States don't have the right to wreck CDL system

Even the strictest interpreters of the Constitution are bound to be appalled at what a bunch of the separate states have been up to lately. Especially if they are truckers.

According to a DOT audit report issued last month, in their infinite wisdom, 22 states and the District of Columbia have allowed commercial drivers to avoid disqualification of their driving licenses by issuing them special permits or "probationary licenses."

How ridiculous is this? Maybe, like Rick in Casablanca, I was misinformed. But I, and millions of others in and around trucking, thought the CDL fix the federal and state governments launched in 1986 was supposed to do away with the multiple licenses that many of trucking's worst and most dangerous drivers hid, and thus worked, behind.

Granted, the CDL system isn't perfect. But until now, the biggest issue has been the CDL-for-sale scandal in Illinois. An ongoing federal investigation into those shenanigans has so far netted 30 people charged with selling CDLs to unqualified people. At least that shameful bit of business was confined to one jurisdiction and had criminality at its heart.

But this latest problem is on a much bigger scale. And, as far as we can tell, it's based on nothing more sinister than good old-fashioned laxness on the federal level and plain old stupidity on the part of the states.

The audit, released by Dept. of Transportation assistant inspector general for auditing Alexis Stefani, came about at the request of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. And guess what? Stefani says the audit is just the first in a series to be conducted on the effectiveness of the CDL program.

The report criticizes the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) both for not riding closer herd on how states handle CDL programs and for not providing sufficient sanctions when problems were uncovered.

According to Stefani, the audit showed that states are not disqualifying commercial drivers as required by law. On top of that, some states grant special licenses to commercial drivers who "pose a safety risk." States are also not recording convictions of disqualifying violations, which lets unsafe drivers keep right on truckin'.

The one bit of good news in the report is that the goal of having only one license for each commercial driver has largely been achieved. "We found that less than 650 of the 9.4-million records are potential duplicates. Before the CDL program, a DOT study reported that over 20% of interstate truck drivers in three states studied had more than one license."

On the other hand, the audit was limited to computer matches of CDL records. "We did not assess whether drivers obtained licenses by providing fraudulent social security numbers," Stefani bluntly admits.

"Until state programs granting special licenses to disqualified drivers and withholding disqualifying convictions from commercial driver records are stopped," Stefani says, "unsafe drivers will continue to be allowed to drive and to circumvent the law."

Stefani says that FMCSA, which got its copy back in June, has agreed with the report's recommendations and has planned to take "corrective actions."

I don't know what those actions will be. But I have an idea about what action fleet owners and managers can take right now to help ensure the CDL system doesn't become a national joke, or worse - another black eye for trucking.

Get to a word processor or a pen and paper and start writing the motor vehicle administrators of the states your trucks operate in and demand that they uphold the law.