ATA says TSA hazmat rules hurting trucking

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The five-month-old hazardous materials driver background check implemented by the Transportation Security Administration as part of the Patriot Act is hurting the trucking industry by imposing higher operating costs and deterring drivers from obtaining hazmat endorsements, a top trucking executive testified before Congress.

Speaking on behalf of the American Trucking Associations before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Steve Russell, Celadon Group chairman and chief executive officer, said that while the trucking industry supports the security objective, the current background check program has been “marred by a number of bad decisions.”

Russell, whose Indianapolis-based truckload carrier firm has more than 2,700 tractor-trailers operating nationwide, said TSA has constructed a process that applies to materials that pose no security risks and costs the industry nearly double what background checks for aviation workers cost. The endorsement and the background check are required for drivers transporting not only explosives, but also nonthreatening commodities like paint, nail polish, chewing gum extract and soft drink syrup.

“The costs to drivers and carriers are unacceptably high and serve as a disincentive to obtaining a hazmat endorsement,” Russell said. “It is easy to see why drivers are discouraged.” He said the program is implemented in a non-uniform manner across the states and has an insufficient number of fingerprinting locations that conduct limited hours of operation. The ultimate impact may be the industry’s inability to haul hazardous materials, he said.

ATA members feel the background check provision will further exacerbate the driver shortage. By TSA’s own estimate, the background check will result in a loss of 20 percent of the hazmat-endorsed driver population. ATA and its motor carrier members believe a sensible solution would be to target the background screening process to focus on hazardous materials that pose true security risks.