A new study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) suggests that a nationwide Commercial Drivers License (CDL) system is both economically feasible and necessary as drivers can currently easily hide changes in CDL status or suspensions. However, FMCSA said it has yet to conclude whether the system should be federally run or operated through third parties and added that it would be several years before it could be fully implemented.
“Truck and bus drivers with past convictions are statistically more likely to be involved in future crashes, and employers are not always notified about these convictions,” said Chris Flanigan, office of analysis, research and technology for FMCSA. “We found that at a minimum 50% do not notify employers of convictions, and the number could possibly be as high as 80%.”
According to Flanigan, carriers can easily miss violations even if they’re following every rule in the book. While drivers must report CDL changes within 30 days and convictions within a day, they do not always do so. Carriers are only required to check CDL status annually, so hypothetically a driver can get away with a conviction for up to 364 days.
There is no nationwide employee notification program, and only 11 states—New York, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Nebraska, Arkansas, Oregon and California—have state ENS (Employer Notification System) programs in place. Another option for fleets is third-party systems, which are not available in all states.
The FMCSA study involved two phases—a cost benefit and feasibility analysis, which was completed in September 2004; and state pilot tests, which were conducted in Colorado and Minnesota between December 2006 and June 2008.
In the pilot program, participating carriers received a secure email that informed them a driver enrolled in the program has a change in CDL status and provides them with a link to a secure site. When the carrier views the link, the records disappear. The carrier can say no to the request, but will get notices every two days for a week, with the records deleted after that point.
A total of 1099 drivers enrolled in the pilot program, resulting in 229 notifications—425 drivers with 155 notifications in Colorado and 674 drivers with 74 notifications in Minnesota.
FMCSA said it will do a full evaluation of the results, interviewing participating carriers about their experience with the program, as well as asking what staff hours are required to track CDLs with or without the system and what their response was to the notifications. A final report is due in early spring of 2009.
FMCSA concluded that a successful national system should include integration with state systems; a secure, web-based platform, and have minimum impact on existing systems. However, it has not yet made a decision on whether the program should be federally administered or left to third parties.
A federally administered program would be similar to the pilot system, connecting to a centrally located hub. However, FMCSA said only ten states are currently compatible with the system and federal money and additional modifications would be required to connect the remainder.
“This is probably a very liberal guess, but the phase-in-process would take at least five years to get all the states involved,” Flanigan noted.
The benefit of using third parties would be that the entities already exist, and it would take less time to fully implement than a federal program. However, a number of states do not offer access to its CDL information to third parties, and a third party system would provide no revenue to states.
“Third party providers exist to provide this service to carriers and other fleets,” Flanigan said. “However, these services are not nationwide—they just cover specific regions and states.”
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