Location:
MOTOR VEHICLES - LICENSES; SCHOOLS - TRANSPORTATION;

OLR Research Report


SCHOOL BUS DRIVER LICENSING AND DUI SUSPENSIONS

By: Heather Poole, Legislative Analyst I

ISSUE

What are the requirements for issuing school bus driver licenses and suspending those held by school bus drivers convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) offenses?

IS THERE A DIFFERENCE IN CONNECTICUT BETWEEN A COMMERCIAL DRIVER'S LICENSE (CDL) AND A BUS DRIVER'S LICENSE?

To operate any commercial vehicle, including a school bus, an operator is required to hold a CDL that qualifies him or her to drive a vehicle of a specific size. Certain commercial vehicle activities have additional training requirements (e.g., transporting passengers or hazardous materials, or using air brakes), and the law requires operators to obtain, in addition to a CDL, an endorsement that certifies they are qualified to perform that activity. To drive a school bus in Connecticut, a person must hold a CDL with a passenger endorsement (P endorsement) and a school bus endorsement (S endorsement) (CGS 14-44).

UNDER WHAT CONDITIONS CAN SCHOOL BUS DRIVER'S LICENSES BE SUSPENDED?

If a school bus driver commits a crime or other offense that would have disqualified him or her from obtaining or renewing a CDL or endorsement, his or her CDL and endorsement may be suspended or revoked entirely. This can happen for many different types of crimes and violations (e.g., DUI, vehicular manslaughter, or child abuse). Conn. Agencies Regs. 14-44-6 details instances in which a passenger endorsement holder (including school bus drivers) could have his or her CDL or endorsement suspended or revoked and the procedures for doing so.

WHAT HAPPENS TO A SCHOOL BUS DRIVER THAT IS ARRESTED OR CONVICTED FOR DUI?

If a school bus driver is convicted for DUI, he or she is disqualified from operating a commercial vehicle and his or her S endorsement is suspended. But, as explained below, a bus driver's license can be suspended for DUI before the driver is convicted. DUI arrests and convictions are based on the driver's blood alcohol content (BAC) at the time the driver was operating the vehicle. School bus drivers are subject to the same penalties regardless of whether they were driving a passenger or commercial vehicle at the time they were driving under the influence, but the threshold over which a driver is considered to be intoxicated is lower while he or she is driving a commercial vehicle (.04% BAC, as opposed to .08% BAC for passenger vehicle operators).

Suspension After Conviction

Upon the first DUI conviction, a school bus driver is disqualified from driving any commercial vehicle for a year and his or her S endorsement is suspended for five years (CGS 14-44k; Conn. Agencies Regs. 14-44-4). CDL holders, as of January 1, 2014, are ineligible for the Pretrial Alcohol Education Program (PAEP) regardless of whether or not they were driving a commercial vehicle at the time. By law, someone charged with DUI for the first time may apply to the court for admission to the PAEP. If the defendant satisfactorily completes the assigned program, he or she may apply for dismissal of the charges (CGS 54-56g). According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which administers the CDL program, the use of such a program for CDL or commercial driver's instruction permit holders “masks” what otherwise would be their first conviction. Under federal regulation, such masking is illegal (49 CFR 384.226).

After a second DUI conviction, a school bus driver is disqualified from holding a CDL for life, but may request a hearing to have his or her license reinstated after 10 years. The license may be reinstated if the driver has participated in alcohol rehabilitation programs and has not had an alcohol-related offense in 10 years. After a third DUI conviction, a driver is permanently banned from driving a commercial vehicle and is not entitled to a license reinstatement hearing (CGS 14-44k(h)).

Administrative Per Se Suspension

CDLs are also subject to administrative suspensions. If any motorist is arrested for DUI, his or her license may be suspended before they are convicted. Under CGS 14-227b, motorists implicitly consent to be tested for drugs or alcohol when they drive. The law establishes administrative license suspension procedures for drivers who refuse to submit to a test or whose test results indicate an elevated BAC. These provisions are called “implied consent” and “administrative per se,” respectively. Administrative per se suspensions are imposed in addition to any criminal penalty for conviction of DUI. 

According to the DMV, it receives a report from police within a week from when a driver is arrested for DUI. After receiving the report, DMV sends a notice to the driver that his or her license will be suspended, and the driver has the opportunity to request a hearing. DMV states that nearly all license suspensions go into effect within 45 days of the initial arrest. The length of administrative suspension depends on a person's BAC and the number of previous convictions. More information on administrative suspensions is available on DMV's website.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN A CONVICTION IS EXPUNGED FROM ONE'S RECORD?

Generally, if a conviction for any offense is expunged from one's record, the conviction is treated as though it never occurred. However, CDL holders' DUI convictions are not expunged.

Before January 1, 2014, CDL holders were eligible for the PAEP after their first DUI offense, provided they were driving a passenger vehicle and not a commercial vehicle at the time. If a CDL holder participated in the program, DUI charges could be dismissed, but his or her participation in the program remained on his or her record for 10 years.

As of January 1, 2014, CDL holders are no longer eligible for the PAEP and, consequently, they are unable to get charges dismissed by participating in the program. According to DMV, DUI convictions remain on a CDL holder's record for 55 years.

DOES CONNECTICUT REQUIRE BACKGROUND CHECKS OF SCHOOL BUS DRIVERS?

