People who own and drive trucks believe that one of the quickest ways to improve safety would be to strengthen the commercial driver license program by doing a better job reporting on driver performance.
The CDL is generally credited as one of the most important safety initiatives ever. But industry witnesses at a National Transportation Safety Board hearing yesterday said loopholes permit unqualified drivers to slip through.
It's hard for employers to make good hiring decisions when there is no uniform national system for reporting on driver performance, said Max Fuller, co-chairman of U.S. Xpress.
Jim York, director of safety for the National Private Truck Council, said safety enforcement could be improved by adding driver performance information to the federal formula for targeting the worst operators.
He suggested that the Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety find a way to get driver information into a national reporting system that employers could use when they are making hiring decisions.
Right now, according to Fuller, when a company asks a previous employer for a reference on a driver, more likely than not the only information it will get is that the driver was "satisfactory."
Changes in the CDL reporting system may be on the list of recommendations that NTSB will make after it has digested these three days of hearings. But the tough part of this one arises from the conflict between public safety and the right to privacy.
The reason companies don't like to talk about former employees is because they run the risk of being sued for passing on information that could crimp someone's ability to make a living. Without some sort of protection from this kind of litigation, trucking employers are not likely to share information that could, in fact, make the highways safer.