The new regulations on Commercial Driver's Licenses (CDLs) will go a long way towards closing loopholes that have allowed drivers to operate despite suspensions, revocations and disqualifications. Most provisions take effect September 30.
One of the most important provisions will eliminate so-called hardship exemptions, which, while well meaning, keep many dangerous drivers on the road. The new regulations aim to take away judge's discretion in favor of more absolute sentencing. “The new regulations will help eliminate many gaps in the CDL program,” says Stephen Keppler, director of policy & programs at the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. “But we still see a strong need to educate the judiciary about the impact of their decisions.”
Another far-reaching provision is that states must maintain a CDL driver-history record of an individual's convictions while driving non-commercial vehicles. A person convicted of a serous offense such as drunk driving in his own car or motorcycle could find his CDL affected. A DUI will net a one-year disqualification, and a second conviction leads to permanent disqualification.
Leaving the scene of an accident results in a one-year disqualification, as does driving with a revoked license or causing a fatality through negligent driving. If you're carrying hazardous materials, add two more years. A second conviction yields life imprisonment.
Although some drivers may argue that their CDLs should not be linked to behavior off the job, statistics from CVSA and others belie that point. Keppler notes that drivers who receive traffic citations in their trucks or private vehicles are much more likely to be involved in crashes on the job. “In addition,” says Keppler, “the more serious the infraction, the more serious the crash, with greater property damage and fatalities.”
FMCSA also instituted a catchall category to keep dangerous drivers off the road. The agency may disqualify a driver or carrier for up to 30 days, even before a formal hearing has taken place, for what it terms “imminent hazard.” This means a condition or behavior leading to a likelihood that a driver will get into a fatal crash.
One major loophole, which enabled revoked or suspended drivers to go out of state to obtain a license, is being closed through mandatory information sharing. States must be connected to the Commercial Driver's License Information System (CDLIS) and the National Driver Register (NDR) to exchange information about traffic convictions and disqualifications. A state must check CDLIS and NDR before a CDL can be issued, renewed, upgraded, or transferred. Employers, including motor carriers, are considered authorized users of CDLIS data; they will also have access to driving records.
States must notify CDLIS and the state issuing the CDL no later than 10 days after disqualifying, revoking, suspending, or canceling a CDL. Beginning three years after the final rule's effective date, notification of traffic-violation convictions must occur within 30 days of the conviction. Six years after the rule's effective date, notification of traffic-violation convictions must occur within 10 days of the conviction. “The 10-day rule will be tough for some states to meet,” says Neill Thomas, director of safety operations at the American Trucking Assns.
FMCSA will enforce its regulations by cutting off funding (for CDL programs) to states that don't comply. Drivers living in non-compliant states may obtain their CDLs in another state, so they are not penalized for their state's infractions.
The new regulation will have an immediate impact on driver ranks. More than 25,000 drivers annually could be disqualified, according to FMCSA officials, with many losing their jobs starting next month.