How to Become a Truck Driver if You Have a Criminal Record
Truck driving can be a great way for individuals who have been through the justice system to re-enter the workforce, feel like productive members of society, and earn a livable wage. Commercial driving not only gives people with a criminal record a chance to prove their reliability and professionalism, but it also provides them with an opportunity to make a good living.
An average median salary of $47,130 per year and a growing pool of job openings make truck driving an attractive career option for many prospective workers with prior convictions. And while some jobs may be difficult for individuals with a criminal record to pursue, plenty of trucking companies are open to hiring those who have been incarcerated or have otherwise been through the justice system.
Truck Drivers Are in High Demand
In the past, trucking carriers may have been hesitant about hiring job applicants with a criminal record, but the nationwide truck driver shortage has led companies to take another look at this large applicant pool.
The American Trucking Associations reported a 92% turnover rate at large truckload fleets in the fourth quarter of 2020 and predicts a potential shortage of 174,000 drivers by 2024. Meanwhile, more than 70 million Americans have a criminal record, and about 600,000 people are released from state and federal prison each year. With these numbers in mind, it’s no wonder that some trucking companies are turning to those with criminal records to help meet the high demand for truck drivers.
If you’re someone with a criminal conviction in your history, the following FAQs and resources about how to become a truck driver will help guide you in the process of beginning a commercial driving career.
Can I Get a CDL With a Felony?
Becoming a truck driver requires obtaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Many people who have been convicted of a felony can receive their CDL. However, certain felonies will bar you from earning your professional license. In general, driving-related felonies and other serious charges related to driving will make you ineligible for a CDL at the federal level. State restrictions vary, so it’s important to review your state’s guidelines on CDL eligibility.
What Felonies Disqualify Me From Earning a CDL?
The following driving-related offenses automatically prohibit you from receiving a CDL:
- Driving any vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) at or above 0.08%
- A felony involving the use of a commercial motor vehicle
- Vehicular manslaughter in the first or second degree
- Causing a fatal accident through dangerous or negligent driving
If you already have your CDL, you’ll be disqualified from driving a commercial vehicle for:
- Driving a commercial motor vehicle under the influence of Schedule I drugs, amphetamines, or narcotic drugs
- Transportation, possession, or unlawful use of Schedule I drugs, amphetamines, or narcotic drugs while operating a commercial motor vehicle
- Leaving the scene of an accident while operating a commercial motor vehicle
- Using a commercial vehicle to commit a crime
Felonies unrelated to driving that can also disqualify you from receiving a CDL include:
- Drug smuggling
- Human trafficking
- Distributing weapons
- Assault with intent to murder
Can I Get a CDL if I Have Prior Convictions?
Certain convictions will disqualify you from receiving a CDL for one year or more. These include:
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance
- Leaving the scene of an accident
- Driving a commercial motor vehicle while your permit or license is revoked, suspended, or canceled
- Causing a fatality through the negligent operation of a commercial motor vehicle
Assuming you aren’t disqualified based on federal or state regulations, you’ll likely be able to earn your CDL—even with a past criminal record. However, the likelihood of finding a truck driving job often depends on when the conviction occurred. Some companies will only hire you after five, seven, or ten years following your crime.
Can I Become a Driver if I Have a DUI on My Record?
Federal guidelines bar individuals from obtaining a CDL for one year upon the first conviction of driving a non-commercial vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. A second conviction or refusal to be tested will disqualify the person from getting a CDL for life.
Having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.04% or higher while driving a commercial vehicle will disqualify you for one year upon the first conviction. A second such conviction will bar you for life.
Many trucking companies hire drivers with DUIs but prefer the offense happened at least five years ago. However, the majority require a set amount of time to have passed after reinstated driving privileges before hiring.
If you have a DUI on your record, consider earning your CDL through a company-sponsored training program or obtaining pre-hire letters from employers to make sure you have a legitimate opportunity to find a job.
Can I Become a Driver if I Have an Outstanding Warrant?
You are immediately disqualified from getting a CDL if there is an active warrant out for your arrest.
Do Traffic Tickets Affect My CDL?
How traffic violations affect your ability to get or retain your CDL largely depends on individual state regulations, so check your state’s laws for clarification. For instance, a parking ticket won’t affect your commercial license, but other more serious traffic violations may. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), certain traffic offenses can hinder your ability to earn a CDL.
The following traffic violations will bar drivers from operating a commercial vehicle for 60 days after a second conviction and 120 days after a third conviction:
- Excessive speeding
- Reckless driving
- Making dangerous lane changes
- Following a vehicle too closely
- Violating traffic control laws leading to a fatality
- Texting while driving a commercial vehicle
- Using a hand-held device while driving a commercial vehicle
While a few minor traffic fines may not bar you from receiving a CDL or getting a trucking job, most trucking companies prefer to hire people with a clean driving record.
Best Truck Driving Jobs for People With Criminal Records
Having a criminal history doesn’t mean companies won’t hire you as a truck driver, but it may limit your opportunities. That said, some trucking jobs are better suited for individuals who’ve been through the justice system, so exploring these specific types of positions may help open up your career prospects.
Over-the-Road Truck Driver
Long-haul driving isn’t ideal for everyone, but traveling long distances may elicit an empowering sense of freedom and rejuvenation, particularly for those who have been incarcerated.
