Last September, I talked about some tough new provisions contained in FMCSA's Final Rulemaking on CDL amendments, which were initiated by the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act (MCSIA) of 1999. The Final Rule, which went into effect Sept. 30, 2002, expanded the definition of disqualifying offenses and serious traffic violations — excessive speed, following too close, reckless driving and improper lane change, for example — to include offenses committed in non-commercial vehicles, such as passenger cars and motorcycles.
I recommended that motor carriers revise their minimum driver eligibility criteria and improve their safety performance monitoring systems to ensure compliance with the new definitions.
However, in late January FMCSA published an amendment to the rule that has the potential to undo some of its important safety enhancements. The agency wrote the amendment in response to a petition filed last fall by several labor groups, including the Teamsters.
The groups objected to three issues:
Disqualification periods for “Driving Under the Influence” (DUI) offenses were excessive;
Disqualification penalties were discriminatory, since they were less stringent for foreign-domiciled drivers;
FMCSA misinterpreted the MCSIA definitions of non-CMV serious traffic violations.
While FMCSA denied the petitioners on the first two issues, it did revise its position on non-CMV serious traffic violations. The labor groups pointed out that MCSIA originally defined the term as follows:
“…a serious offense involving a motor vehicle (other than a commercial motor vehicle) that has resulted in the revocation, cancellation, or suspension of the individual's license;”
In its final CDL rule, FMCSA did not include the limiting language concerning the “revocation, cancellation or suspension of the individual's license” by a state.
“What's the big deal?” you might be asking at this point. First, there's the matter of consistency. The revised standard hinges on whether a state revokes, cancels or suspends a license for excessive speed (e.g., more than 15 mph over the posted limit), following too close, reckless driving or improper lane change convictions. Last time I checked, states were not at all consistent in this area.
Second is the issue of relevance. The revised standard disqualifies a CDL holder for a period of 60 days following a second serious traffic conviction only if the licensing state revokes, cancels, or suspends driving privileges. If state revocation takes precedence, why does FMCSA even need a disqualification provision?
Third is the matter of the spirit of MCSIA. I monitored the crafting of the MCSIA legislation very closely. During my tenure as Safety Program Director for NPTC, I worked with both the House Transportation and Infrastructure and Senate Commerce Committees in providing private carrier input on the importance of holding CDL drivers accountable for violations committed in their personal vehicles. Many other industry organizations and public citizens felt as strongly as NPTC.
By granting this petition, FMCSA has undone the spirit of the rule. CDL holders will only lose their truck driving privileges if a state revokes, cancels or suspends their license. Sounds pretty much like what we had before MCSIA was enacted.
So what are your choices, given these recent developments? First, you could research, document, and summarize all 50 states' revocation/suspension/cancellation provisions. Then you could disqualify only those drivers convicted of a non-CMV serious traffic violation if their state driver's license had been revoked. Sounds like a pretty “unequal” method of treating employees — and probably grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Or, you could adopt a company wide policy, similar to the one I recommended last September. The choice is yours, but I know what I'd do.
Jim York is the manager of Zurich North America's Risk Engineering Team, based in Schaumburg, IL.