About time

Here's one for the gee-we-just-assumed-that-was-already-being-done-for-years-and-years department. It seems the U.S. government's safety mavens have just discovered a loophole in the much-vaunted commercial driver licensing system big enough to drive fleets of Mack (or whatever make you like) trucks through. Maybe I am just a keyboard-pecking ignoramus. But until early in May I didn't know that federal

Here's one for the gee-we-just-assumed-that-was-already-being-done-for-years-and-years department. It seems the U.S. government's safety mavens have just discovered a loophole in the much-vaunted commercial driver licensing system big enough to drive fleets of Mack (or whatever make you like) trucks through.

Maybe I am just a keyboard-pecking ignoramus. But until early in May I didn't know that federal law doesn't require that drivers of commercial vehicles be disqualified from driving if convicted of certain offenses while driving any vehicle.

Well, maybe you knew better. Either way, the Dept. of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has finally — emphasis on finally — gotten around to sewing up this yawning hole in the fabric of the nation's highway safety net.

Maybe the folks at FMCSA discovered this glaring omission when they had to review all their proposals shortly after the new President Bush took office. Or maybe they decided they had to run something up the regulatory flagpole that even a Republican administration wouldn't tear down. Who knows? But it's sure as shooting the motor-carrier watchdogs are half past late on this one.

Just last month FMCSA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register saying it wants to revise Part 383 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations to disqualify commercial drivers convicted of various serious violations while driving any vehicle.

“It makes perfect sense to hold commercial motor vehicle drivers accountable for driving convictions while operating any type of motor vehicle,” FMCSA's acting deputy administrator Julie Cirillo stated. “Because of the importance of their job, these drivers should be held to the highest standard of safety. This (new) requirement would improve truck safety and support the Bush Administration's goal to reduce the number of truck-related fatalities.”

If the proposal becomes a rule — and it had better or this industry will look pretty stupid — states would have to disqualify a driver's commercial driver's license (CDL) upon conviction for certain offenses and employers would have to prohibit such drivers from operating commercial motor vehicles.

FMCSA, like all government agencies, can be counted on for a statistic or two to bolster its arguments. In this case, the agency figures 500 commercial vehicle-related crashes a year would be avoided by disqualifying convicted drivers. I can't help but wonder how long that figure's been waiting to be trotted out. Not to mention how many crashes could have been avoided over the years.

Under the proposal, disqualification could take the form of a suspension, revocation or cancellation of the CDL by the issuing state. Time periods for disqualification would vary based on the offense committed.

The offenses for which convictions would disqualify commercial drivers include driving while intoxicated, leaving the scene of an accident, violating railroad-grade crossing signs, excessive speeding, reckless driving, and committing a general or substance-related felony.

It's probably obvious but we couldn't get behind this proposal more had we thought of it. Then again, we're still in a state of shock that it even had to be thought of all these years after trucks and buses first began rolling down our nation's highways.

I've had my say. Tell FMCSA how you feel. Written comments on the proposal are due by August 2.

They can be mailed to U.S. Docket Facility, Attn: Docket No. FMCSA-00-7382, Room PL-401, 400 Seventh St. SW, Washington, DC 20590-0001; faxed to 202-493-2251; or filed online at http://dmses.dot.gov/submit.


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