A key element of the new safety regime under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will be stricter regulation of the Commercial Drivers License.
Concern about the CDL emerged during hearings this year as Congress laid the foundation for safety reform. Those hearings led to a bill Congress passed November 19 that will create the new motor carrier administration effective January 1, 2000, and stiffen safety enforcement.
The licensing program, which establishes a national standard for all commercial drivers, is a great improvement over the system that permitted drivers to dodge violations by collecting a fistful of state licenses. But testimony at the hearings highlighted some weaknesses.
Due to variations in the way states administer the program, some drivers who had broken rules were still permitted to drive. A glaring example cited by Sen. John Breaux, D-LA, was a New Orleans bus accident that killed 22 people. The bus driver had a valid commercial driver’s license even though he had been fired twice for drug abuse and had disqualifying health problems.
That’s why Congress is ordering get-tough measures. The new rules say that a driver will be disqualified for a year for a single instance of these violations:
* Driving with a CLD that has been revoked, suspended or cancelled.
* Driving while disqualified.
* Being convicted of causing a fatality through negligent or criminal operation.
Also, the Secretary of Transportation has emergency authority to revoke the driving privileges of anyone found to be an imminent hazard. The driver has to have a hearing within 30 days of the disqualification.
Congress also wants DOT to disqualify a CDL driver who is convicted of a serious offense while driving something other than his commercial vehicle – his personal car, for instance. Personal behavior is relevant to CDL fitness, Congress said. This will require a rulemaking by the new safety administration.
The same rule will disqualify a CDL driver who is convicted of a drug- or alcohol-related offense in his car. Congress did not say how long the disqualifications should last – that will be up to the rule writers.
The bill adds several items to the list of serious traffic violations for which a CDL driver can be disqualified. The first two are driving without a CDL, or without having your CDL with you. There is a little bit of give on the second item: If you can show that you merely forgot your CDL, the offense will not be considered serious. The third serious violation is driving without a required endorsement.
Other provisions in the bill address shortcomings in the way some states process CDLs. A state that is issuing or renewing a CDL must request the driver’s record from any other state that has issued him or her a license – any kind of license. The state also must check the National Driver Register and the CDL Information System.
When states report a driver disqualification they must include the reason why the driver was disqualified. And information about violations in your personal vehicle is not protected – states must exchange it with each other, the bill says.
States will no longer be able to issue temporary or provisional permits to drivers whose CDLs have been revoked or suspended.
Trucking companies lobbied hard and won this provision: States must maintain a record of each traffic violation committed by a CDL holder, and make that information available to the driver, DOT, current and prospective employers, and state officials. Further, states may not allow this information to be masked or withheld.
If a state fails to comply, the Secretary of Transportation has the authority to shut down its CDL program.
Tomorrow: New entrance requirements.