The trucking industry hopes a CDL scam uncovered in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. may help long-stalled efforts to improve trucking security.
In the week following the attacks, ten men in three states were arrested for allegedly trying to fraudulently obtain CDLs to haul hazardous materials. Though none of the men were directly linked to the terrorists who conducted the attacks, it fanned fears among many in the transportation community that commercial trucks could be used as weapons of mass destruction.
Given recent events, ATA has increased efforts to beef up background checks and other security measures long sought by trucking companies. “The fact that suspected terrorists have illegally obtained CDLs with hazardous-materials endorsements should be a wake-up call for all of us,” said ATA chairman Duane Acklie.
“Numerous industries with employees who impact public security have been authorized by statute to access national crime information databases to search criminal history records corresponding to fingerprints or other identification information,” said Acklie. “Motor carriers, however, are a glaring omission.”
He added that in the past trucking has sought authorization from Congress to allow motor carriers to conduct criminal background checks of employees and job applicants — but it has never been granted.
“Many of our responsible members use what services are currently available through outside vendors to conduct cumbersome county-by-county criminal background checks,” he said. “However, all agree that it is simply not feasible to conduct a nationwide check under the present scheme.”
Tony Chrestman, president of Ruan Transport, outlined the potential threat posed by a compromised haz-mat transportation network. He pointed out that there are at least 300 million haz-mat shipments annually in the U.S., 94% of which are carried by truck.
While the present system of haz-mat regulation is safe, said Chrestman, more needs to be done to insure better security integrity, with recognition of potential economic disruptions if truck travel is limited.
“Undoubtedly, it's an enormous challenge to safeguard 3.8-million miles of highway, nearly 600,000 highway bridges and some 400 highway tunnels throughout the U.S.,” he said. “But it must also be recognized that any disruptions to truck travel, whether as a result of a terrorist attack or restrictions placed on truck travel to prevent such attacks, have economic consequences that will ultimately spread throughout the national economy. Furthermore, because of the military's heavy reliance on truck transportation, any interruption to our industry also affects the military's ability to move troops and equipment.”
While Chrestman endorsed efforts to allow the trucking industry to conduct full criminal background checks on employees and applicants, he stressed that greater attention needs to be paid to highway construction planning.
“The key to minimizing transportation disruptions is system redundancy,” he said. “Also, Congress should reassess the federal transportation program that fails to prioritize spending on the National Highway System.” According to Chrestman, one-third of the system is in poor or mediocre condition, and one-quarter of NHS bridges are deficient.