It seems that a lot of CDL drivers believe that you can just pay certain traffic citations and the ticket will simply go away with no negative impact on your driving record. Well, this is simply not true.
Contrary to what a law enforcement officer — or a colleague — may tell you, by paying a traffic citation you are pleading guilty to the charges against you. That conviction goes on your MVR and can be used in determining your Driver Safety Management Score (SMS) under the upcoming Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA 2010) — both of which can affect your ability to stay employed or get a better job.
Of course, we all want to believe everything we are told, especially when someone in authority is talking to us. If you don’t believe me, let me give you a “hypothetical.” Let’s suppose a driver — we will call him Slim Flepper — who, coincidentally, looks a lot like me and drives a vehicle a lot like mine — was traveling through the land of enchantment (New Mexico) where he was pulled over for speeding (allegedly).
Let’s further assume that Slim was travelling with a group of vehicles — all licensed in the land of enchantment — at roughly the same rate of speed when Slim’s vehicle, licensed in another state, was culled from the herd. Slim promptly and courteously provided his CDL, registration and proof of insurance to the officer and then waited patiently while the officer ran a check on Slim and issued him a citation.
When the officer approached Slim’s vehicle he told Slim that if he paid the $80 fine that the ticket would not affect his record. The officer further indicated where Slim could sign to accept this “deal.” Luckily, our hero knew that this citation — written in New Mexico — would be reported to his home state and would impact his CDL. As a result, Slim declined the “good deal” and requested a court date on this matter.
Now I don’t believe that people you encounter on the road are acting with malice when they tell you a citation won’t impact your license. In fact, I believe most of them honestly believe this to be true. However, unless the person offering you this bit of advice knows the law of the state where the citation was issued as well as the law of the state where the driver holds his or her CDL, they cannot tell you that a citation will not have an impact on a driver’s record.
In addition, unless that person is intimately familiar with the methodology used in calculating a driver’s SMS Score under CSA 2010 any advice they provide is — at best — wishful thinking.
With that in mind, what would I tell my son or daughter who drove a big truck for a living when someone said a citation won’t affect their record? I would tell them to seek professional advice from someone who knows the relevant state’s traffic laws as well as the current version of CSA 2010. In today’s environment it is more important than ever to maintain a clean driving record and protect a good SMS Score and you need to be prepared to fight to keep both. Should you need to fight a citation you will need an attorney knowledgeable in the area where you need help. Simply stated, a CDL driver needs to hire an attorney who does a lot of CDL defense work so the attorney will know what will happen in the driver’s home state and what to do in the state where the driver received the citation.
At the end of the day the best advice I can give a CDL driver is to not believe everything you are told and to follow the laws and drive safely. The best way to maintain a good driving record and low SMS Score is to not get a ticket. Of course, even the very best driver may receive a citation he does not deserve. In that case, before you plead guilty and pay a fine under the mistaken belief that it will not impact your record, talk to a professional and find out what will really happen to your driving record. A clean MVR and low SMS Score is your ticket to a long and successful career in the trucking industry.
Jim C. Klepper is president of Interstate Trucker Ltd., a law firm dedicated to legal defense of the nation's commercial drivers. Interstate Trucker represents truck drivers throughout the 48 states on both moving and nonmoving violations. He is also president of Drivers Legal Plan, which allows member drivers access to his firm’s services at discounted rates. A former prosecutor, he is a lawyer who has focused on transportation law and the trucking industry in particular. He works to answer your legal questions about trucking and life over-the-road and has his Commercial Drivers License.
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