The demand for truck drivers seems to be leading some unscrupulous companies to hire drivers who don't have a commercial driver's license.
A West Texas TV news crew discovered a lot of drivers without CDLs, thanks to a driver shortage in the oil fields.
A West Texas TV news crew discovered a lot of drivers without CDLs, thanks to a driver shortage in the oil fields.

All you have to do is peruse the increasing stream of announcements from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration about companies they're shutting down for operating unsafely. Take C&D Transportation, ordered out of service in late November. Since June, the Illinois-based carrier had received at least four roadside citations for drivers not having a CDL, along with a litany of others.

A recent investigation by a TV news crew in Texas found that with an acute driver shortage in the oilfield industry, drivers without CDLs were involved in numerous crashes, some fatal.

In the Texas oilfields

In a one-month investigation, CBS 7 found that in just one year, 350 crashes in the Permian Basin involved drivers behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle without a CDL. In those crashes, 14 people were killed.

Through a public information request, CBS 7 found more than 130 different companies in West Texas employed drivers who did not have a CDL. Most of them are in the oilfield and construction industries, reporters said, and most of them are small.

"We spoke with several county judges across west Texas who says something needs to be done...or repeat offenders will just continue to pay the small fee," notes the report. "The employee can be charged with a class C misdemeanor and a $500 maximum fine."

Ector County Judge Susan Redford told the station that "these drivers can afford to pay the citations and take the risk. Some companies will even pick up the tab.

What can FMCSA do?

Many of the offenders are also no doubt local, so I wondered what the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration could do about the situation in Texas.

An agency official told me on background that while FMCSA safety rules are focused on interstate motor carriers, the agency works closely with all states to rigorously enforce commercial motor vehicle safety regulations at the state level as well.

Each state must submit an annual CMV safety plan to the agency in order to qualify for federal motor carrier safety grants. These plans identify priority areas for stepped-up enforcement, such as oil fields and high crash incident areas, where a combination of roadside inspections and roving patrols can identify unsafe drivers and vehicles.

The FMCSA is seeing an uptick in carriers in the oilfield services in its Safety Measurement System due to the increased inspections and violations. In Texas, it is working with the Department of Public Safety to address the increase with more inspections, while DPS also increases officer patrols and enforcement activities in the counties with the highest traffic increases.

And in fact, the CBS 7 report indicates, officials are issuing a lot more citations to drivers without a valid license.

In 2010 the Texas Department of Public Safety issued 139 tickets to truck drivers without a CDL, the report notes. Last year that number went up to 200. So far this year 300 tickets have been issued, and troopers say at this rate the number could double by the end of the year.