California DUI Law & Commercial Driver's Licenses
Vehicle Code 23152(d) and 15300 VC


Vehicle Code 23152(d) is California's “commercial DUI” law. It makes it a crime to drive a commercial vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (“BAC”) of .04% or higher.1

This limit applies only when a driver is driving a commercial vehicle. When a driver is driving a non-commercial vehicle (such as a car, motorcycle or small truck), California's standard “legal limit” of .08% applies.

The important thing to remember is these limits are strict legal limits. They apply whether or not someone's driving is actually impaired by alcohol.

Example: Paul and Steve are big-rig drivers. They meet up one night for a few drinks. Afterward, Steve gets into his car. Paul gets into his 18-wheeler. A few minutes later, they both hit a DUI sobriety checkpoint. Steve has a BAC of 0.06. Because he is driving a car, he is below the legal limit of .08 and is allowed to drive on. But Paul has a BAC of 0.05. Even though his BAC is lower than Steve's, he is subject to the .04% limit because he is driving a commercial vehicle. As a result, Paul is arrested for DUI pursuant to Vehicle Code 23152(d).

Consequences of a DUI for a commercial driver

truck driver speaking on cb radio
Conviction of any form of DUI in California can result in both criminal penalties AND a suspension of the driver's commercial driver's license

Conviction of any form of DUI in California can result in both criminal penalties AND a suspension of the driver's commercial driver's license (“CDL”).

The driver does not have to be driving a commercial vehicle to suffer these serious consequences from a DUI.

A commercial driver will face these consequences if arrested for:

  • Driving a commercial vehicle with a BAC of .04% or greater;
  • Driving a non-commercial vehicle (such as a car, small truck, or motorcycle) with a BAC of .08% or higher; or
  • Driving any vehicle while actually impaired by alcohol and/or drugs (even if below the above limits).

Criminal penalties

Potential court-ordered penalties for commercial drivers convicted of a first-time California DUI can include:

Penalties increase with subsequent convictions.

And if convicted of DUI causing injury (Vehicle Code 23153) in any vehicle, a commercial driver could potentially be charged with a California felony.

Suspension of commercial driver's license

A commercial driver convicted of any DUI will also have his or her license suspended for at least one year.3 This suspension applies even if the driver was not driving a commercial vehicle at the time of the offense.4

It will also apply if the driver is arrested for DUI and he or she refuses to take either:

Loss of CDL for life if convicted of a second DUI

A commercial driver who is convicted of a second DUI will lose his or her commercial license for life.5

This result is mandated by both California and federal law.6

It is critical, therefore, that a commercial driver fights any DUI charge vigorously.

To help you better understand the consequences of a commercial DUI, our California DUI defense lawyers discuss the following, below:

1. What is a commercial vehicle?

a line of semi trucks
Semi Trucks are one category of commercial vehicles

For purposes of California DUI laws, there are two types of “commercial vehicles”:

  • Commercial vehicles that require the driver to hold a “Class B” license, and
  • Commercial vehicles that require only a “Class C” (standard) license with a commercial endorsement.7

Large trucks

Large commercial vehicles that require a California Class B license include:

  • Any single vehicle with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of more than 26,000 pounds; and
  • Any 3-axle vehicle weighing over 6,000 pounds.8

Smaller commercial vehicles

Certain smaller commercial vehicles can be driven with a regular (Class C) license. But the driver must obtain a “commercial driver endorsement.”

These smaller commercial vehicles include:

  • A double trailer;
  • A passenger vehicle that carries more than ten (10) persons including the driver;
  • A school bus;
  • A tank vehicle;
  • A vehicle that carries hazardous substances and requires a placard; and
  • In some cases, a farm vehicle.9

Commercial vehicles do NOT include:

  • Recreational vehicles (RVs); or
  • Agricultural vehicles operated by people who are not required to obtain driver's licenses in California.10

2. What is California's commercial DUI law?

Vehicle Code 23152(d) VC is California's law on commercial DUI.

VC 23152(d) VC provides:

"(d) It is unlawful for a person who has 0.04 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a commercial motor vehicle, as defined in Section 15210. In any prosecution under this subdivision, it is a rebuttable presumption that the person had 0.04 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood at the time of driving the vehicle if the person had 0.04 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood at the time of the performance of a chemical test within three hours after the driving."

3. How can a commercial driver be cited for driving under the influence?

Man breathalyzer dui 1
VC 23152(d) VC provides: "It is unlawful for a person who has 0.04 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a commercial motor vehicle"

Commercial drivers face serious consequences if convicted under ANY California DUI law. Situations that give rise to California DUI penalties for commercial drivers include:

The driver is under the influence of an alcoholic beverage

A driver is considered “under the influence” when:

  1. The driver's mental or physical abilities are so impaired,
  2. That he/she can no longer able to drive with the caution of a sober person using ordinary care under similar circumstances.11

For more information, please see our article on Vehicle Code 23152(a), California's driving under the influence law.

