Tough new requirements for commercial driver's licenses (CDLs) go into effect at the end of this month. The government published its final rule in the Federal Register July 31.

Changes include emergency disqualification of drivers posing an imminent safety hazard, a broader definition of serious traffic violations and disqualification for violations obtained while driving noncommercial vehicles.

To comply with the new rule, many fleets will have to re-vamp the way they monitor drivers, as well as the minimum eligibility criteria they establish.

Beginning September 30, motor carriers must disqualify for 60 days any driver convicted of a second serious traffic violation within three years, whether while driving commercial or non-commercial vehicles. Serious violations include excessive speed (15 mph or more above the posted limit), reckless driving, improper lane change, following too close or any “vehicle control” violation connected to a fatal accident.

Carriers must also disqualify any driver for a period of one year following conviction for a drug or alcohol offense.

Third, drivers renewing their CDLs for the first time after September 30 must provide — and states must investigate — a complete license history (i.e., every state where they have held licenses) for the 10-yr. period prior to the renewal date.

With these requirements imminent, it's time to re-examine your minimum driver eligibility criteria. Do they define offenses that result in disqualification? Do they specify the duration of first- and second-time disqualifications? While you're at it, review the other sections of your eligibility criteria. They should address the following:

  • Minimum age;

  • English language requirement;

  • Required license, endorsements;

  • Minimum experience — total and “in type”;

  • MVR quality — maximum permissible moving violations within the previous 12, 24 and 36 months;

  • Accident history — maximum permissible number of serious and non-serious preventable crashes;

  • Criminal history;

  • Physical qualifications — see FMCSR; 49 CFR Part 391.41;

Once you've completed the review, notify each driver of the effective date of your revised policies. Ideally, this should be immediately for new hires and be phased in for existing employees.

Current drivers who don't meet the new criteria should be placed in a training program, with continued sub-par performance resulting in termination.

Finally, determine whether your current monitoring systems will, in fact, identify deficient drivers. Don't be lulled into complacency by assuming that a state will send you a letter every time one of your drivers is involved in a disqualification event.

The final rule requires only that a state notify other states of driver disqualification events within 10 days. It does not, however, require that the driver's employer be notified.

The mandate for states to report all violations within 10 days to the state that issued the license does not go into effect until Sept. 30, 2008.

I suggest that as you roll out your revised eligibility standards, you also institute at least semi annual reviews of driving records This increased frequency will help you spot problem drivers before they harm or injure property or people.

The economic analysis contained in the final rule estimates that about 15,000 to 20,000 drivers will be disqualified each year as a result of these tough new provisions.

Will this mean even higher costs associated with driver turnover? Yes-but. Wouldn't your fleet ultimately be better off if unfit drivers were weeded out? Any increase in driver turnover expenses will be more than recouped through a decrease in crash costs.

Research has repeatedly demonstrated that carriers with higher driver standards have lower crash rates. Use this final CDL rule to implement policies that will benefit your fleet.

Jim York is the manager of Zurich North America's Risk Engineering Team, based in Schaumburg, IL.