The often challenging lifestyle associated with over-the-road truck driving means these types of drivers are in high demand in general, giving those who have been convicted a better chance at entering this career field.
Intrastate Truck Driver
Truck drivers with a criminal record may want to consider local driving jobs or pursue positions that only require driving within one state’s boundaries. Differences in state laws may make it difficult for felons to cross state lines. Truck fleets serving Canada or with routes through Canada also may not be an option, as those who have a felony conviction in their history usually can’t freely cross the border.
CDL Endorsement Disqualifications for Felons
Certain felonies will temporarily or permanently bar you from adding endorsements to your CDL. For instance, earning an “S” endorsement to drive school buses may not be possible, depending on your state’s regulations. In general, serious offenses, crimes involving children, and driving under the influence will prohibit you from operating a school bus.
According to the Transportation Security Administration, the following crimes will disqualify you for life from earning a hazardous materials (HAZMAT) endorsement:
- Transportation security incident
- Falsifying bomb threats
- Improper transportation of a hazardous material
- Unlawful possession, use, sale, purchase, manufacture, receipt, or dealing in an explosive device
- Violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or a comparable state law, where one of the acts is a permanently disqualifying offense
- Conspiracy or attempt to commit any of these crimes
About the Federal Bonding Program
If you’re struggling to find gainful employment because of your criminal record, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Federal Bonding Program (FBP) can help.
The program encourages companies to hire justice-involved job seekers by offering a $5,000 bond for the first six months of a person’s employment. The bond, which companies can renew for an additional six months, acts as a hiring incentive that protects employers against instances of employee dishonesty, such as theft, forgery, larceny, and embezzlement.
Those with felony convictions in their past can utilize this program to their advantage. By participating in the initiative, prospective truck drivers with criminal records can lower their perceived risk to motor carriers.
What to Know Before Pursuing a Truck Driving Career with a Criminal Record
Finding employment with a criminal record can be tough, but there are several ways you can prepare for a truck driving career.
Get your resume ready, including 10 years of employment history (if you have it). Be prepared to explain any long gaps in your employment history.
Obtain proof of driving experience from former employers, if applicable.
Get a copy of your DMV record and potentially a background check, so you know ahead of time what companies will see and to help you prepare for any questions.
Know your rights about what employers can and can’t ask about your criminal record. Many states have “ban-the-box” laws prohibiting employers from asking about criminal histories before making an employment offer. This law ensures that employers assess a candidate’s qualifications and skills before making premature decisions based on past offenses.
Be honest with companies about your past but try to focus any interviews and conversation on your work performance and experience.
Secure a pre-hire letter from potential employers whenever possible. While not a guarantee of employment, a pre-hire letter is verification from a trucking company that you meet their minimum hire requirements and will be considered for employment after you get your CDL.
Trucking Companies That Hire Felons
While many trucking companies make hiring decisions regarding ex-offenders based on a variety of factors, the following motor carriers are known for hiring people with felony records.
This dry van truckload carrier operates as an independent subsidiary of Knight Transportation. Drivers can’t have a DWI conviction on their record that’s less than seven years old.
B. Hunt Transport Services
One of the largest truckload fleets servicing the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, the company hires drivers with felonies that are at least 10 years old.
The Phoenix-based trucking carrier provides flatbed, dedicated, dry van, refrigerated, and port and rail services. The company hires those with felony convictions on a case-by-case basis but won’t hire individuals whose convictions occurred in the last five years. Each candidate is heavily vetted.
A North Carolina trucking carrier specializing in local deliveries, regional shipments, air freight cargo, and 24/7 trucking services, the company hires drivers convicted of minor, nonviolent crimes that are at least 10 years old.
This truck fleet offers various transportation services in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. CDL Class A drivers shouldn’t have a DUI offense on their record for 10 years. Non-CDL drivers shouldn’t have a DUI within five years.
This motor carrier is headquartered in Nashville and offers flatbed, van, and logistics services. The company hires offenders with convictions that are older than five years.
As employers continue to realize the benefits of hiring formerly incarcerated or convicted individuals, also known as “second chance hiring,” employment opportunities are bound to expand for those with criminal records. During an online job search, adding “second chance” to your job title can help you identify employers who are open to giving those with experience through the justice system a legitimate employment opportunity.
Support Organizations and Opportunities for Felons
The following organizations can provide guidance and support to former felons and people with prior justice system involvement who are seeking employment.
A New Way of Life Reentry Project
This organization supports formerly incarcerated women with housing, employment, legal support, and career development.
Felony Record Hub
This website provides a list of funds and other financial resources to help individuals acquire the necessary job training or help pilot a business.
Help For Felons
A rehabilitation organization offering housing, financial, and employment opportunities for previous offenders.
Hope for Prisoners
This center helps ex-convicts and their families achieve stable employment by providing vocational training and professional development.
Legal Action Center National H.I.R.E Network
Nearly 75% of those released from incarceration are still unemployed after one year. LAC advocates on many levels to help individuals with criminal records find employment.
The Sentencing Project
The advocacy group seeks to end mass incarceration and fight for a more equitable criminal justice system.
Volunteers of America Correctional Re-Entry Services
A rehabilitation initiative of Volunteers of America helping the formerly incarcerated better integrate into society.