The government took a big step last month toward tightening the rules for commercial driver's licenses (CDLs).
A rulemaking proposal issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) stipulates that CDL holders must also be held accountable for traffic violations they commit while driving non-commercial vehicles. In addition, the proposal makes individual states responsible for identifying any violators who also hold CDLs.
Specifically, the notice of proposed rulemaking, which was issued on May 4, expands “driver disqualification” provisions to include violations that occur while operating personal vehicles such as passenger cars, motorcycles or light- and medium-duty trucks. The rule also will require states to revise their citation forms and recordkeeping systems to include “CDL holder” identifiers.
This important action is the first of several rules developed in response to the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999 (MCSIA).
We can also expect to see proposals that will specify maximum time limits for recording violations on drivers' home-state records; rules that prohibit states from issuing “hardship licenses”; and rules that prevent conviction masking programs for offenses such as driving while intoxicated, reckless driving or exceeding speed limits by more than 15 mph over posted limits.
The May 4 proposal is the result of intense efforts by the trucking industry to improve the accountability of CDL holders and state recordkeeping standards.
Until now, our ability to ensure that CDLs be issued only to those with safe driving records has been severely hampered. For example, we could not disqualify someone who had been convicted of a DUI offense while operating a personal vehicle. And out-of-state convictions for violations such as speeding, improper lane change or failure to obey traffic signals often did not find their way to home-state driving records.
While our industry is uniformly behind this proposal, it's my guess that state driver license regulators will cringe when they read the proposal. Quite honestly, states will bear a significant burden in enacting the standards.
Many states will have to develop new uniform traffic citations to include CDL-holder identifiers. In addition, a number of states may also be faced with making significant changes in the way they report information about driver violations to the national CDL archive.
The federal government is giving states three years from the date the final rule is published to bring their systems into compliance. States that don't meet the deadline could have some or all of their federal motor carrier safety funding grants withheld.
This proposal also puts a stop to actions taken by some states to disqualify drivers who fail to pay parking tickets or fall behind in child support payments, as well as other matters “not directly related to unsafe or criminal behavior in a CMV.” All too often, I've heard you tell me about drivers who've been disqualified during roadside inspections because they were behind in child support payments.
Disqualification actions will be limited to “violation of state or local law relating to motor vehicle traffic control (other than parking, vehicle weight, or vehicle defect violations).”
FMCSA estimates this rule will cause about 10,000 drivers a year to lose their CDLs. And by taking these unsafe drivers off the road, we should be able to prevent 474 CMV-related crashes annually. In terms of dollars, that results in a savings of $268 million over a ten-year period.
I strongly recommend that you read a copy of this rulemaking proposal — it's going to affect your CDL drivers dramatically. You can find it on FMCSA's web site at www.fmcsa.dot.gov/rulesregs/fmcsr/rulemakings.htm#proposedrule.
I also urge you to file comments voicing your support or concerns. The closing date for comments is August 2.
Jim York is a senior risk engineering consultant at Zurich Insurance, Fredericksburg, Va.