Pre Employment

The law requires school buses to be driven by people with a valid CDL and S endorsement and prohibits employers from allowing someone who is disqualified from driving a commercial vehicle to do so (CGS 14-276; 14-44k). DMV requires that an S endorsement applicant undergo a state and national criminal records and a driver history records check for each state in which he or she has held a license in the previous 10 years (CGS 14-44; 14-44g). The applicant also must prove, prior to receiving an endorsement, that he or she has not been convicted for DUI in the past five years and does not appear on the child abuse and neglect registry. If a criminal record is found, the DMV commissioner may refuse to issue an endorsement (CGS 14-44). CGS 14-44(f) specifically prohibits the DMV commissioner from issuing a license with an S endorsement to someone convicted of a “serious criminal offense” (as defined by the commissioner in Conn. Agencies Regs. 14-44-4) and requires that she suspend any endorsement that has been issued after the endorsement holder commits a serious criminal offense.

We did not find any laws or regulations that required schools or private companies to conduct an additional background check before hiring school bus drivers. However, carriers (i.e., school districts or the districts' transportation contractor) are required to conduct urinalysis drug testing on any person it intends to hire (CGS 14-276a).

Post Employment

The DMV commissioner is required to provide to boards of education or to any public or private organization that is actively engaged in transporting school children (carriers) the names of people whose CDLs and endorsements have been suspended (CGS 14-44(h)). Carriers must check the list twice a month to see if any of their employees have had their licenses or endorsements suspended or revoked. If a carrier finds that its employee has had his or her licenses suspended, it must prohibit him or her from operating a school bus (CGS 14-276). Carriers must also conduct random urinalysis drug testing on each person it employs to operate school buses (CGS 14-276a).

DOES CONNECTICUT REQUIRE DAILY CHECKS OF SCHOOL BUS DRIVERS BEFORE THEY OPERATE A BUS?

Connecticut has no laws or regulations that require school bus drivers to check in with a supervisor before operating a school bus. However, according to Leslie Sheldon from the Connecticut School Transportation Association, most school districts or bus companies do so in practice, which varies according to location and district size. In general, most school districts and bus companies require their drivers to check in at the central facility to fill out their time cards and ensure the bus goes out according to schedule, among other things.

HOW DO OTHER STATES' LAWS ADDRESS THESE ISSUES?

Federal Law

States must substantially comply with specific federal regulations concerning licensing commercial vehicle drivers, records checks, and DUI offenses (49 U.S.C. 384). Among other things, these regulations:

1. require school bus drivers to obtain a CDL and an S endorsement;

2. require (1) states to check a CDL applicant's driving record in all states before issuing a CDL, and (2) employers to request 10 years employment history before hiring someone to operate a commercial vehicle;

3. set .04% as the BAC threshold while driving a commercial vehicle;

4. require a driver to notify his or her employer (1) within 30 days of any traffic violation, and (2) by the next business day if his or her license is suspended, revoked, or canceled, or if he or she is disqualified from driving;

5. disqualify CDL holders from operating commercial vehicles for (1) one year after their first DUI offense, and (2) life after a second or subsequent DUI offense;

6. prohibit employers from knowingly allowing someone who is disqualified to operate a commercial vehicle; and

7. require states to retain records of CDL holders' violations and convictions for at least three years.

Federal law also requires CDL disqualification for many other violations and crimes. More information on disqualifications can be found on the FMCSA's website.

Other States' Requirements

In addition to complying with federal regulations, states have passed their own laws and regulations governing school bus driver licensing and disqualification. We checked nearby states' laws to provide some examples of these requirements.

The table below describes different states' laws regarding (1) required record checks and (2) the consequences of a first-time DUI offense (this includes refusing to take a test or receiving test results that indicate an elevated BAC, as well as conviction). Because the consequences for second and subsequent DUI offenses are controlled by federal regulation, we did not include them in the table.

Table 1: School Bus Driver Record Checks and DUI Consequences

State

Record Checks Required Before Endorsement

Record Checks Required Before Hiring

Consequence of 1st DUI**

Maine

(Me. Rev. Stat. Ann tit.29-A, 2452)

Driving record

Employment record

Three-year S endorsement suspension

Permanent S endorsement suspension if driving bus at the time of offense

Massachusetts*

(Mass. Gen. Laws Ann., ch. 90, 8A)

Criminal background

Driving record

Sex offender and child abuse registry

Employment record

Five-year S endorsement suspension

New Hampshire*

(N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. 263:29; N.H. Code Admin. R. Ann. Saf-C 1304.03 et seq.)

Driving record

Criminal background

Employment record

10-year school bus certificate loss

New Jersey

(N.J. Stat. Ann. 18A:39-19.1; N.J. Admin. Code 13:21-23.15)

Driving record

Criminal background

Driving record

Employment record

Two-year S endorsement suspension

New York

(N.Y. Vehicle and Traffic Law 509-d et seq.)

Driving record

Criminal background

Driving record

Employment record

Five-year S endorsement suspension

Rhode Island*

(R.I. Admin. Code 47-1-3)

Criminal background

Driving record

Employment record

Must pass certification hearing

Five-year school bus certificate loss

Vermont

Driving record

Employment record

No additional suspension

(Conforms to federal law)

*These states require a school bus certificate in addition to the federally-required S endorsement to drive a school bus

**In addition to the federally-mandated one-year disqualification from driving a commercial vehicle

HP:ts