The driver is over the “legal limit” for alcohol

A driver is considered over California's “legal limit” for alcohol when:

  • The driver drives a commercial vehicle with BAC of 0.04 % or higher,12 or
  • The driver drives any other vehicle with a BAC of .08% or higher.13

This form of DUI is known as “per se” DUI. “Per se” is a Latin term meaning “of itself.”

Reaching the applicable BAC “legal limit” is considered a DUI “of itself.” It does not require proof that the driver was actually too impaired to drive safely.

For more information, please see our article on Vehicle Code 23152(b), driving a with a BAC of .08 or higher.

The driver is under the influence of drugs (with or without alcohol)

A driver also commits DUI when he or she drives:

  • Under the influence of any drug,14 or
  • Under the combined influence of alcohol and any drug.15

This is commonly referred to as “DUI of drugs,” or “DUID.”

4. Penalties for Vehicle Code 23152(d), commercial DUI

4.1. Commercial DUI, no third party injured

If there are no injuries, a first California DUI can be punished by:

  • Informal ("summary") probation for three to five years,
  • Up to six months in a county jail,
  • Between $390-$1,000 in fines plus penalty assessments, for a total of $1500 to $2000,
  • A three-month court-approved alcohol and/or drug education program (AB541 class, also known as “DUI school”), and
  • Suspension of the driver's California license for at least one year.16

The process for a commercial DUI is the same as for a regular California DUI, but with a longer period of suspension.

To learn more, please see our article on California DUI penalties, punishment and sentencing.

alcohol, keys, and hand cuffs on a table
A second California DUI conviction will result in the loss of a commercial driver's license for life.
4.2. Loss of CDL for life for second DUI

A second California DUI conviction will result in the loss of a commercial driver's license for life.17

A commercial driver who gets arrested for a second DUI should immediately contact an experienced California DUI lawyer.

4.3. DUI resulting in injury

DUI that results in injury to a third party can be charged as Vehicle Code 23153, California's law on DUI causing injury.

DUI causing injury is a California “wobbler” offense. A “wobbler” is a crime that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony (in the prosecutor's discretion).

4.4. If charged as a misdemeanor

As a misdemeanor, Vehicle Code 23153 can be punished by:

  • Informal (“summary”) probation for three to five years,
  • Five (5) days to one (1) year in a county jail,
  • Between $390-$5,000 in fines,
  • A 3, 9, 18, or 30-month court-approved alcohol or drug education program,
  • A one (1) year or three (3) year driver's license suspension, and
  • Payment of victim restitution to injured parties.18
4.5. Felony DUI causing injury

If charged as a felony, DUI causing injury can be punished by incarceration in the California state prison.

The precise sentence depends on:

  • Whether the driver has prior convictions for DUI or reckless driving in California,
  • The number of people that were injured, and
  • The extent of the victim(s)' injuries.19

The conviction will also count as a “strike” under California's “Three Strikes” law if a third party suffers “great bodily injury.”

The driver may also be sentenced to:

  • Between $1,015-$5,000 in fines,
  • 18- or 30-months of DUI school,
  • Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) status under VC 14601.3 for 3 years, and
  • A five (5)-year California driver's license revocation.20

5. What happens if a commercial driver refuses to take a chemical DUI test?

Refusal to take a chemical test for DUI will result in automatic suspension of a California driver's license for one year.21 It can also result in increased jail time if the defendant has prior DUI convictions.

These penalties are as indicated in the following chart:

Number of Prior DUIs in the Past 10 Years

Additional Jail Time for Refusing a Breath Test

License Suspension/Revocation for Chemical Test Refusal

0

48 extra hours in jail; six extra months of required DUI school

1-year license suspension

1

96 extra hours in jail

2-year license revocation

2

10 extra days in jail

3-year license revocation

3 or more

18 extra days in jail

3-year license revocation

6. Can I get a restricted license after a California commercial DUI?

A driver cannot get a restricted license to drive a commercial vehicle during the period of suspension.

But the driver may be able to downgrade to a non-commercial Class C (car) or Class M (motorcycle) license and get a restricted license to drive a non-commercial vehicle.

A restricted license enables the driver:

  • To drive to and from work (other than as a commercial driver),
  • To take him/herself and other family members for medical care for any serious medical problem, and/or
  • To drive a minor dependent to and from school if no public or school bus transportation is available.

For more information, please see California DMV, Application for Restricted Driver License.

7. How can I fight CDL DUI charges in California?

attorney and client seated and talking at a table
Even if the defendant was DUI, the police must follow proper protocol. If they do not, the charges should be dismissed or evidence should be excluded.

Fighting a California commercial DUI charge is the same as fighting charges for a regular DUI.

