Obtaining a commercial driver's license (CDL) in Tennessee requires passage of a skills and knowledge test based upon the type of commercial motor vehicles (CMV) being driven. Federal law requires that CDL drivers crossing state lines must be 21 years of age. States may set different age limits for commercial drivers that operate solely within the state. You can learn more about Tennessee’s CDL license requirements in the Tennessee CDL manual.
Tennessee follows federal guidelines that provide for three classifications of CMVs as described below. (Learn more about the Federal Commercial Driver’s License Program (CDL/CDLIS).) CDLs are regulated nationwide under the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999. That law was modified by the Patriot Act, effective 2005, which provided that out-of-state transfers of CDLs were subject to certain security measures particularly in regard to transportation of hazardous materials.
Tennessee drivers can lose their CDL license on a temporary or permanent basis. The degree of loss depends on whether the violation is characterized as major (which always results in some form of disqualification) or serious (which cumulatively result in disqualification) or otherwise. Below we set out the standards. Note: Using a CMV or non CMV in the commission of a felony involving manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing a controlled substance will result in a disqualification for life, without the possibility of reinstatement.
Disqualification for major violations. Below we list the causes for a “major violation.” The first violation for a major violation, in a CMV or a non-CMV, results in a one-year disqualification (or a three-year disqualification if transporting hazardous materials required to be placarded). The second violation for a major, in a CMV or a non-CMV, results in a lifetime disqualification. The driver may be eligible for reinstatement under certain conditions after ten years. Major violations include:
Disqualification for serious traffic violations. The first violation for a serious violation does not result in a disqualification. A second serious violation within three years, results in a 60 day disqualification, and a third serious violation within three years, results in a 120 day disqualification. Serious disqualifications must be served consecutively. All serious violations in a CMV are included. Serious violations in a non-CMV must not be included, unless it results in the revocation, cancellation, or suspension of the CDL holder's license or non-CMV driving privileges.
Disqualification for railroad-highway grade crossing (RRHGC) offenses, while operating a CMV. The first violation of a RRHGC results in a disqualification of not less than 60 days. The second violation, within three years, results in a disqualification of not less than 120 days. The third and subsequent violations, within three years, results in a disqualification of not less than one year. RRHGC include:
Violation of Out-of-Service Order while operating a CMV. Violating a driver or vehicle out-of-service order transporting hazardous or non-hazardous materials or while operating a vehicle designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver.
There are a number of requirements that apply only to those with a commercial driver's license. Many of these requirements are set on the federal level. Drivers can also be penalized for the following CDL related offenses:
Drivers are also not allowed to have more than one CDL. If you are found having multiple CDLs from different states, you may be fined up to $5,000 and jailed. The court can also keep your home state license, and will return licenses from all other states.
The Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999 states that drivers with a CDL will have their CDL disqualified if they are convicted of certain types of moving violations in their personal vehicle. These may occur if: (1) a driver loses his license to operate his personal vehicle, whether by having it suspended, canceled or revoked, and the cause was a serious speeding violating, he will lose his CDL from somewhere between 60 and 120 days, and (2) the personal vehicle license is revoked, suspended or canceled due to an alcohol violation, the CDL will be lost for one year. The CDL will be lost for life if the driver receives a second alcohol conviction, even if the offense was committed in is personal car. Something called a "hardship" license to operate a CMV exists, but drivers may not obtain one of these if they have lost their license to operate personal vehicles. If you are convicted of any traffic violation other than parking violations, regardless of what type of vehicle you are driving, you must tell your employer of that within 30 days.
If you have been ticketed or issued a CDL violation in Tennessee, you may have defenses available to you. Because disqualification or loss of license can result from various infractions, you should consider consulting an attorney who can explain your options and help you to explore potential defenses.