felons?
  • Recommended Action


What is a CDL?

A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is a license required by the federal government to drive specific types of vehicles for commercial or business purposes.

There are three classes of a CDL: Class A, B, and C, all of which have the same basic requirements. The differences are in the type of vehicle that can be driven, the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), and the towing allowances among other features.

A person must have a CDL to drive a vehicle that:

  • Has a GVWR of over 26,000 pounds
  • Transports hazardous materials
  • Carries at least 16 passengers

There are certain exemptions from needing a CDL, including:

  • Farm transportation
  • Emergency or firefighting vehicle
  • Military vehicle
  • Personal recreational vehicle
  • A vehicle owned or leased by an air carrier

What is Required to Get a CDL?

In order to get a CDL, someone must:

  • Be at least 21 years of age
  • Complete a CDL application
  • Provide identity and Social Security Number verification
  • Provide proof of state and U.S. residence
  • Submit a completed medical examination report form
  • Pass a vision test
  • Pass a knowledge exam
  • Have a valid Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP)
  • Pass a pre-trip inspection
  • Pass the road skills and driving exam

It’s a federal law that someone must be at least 21 years old to drive commercially across state lines. Commercial driving within a person’s state of residence can be done at 18 years of age.

An Opportunity for Felons?

When applying for a commercial driver’s license, the DMV will check a person’s driving record for any disqualifications for a CDL.

There are certain offenses that will disqualify someone from obtaining a CDL. Disqualifications from earning a CDL at the Federal level include:

  • Using a commercial vehicle and commission of felony first or second degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle
  • Misconduct with a motor vehicle
  • Causing a fatality through negligent or reckless vehicle operation
  • Operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher
  • Extortion
  • Bribery
  • Arson
  • Treason
  • Kidnapping
  • Assault with intent to murder

State laws may differ somewhat regarding felony conviction disqualifications. Checking with the state’s DMV will allow someone to know the specific regulations.

Commercial drivers must meet strict standards regarding a DUI. If a blood alcohol level is .04 or higher while operating a commercial vehicle, this may be a disqualification from getting a CDL.

A single traffic ticket will not disqualify a person from obtaining a CDL. Two or more violations in a certain time may temporarily prevent someone from getting a commercial license.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) establishes the rules and regulations for disqualifications for a CDL. Disqualifications include:

  • Excessive speeding
  • Leaving an accident scene
  • High blood alcohol level
  • Controlled substance use
  • Felony using a commercial vehicle
  • Manufacturing, distribution, or dispensing a controlled substance
  • Fatality while driving a commercial vehicle
  • Repeat offenses

In order to qualify for a CDL, felon would have to provide detailed information regarding his or her felony, including:

  • Type of offense
  • How long ago the conviction was
  • Efforts at rehabilitation
  • Proof of living an honest life after release

Another challenge for felons after getting a CDL is when they seek a job as a commercial driver.

To be successful in this pursuit, it is essential for felons to be honest about their background. Lying on an application is fraud and could result in more jail time.

There are many success stories, as the Guide to Being Employed reveals, showing how having a goal, commitment, dedication, and perseverance can assist felons in achieving their dreams.

There are re-entry programs, such as drug treatment, and educational opportunities for felons who need them. For many felons, having their felony expunged can give them the chance they need to begin with a clean record and succeed in getting a CDL.

Recommended Action

It’s a significant challenge, but it might be worth it for a felon that wants to drive trucks or other commercial vehicles and get a CDL. Having his or her record expunged and also documenting any training programs or additional education could make the essential difference in a felon succeeding in getting a CDL.

Having support from family, friends, or previous employers can make a huge difference. A felon doesn’t have to be defined by his or her crime. We are not defined by our mistakes but by how we recover from them. He or she can begin again and live an honest life no matter how difficult it might seem.

What do you think about this blog post? Have you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to get a CDL with a felony? What was that like for him or her, and how did he or she achieve success? Please tell us in the comments below.

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