The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would finally close a loophole in the current law that makes it possible for drivers to obtain licenses from multiple states in order to hide their bad driving records in a non-CDL license issued by a second state. The proposal also clarifies a previously vague interpretation of when employers can request information from the national high-risk driver databases.
The Dept. of Transportation (DOT) has established two databases containing information about high-risk drivers: the National Driver Registry (NDR), run by NHTSA; and the Commercial Driver License Information System (CDLIS), operated by FMCSA in partnership with the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA).
The NDR helps states keep track of drivers with suspended or revoked non-CDL licenses and/or certain serious traffic offense convictions. The CDLIS database, which was designed to prevent truck drivers from obtaining CDLs from multiple states, can be used to keep similar high-risk drivers from obtaining CDLs. Both databases are point systems for retrieving complete moving vehicle records from a driver's home-license state.
Current law requires that before issuing CDLs, states must check both the NDR and CDLIS. When issuing regular driver's licenses, however, they are only required to check the NDR. As a result, high-risk drivers with a CDL from one state can go to a different state to obtain a regular driver's license. These drivers can then use the second license to spread out a bad driving record among two or more states.
The NHTSA proposal closes that loophole by requiring states to check both the NDR and CDLIS before issuing or renewing any type of driver's license.
The NPRM contains other changes that should help strengthen the driver licensing and background check processes. For one, states would be required to certify that they are in compliance with any revisions or updates to federal requirements. At first glance this may seem like a relatively minor bureaucratic issue. But a recent NHTSA review determined that as many as 50% of states are not following Federal licensing procedures. As the NPRM states, “the possibility is increased that a problem driver will successfully use the licensing process of one State to evade the penalties of a criminal conviction of license suspension of another State.”
The proposal also clarifies which current or prospective employers can request information from the national high-risk driver databases. The NPRM would limit requests to “…those persons who hire or plan to hire individuals with a primary job function of operating a motor vehicle in the normal course of their employment.”
The burden will be on employers to justify their requests. Fleets hiring OTR or local P&D drivers, whose primary job is operating a commercial motor vehicle, will clearly have access to information contained in the databases. But companies hiring people to drive hotel shuttle vans or other service vehicles, for example, as well as to do other tasks, will have to prove that these drivers meet the “primary job function” standard.
So here's what I suggest: Read a copy of the proposed rulemaking, which is posted on DOT's Docket Management web site: http://dms.dot.gov.search. Look for rulemaking docket number 2127.
Be sure to consider whether your operation has any non-driving positions that require the employee to drive a truck as part of the job. If so, make sure that “driving motor vehicles” is included in the job description. This will give you the right to check the national high-risk databases. Finally, watch for publication of the Final Rule, which should happen within the next year.
Jim York is the manager of Zurich Service Corp.'s Risk Engineering Transportation Team, based in Schaumburg, IL.