Report: Washington state wants to take over most trucker testing

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Evidence of fraud in trucker tests administered by Washington state private contractors reportedly has led to a push for the state Licensing Department to take over most of the job. Gov. Chris Gregoire and the department are asking the Legislature for $1.5 million a year to hire 11 workers who would administer the road tests, the Tacoma News Tribune reported Sunday, March 4.

“We’re all for it, to knock off the abuse,” Mike Southards, safety director for the 1,200-member Washington Trucking Association, told the Tribune. A criminal investigation also has begun following an audit that indicated some drivers got commercial licenses without taking or passing the test, department spokesman Bradley A. Benfield told the Tribune. Benfield would not identify any of the testing businesses or individuals involved in the probe.

A beefed-up compliance program indicated problems with contractors that now administer licensing tests to drivers of tractor-trailers, buses and other large vehicles, Benfield told the Tribune. When officials selected 45 commercial truck drivers at random for retesting, 94 percent failed at least one part of the test, he said. “As a result of that operation, we declined to renew the contracts of five third-party testers because they were the ones involved,” Benfield told the Tribune.

State employees now administer written tests but not driving tests for more than 10,000 new applicants a year, instead contracting with 57 businesses and individuals. “Under the new system, we would assign a driving tester — either ourselves or send them to a third-party tester — so people wouldn’t know if we were going to test them or someone else was,” Benfield told the Tribune. “We’re trying to create a system with a certain amount of randomness in it because that’s how you get at the potential for fraud.”

Besides raising questions of the integrity of the testing, the audit indicated some out-of-state CDL applicants gave false Washington state addresses, Benfield told the Tribune. The address of a truck driving school in Lake Forest Park was listed as home by 125 applicants, and the address of another in Woodinville was given as home by 79 license holders.

Based on such multiple-applicant addresses, “our initial audit indicated 651 applicants that may be using phony addresses,” Benfield told the Tribune. The audit findings indicated some out-of-state applicants got Washington CDLs to “flip,” meaning they used them to obtain similar licenses in states that have reciprocal licensing agreements with Washington, he told the Tribune.

State law does not set standards for driving schools or require training to get a CDL. Washington has 188,000 CDL holders, and 30,000 of the five-year licenses are renewed annually.