The best California DUI legal defenses often include taking one or more of the following positions:

The results of the driver's DUI chemical test were not accurate

Chemical blood or breath test results may seem like ironclad evidence. But there are a number of reasons why they are often not accurate. These include:

Police did not follow proper procedures during the arrest

Even if the defendant was DUI, the police must follow proper protocol. If they do not, the charges should be dismissed or evidence should be excluded.

Examples of failure to follow proper procedures can include:

8. Plea bargains to commercial DUI charges

Because the consequences of a California DUI conviction for commercial drivers are so severe, a commercial driver may want to consider a plea agreement.

The most common plea agreements involve reducing the DUI charges to reckless driving. For more information on DUI plea bargains, please see our articles on:

Arrested for DUI in California? Call us for help…

female receptionist smiling
Call us for help

If you were arrested for a DUI we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.

Call us at 1-855-LawFirm or complete the form on this page to speak to an experienced California DUI lawyer in your area.

We have local DUI law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and many nearby cities.

We also have DUI attorneys in Las Vegas and Reno if you need help fighting Nevada's “commercial driver's license” DUI laws.

Legal references:

  1. California Vehicle Code 23152(d): “It is unlawful for a person who has 0.04 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a commercial motor vehicle, as defined in Section 15210. In a prosecution under this subdivision, it is a rebuttable presumption that the person had 0.04 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood at the time of driving the vehicle if the person had 0.04 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood at the time of the performance of a chemical test within three hours after the driving.”
  2. These are examples of the penalties and sentence conditions for California Vehicle Code 23152, including VC 23152(d). They are a summary of the possible punishments a defendant's first, second or third California DUI offense, as set forth in Vehicle Code sections 23538, 23540 and 23546.
  3. Vehicle Code 15300 VC:

    “(a) A driver shall not operate a commercial motor vehicle for a period of one year if the driver is convicted of a first violation of any of the following:

    (1) Subdivision (a), (b), or (c) of Section 23152 while operating a motor vehicle.

    (2) Subdivision (d) of Section 23152.

    (3) Subdivision (a) or (b) of Section 23153 while operating a motor vehicle.

    (4) Subdivision (d) of Section 23153.

    (5) Leaving the scene of an accident involving a motor vehicle operated by the driver.

    (6) Using a motor vehicle to commit a felony, other than a felony described in Section 15304.

    (7) Driving a commercial motor vehicle when the driver's commercial driver's license is revoked, suspended, or canceled based on the driver's operation of a commercial motor vehicle or when the driver is disqualified from operating a commercial motor vehicle based on the driver's operation of a commercial motor vehicle.

    (8) Causing a fatality involving conduct defined pursuant to Section 191.5 of the Penal Code or subdivision (c) of Section 192 of the Penal Code.

    (9) While operating a motor vehicle, refuses to submit to, or fails to complete, a chemical test or tests in violation of Section 23612.

    (10) A violation of Section 2800.1, 2800.2, or 2800.3 that involves a commercial motor vehicle.

    (b) If a violation listed in subdivision (a), or a violation listed in paragraph (2) of subdivision (a) of Section 13350 or Section 13352 or 13357, occurred while transporting a hazardous material, the period specified in subdivision (a) shall be three years.”

  4. See same.
  5. Vehicle Code 15302 VC.
  6. See 49 CFR 383.51.
  7. Vehicle Code 15210(b)(1): “'Commercial motor vehicle' means any vehicle or combination of vehicles that requires a class A or class B license, or a class C license with an endorsement issued pursuant to paragraph (2), (3), (4), or (5) of subdivision (a) of Section 15278.”
  8. See California DMV, “California Driver License Classes.”
  9. See Vehicle Code 15278 VC – Vehicles for which [a commercial driver's license] endorsement required. Vehicle Code 15278(a)(5) exempts people farm equipment when driven by someone who is not required to obtain a California driver's license.

    See also California DMV, "Who Needs a Commercial Driver's License?"

  10. Same. See also Vehicle Code 15210, endnote 3.
  11. Vehicle Code 23152(a).

    See also Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (“CALCRIM”) 2110 – Driving Under the Influence: “A person is under the influence if, as a result of (drinking [or consuming] an alcoholic beverage/ [and/or] taking a drug), his or her mental or physical abilities are so impaired that he or she is no longer able to drive a vehicle with the caution of a sober person, using ordinary care, under similar circumstances.”

  12. Vehicle Code 23152(d) VC.
  13. Vehicle Code 23152(a).
  14. Vehicle Code 23152(f): “It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle.”
  15. Vehicle Code 23152(g): “It is unlawful for a person who is under the combined influence of any alcoholic beverage and drug to drive a vehicle.”
  16. The driver's license suspension increases to three (3) years if the DUI occurred while the driver was transporting any hazardous material. See Vehicle Code 15300(b), endnote 3.
  17. Vehicle Code 15302 VC.
  18. See Vehicle Code 23556 VC.
  19. See Vehicle Code sections 23556 – 23566.
  20. See same.
  21. Vehicle Code 15300(a), endnote 3.

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