OOIDA comments on background checks, diabetes waiver

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Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, recently testified before the House Committee on Homeland Security in support of two initiatives that will simplify background checks for hazmat truckers. OOIDA also recently filed comments with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration supporting the elimination of the waiver process that insulin-dependent truckers must complete before driving interstate.

In Spencer’s testimony before the committee on Friday, June 16, he said the Transportation Security Administration’s current security threat process is “wrought with inefficiencies” and that it is “an overreaching solution to a problem that has not been fully identified, and for which truckers are saddled with unnecessary burdens and expenses.” Spencer cited a number of flaws with the current hazmat background check system, including excessive out-of-pocket costs, a shortage of facilities, a lack of truck parking and the amount of time needed to get results.

Spencer told the committee that OOIDA supports narrowing TSA’s program to focus more on the security of sensitive hazardous materials, rather than on all hazardous materials. To that end, Spencer spoke out in support of HR5604 – the Screening Applied Fairly and Equitably to Truckers Act, or SAFE Truckers Act of 2006. The goal of the bill is to eliminate overlapping background checks from different federal agencies and to focus more on hazardous materials that have been deemed security-sensitive. “This legislation outlines a bold effort that is needed to bring common sense back into homeland security policies that apply to American truck drivers,” Spencer said.

Spencer also spoke out in support of HR5560, the Professional Driver Background Check Efficiency Act of 2006. That bill would set a $50 maximum charge per individual for hazmat endorsements; it also has a provision to eliminate redundant background checks from multiple government agencies. OOIDA has issued a National Call to Action for its members and other truckers to voice their support for HR5560, which was introduced by U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-Mo.; Spencer said it is important that the Homeland Security Department recognize the vulnerability and need for security for all trucks on the road.

“We have long said that in the many areas where there is insufficient truck parking, truckers are forced to improvise by finding parking on on-ramps, exit ramps, the side of the road and out-of-the-way industrial areas that close for the night,” he said. “Terrorists are not going to get a CDL and a security-sensitive hazmat permit if such vehicles are sitting ducks in so many places in the country.”

In regard to the waiver process for insulin-dependent truckers, FMCSA posted an advance notice of proposed rulemaking in March that solicited comments on the possibility of eliminating the waiver process; the comment period closed June 15. FMCSA does not have a timetable for any further action on the issue.

“OOIDA supports amending the existing medical qualification standards to allow drivers with (insulin-treated diabetes mellitus) to operate a CMV in interstate commerce without first obtaining an exemption,” OOIDA stated in its comments. Supporting diabetics is not a new position for OOIDA; according to its comments, the association has long supported the position that diabetes should not “patently disqualify” a driver from driving interstate.

OOIDA acknowledged the recent elimination of the three-year driving requirement from the waiver process, but association officials do not believe this goes far enough in encouraging truckers to address their medical needs. “Those changes