FMCSA proposes CDL program changes

By CCJ Staff on

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in late July moved to tighten nationwide enforcement of commercial driver’s license laws and regulations and to ensure that all states comply with federal CDL law enforcement standards. Disturbed by the number of drivers with suspended licenses or no licenses, Congress two years ago ordered FMCSA to strengthen the rules, and wrote new CDL requirements into the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999.

The FMCSA proposal, published as a notice of proposed rulemaking in the July 27 Federal Register, would satisfy most of the congressional concerns in several respects.

Tougher penalties
The proposed regulation creates two new “disqualifying offenses:” driving a truck after a CDL has been revoked, suspended or cancelled; and killing a person through negligence or criminal acts.

FMCSA also proposes three new “serious traffic violations:” driving a truck without a CDL; driving without a license in one’s possession; and driving without meeting the minimum testing standards for the truck being driven or load being hauled.

Drivers found guilty of either of the two disqualifying offenses would be banned from driving for one year for a first offense, and for life for a second offense. For the three serious offenses, the disqualification period would hinge on whether the driver has been found guilty of other serious traffic violations. Other federal serious offenses are speeding 15 miles over the limit, erratic lane changes, tailgating or reckless driving.

If a driver is convicted of two serious offenses the disqualification period would be 60 days. For additional offenses, it would be 120 days.

In addition, the rules would pull the license for 30 days of a driver considered by FMCSA to be an “imminent hazard,” even if a state court refuses to impose such a penalty. The 30 days would give the state time to hold a hearing on the driver’s future privileges, which FMCSA suggests should include up to a one-year driving ban.

State enforcement
Under the proposal, states would lose substantial amounts of federal funds if their CDL safety programs do not comply with federal standards.

Among other things, the proposal would bar states from issuing hardship licenses allowing otherwise disqualified drivers to continue to drive their trucks for a living. It would also prohibit states from “masking” tickets received by truck drivers by erasing the guilty record if drivers go through special training or other remedial programs.

In extreme cases of intransigence by a state, it could be barred from issuing any CDLs until it comes into compliance. To ease the burden on drivers, those drivers licensed before this sanction kicks in could continue to use their CDL or get a non-resident CDL from another state in the interim.

Lost drivers, wages
The agency estimates the cost of the proposals, mainly in lost driver wages, at $284.9 million in the 10 years ending 2011. It estimates some 32,000 drivers a year would have their licenses yanked.

The proposals encompass the bulk of the CDL mandates in the 1999 law. In May, the agency issued a proposal that would suspend the CDLs of drivers found guilty of a number of offenses in either their private family car or while driving a truck. The agency received 110 comments on that proposal by the August 2 end of the comment period.

A third and final proposal is being prepared that will require drivers to submit medical certificates attesting to their fitness to drive a truck at the same time they apply for a CDL or a renewal.

FMCSA is seeking comments until Oct. 25 on the notice of proposed rulemaking. For a copy of the proposal, visit http://dms.dot.gov/search and search Docket No. 9709.

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