Fleets should be aware that as of May 31, 2005, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is requiring any driver seeking to renew a hazardous-materials endorsement on their Commercial Driver's License (CDL) must first undergo a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) “threat assessment” background check.

States are required to notify hazmat drivers at least 60 days before their CDL or hazmat endorsement expires that they must undergo the background check in order to renew their endorsement. States must also inform drivers that they can initiate the process anytime after they receive the notice, but at least 30 days before the license or endorsement expires.

According to Cliff Harvison, president of the National Tank Truck Carriers Assn., the threat-assessment process has been handled inconsistently. “For the states where the process is controlled by IBT (an independent contractor), in general the entire process for new applicants seems to go rather smoothly,” he said. “We're talking about a 7- to 10-day timeframe from the time the process begins to when the driver gets the finished product. However, states that opt not to have a contractor do the work appear to be rather chaotic, with some carriers reporting the process taking between 30 and 60 days.”

This could leave little cushion between when the results of a driver threat assessment are received and the expiration of that endorsement in non-contractor states. “The states are authorized to give the driver a temporary license so the driver can continue driving until the process is complete,” Harvison noted. “If the state doesn't choose this option, the driver can't haul hazmat loads.”

Bob Inderbitzen, National Private Truck Council's director of safety & compliance, advises carriers to take a proactive stance. He pointed out that some states don't have enough locations to collect fingerprints, forcing some drivers to go to other states. He also said some carriers have complained the process can take up to 90 days.

“If anyone waits to get close to the end of that expiration time, then they're too late,” Inderbitzen said. “We're telling our members not to wait 30 days [before expiration] because the process could last longer.”