Penalties For Drinking and Driving an 18 Wheeler in Houston Texas Explained

The Houston metro area is among the busiest in the world for trucks of all sizes, let alone 18-Wheelers. Let's talk about the different types of licenses the State of Texas requires for people operating trucks of different sizes in the state of Texas. Then we'll move onto how one's CDL license may be jeopardized by a range of offenses including being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Table of Contents

First and foremost Texas’ truck laws are regulated by the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement agency. Though they are statewide they do have a Houston office, it is located at 12230 WEST RD, TX. You can reach them by phone at (281) 517-1259 or find them online. They will provide you with the forms you need to apply for the types of licenses the states offer which we are going to talk about below.

Classes of Commercial Driver’s Licenses Texas

Texas offers three different different classes of licenses Class A, B and C in increasing order of size and weight the passenger is carrying. For a simplified answer (we’ll get to the more detailed one) see the graphic below to visualize what type of CDL license applies to you.

Class A CDL

According to the Texas Transportation Code §522.003, any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 pounds or more requires a Class A CDL. GCWR is the maximum allowable weight of the combination of vehicles, including the weight of the vehicles themselves, any cargo they are carrying, and any passengers or other items on board.

In addition, if the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the towed vehicle or vehicles exceeds 10,000 pounds, then a Class A CDL is required. GVWR is the weight of a single vehicle when fully loaded, as specified by the manufacturer.

So, in simpler terms, if you want to drive a combination of vehicles with a total weight of 26,001 pounds or more, and the weight of the vehicle being towed (or vehicles) is over 10,000 pounds, then you need to have a Class A CDL.

Class B CDL

Here are the situations in which a Class B CDL would be required:

  1. Any single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more requires a Class B CDL. GVWR is the weight of a single vehicle when fully loaded, as specified by the manufacturer.
  2. If a single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more is towing another vehicle with a GVWR of 10,000 pounds or less, then a Class B CDL is required.
  3. Any vehicle designed to transport 24 passengers or more, including the driver, requires a Class B CDL. This typically includes vehicles such as buses or large passenger vans.

So, in summary, a Class B CDL is required for driving any of the following vehicles:

  • A single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more,
  • A single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more towing a vehicle with a GVWR of 10,000 pounds or less,
  • A vehicle designed to transport 24 passengers or more, including the driver.

Class C CDL Requirements

Here are the situations in which a Class C CDL would be required:

  1. Any single vehicle or combination of vehicles that is not a Class A or Class B vehicle, and is designed to transport 16 to 23 passengers, including the driver, requires a Class C CDL. This typically includes vehicles such as small buses or vans.
  2. Any single vehicle or combination of vehicles that is not a Class A or Class B vehicle and is used in the transportation of hazardous materials that require placards under 49 CFR, Part 172 requires a Class C CDL. This includes vehicles carrying hazardous materials such as chemicals or explosives.

In summary, a Class C CDL is required for driving any of the following vehicles:

  • Any single vehicle or combination of vehicles that is not a Class A or Class B vehicle and is designed to transport 16 to 23 passengers, including the driver,
  • Any single vehicle or combination of vehicles that is not a Class A or Class B vehicle and is used in the transportation of hazardous materials that require placards under 49 CFR, Part 172.

Penalties For Drinking and Driving An 18 Wheeler

The state of Texas licensing board has created a table, Table 1 of Sec. 383.51 of the Texas State Law, that details the penalties regarding what happens to your CDL if your caught operating your vehicle under the influence. We’ve reprinted the table below but, as it may be difficult to read or follow, we’ll walk through it now.

First Conviction

If a person who is required to have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is convicted of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol or refuses to take a drug or alcohol test while operating a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) for the first time, they will be disqualified from operating a CMV for one year. This also applies to current CDL holders who commit the same offense. This also does not count the criminal penalties for drinking and driving in Texas.

Criminal penalties include a requirement to spend 72 hours in a holding cell and pay a fine of up to $2,000. Your regular driver’s license will likely be suspended for 90 days. This also assumes that you are not transporting hazardous substances. In which case..

Penalty For Drinking and Driving an 18-Wheeler While Transporting Hazardous Waste

The penalties are increased for a person who is required to have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and is convicted or refuses to be tested for operating a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) while transporting hazardous materials that are required to be placarded under the Hazardous Materials Regulations (49 CFR part 172, subpart F).

Hazardous materials are substances or materials that pose a potential risk to health, safety, and property if not handled properly. These materials are required to be placarded with specific hazard symbols and information to alert first responders and others who may come in contact with them. You can read the full list of hazardous materials here, but if you’re transporting hazardous materials you should know because the letters ‘RQ’ will be printed on the manifest and on the containers as well.

If a CDL holder is convicted of or refuses to be tested for driving a CMV transporting hazardous materials that require placards for the first time, they will be disqualified from operating a commercial vehicle for three years. This is a serious penalty that highlights the importance of following safety regulations and operating CMVs responsibly, especially when transporting hazardous materials.

Second Conviction

A person who is required to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and who is convicted or refuses to be tested for a second time for any combination of offenses listed in the Table above while operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV), will be disqualified from operating a CMV for life.

This means that the person will no longer be allowed to drive a commercial motor vehicle as part of their job or for any other purpose that requires a commercial driver’s license. The disqualification is a serious consequence and reflects the importance of safe and responsible driving practices, particularly when operating a commercial vehicle.

Penalty For Being Under The Influence and Driving An 18-Wheeler

If you are under the influence of any controlled substance (see section 383.72 of the criminal code) penalties also apply in addition to any criminal penalties you may face. In general, a first time conviction of the offense in Texas will result in a one year suspension of your CDL. After which, you can apply to be re-instated. If you are transporting hazardous chemicals, you’ll have to wait three years before you can re-apply.

Unfortunately, if this is your second conviction of being under the influence while operating an 18-wheeler (or you were pulled over under suspicion and refused to be tested), you will be given a lifetime ban from legally obtaining a CDL and all the vehicles that apply.