Record headache

Sept. 1, 2003
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is proposing tougher rules for driver screening regulations, a plan which both delights and concerns industry stakeholders. The proposal offers prospective employers the opportunity to make better hiring decisions by closing some loopholes in the rules for driver background checks, but places a burden on previous employers who must respond to

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is proposing tougher rules for driver screening regulations, a plan which both delights and concerns industry stakeholders.

The proposal offers prospective employers the opportunity to make better hiring decisions by closing some loopholes in the rules for driver background checks, but places a burden on previous employers who must respond to past-employment inquiries.

Previous employers will be required to respond within 30 days, for a period of three years, to inquiries from prospective carriers about applicants.

“Overall, we like the proposal,” says one carrier official, “but making the 30-day deadline could be problematic for us.”

At minimum, employers must provide the following:

  • Employment verification, including start and stop work dates;

  • Information about the driver's accident records;

  • The driver's three-year alcohol and controlled substance history;

  • Documented information about whether the driver failed to complete a rehabilitation referral within the previous three years;

  • Documented information about the driver's illegal use of alcohol and controlled substances after rehab treatment.

The proposal requires previous employers to hold information about alcohol and controlled substance use for three years, a year longer than current regulations. Accident records must also be held three years, compared to one year currently.

Dick Henderson, director of government affairs for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) says, “This proposal is a step in the right direction. Employers have been hamstrung in this area.” He adds that many of his members see the 30-day provision as too long, however. “You have to make decisions sooner than 30 days to run your business.”

Like others, though, Henderson applauds the legal protection aspect of the proposal. This proposal includes provisions exempting state and local laws on liability. Employers would not be liable for lawsuits stemming from furnishing information as long as they have acted within the rules and have not knowingly given false data.

Drivers are given protection, too. They have the right to review information provided by previous employers and to have errors corrected in these documents. Drivers also are allowed to attach a rebuttal statement to any records they believe are still inaccurate. Carriers must advise potential hires that they have these rights.

The ruling will affect the driver pool, according to the FMCSA. “Because hiring managers will have additional accident and alcohol/controlled substance test data with which to select drivers for positions, it's likely that the new data would result in some drivers [who previously would have been hired] not being hired because of this rule.”

Roughly, 16,000 of an estimated 403,000 commercial drivers hired annually would be denied employment under the new rules, about 14,300 because of accident data and 1,300 for alcohol and drug issues.

For the nation as a whole, the dollars-and-cents benefit of the proposal ranges from $10 million to $56 million over a ten-year period — mainly because of decreased accidents — depending upon how effectively the rules eliminate bad drivers.

How much will compliance with the new rules cost carriers? Based on the same ten-year analysis, FMCSA estimates that the ruling will cost each carrier about $143 in the first year of implementation — higher for larger carriers and lower for smaller ones.

“This proposal enhances safety,” adds Henderson. “That's the most important aspect.”

About the Author

Larry Kahaner

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