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Unsafe FMCSA Commercial Drivers License (CDL) changes

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration caves to pressure from truck industry lobby, compromises CDL process and safety

CDL changes

Caving to pressure from the trucking industry, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has eased up on some of the regulations relating to the issuance of Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDLs).

As a truck accident lawyer who litigates very serious truck accident cases mostly in Michigan but also in the last decade in other states around the country, I’ve seen the devastating consequences firsthand.  The government began regulating safety with motor carriers because of the numbers of deaths and preventable crashes, and it remains the government’s responsibility to enact and enforce sensible rules to prevent truck accidents.

That is why I am so angry as I write these words about the latest move from the FMCSA, and why the politics behind this move are so frustrating for lawyers and safety advocates.

The past legislation set the standards for obtaining a CDL and established the Commercial Learner’s Permit, which previously did not exist. Now the FMSCA has made several changes to the regulations following truck industry lobbying efforts. The modifications are mostly procedural, but they have very serious safety implications. They went into effect in late April.

The new changes include:

  1. Two employees no longer have to verify applications.  Previously, two licensing agency employees had to verify the applicants’ documentation.  The FMCSA stated that this was “burdensome.” Now, two employees no longer have to verify the documents. Whether or not this requirement was burdensome, this can’t be a wise decision. When we’re licensing people to drive fully-loaded 80,000 pound semi-trucks, the interest in keeping our roads safe surely outweighs the “burden” of having two employees verify documents. Checks and balances is always a good way to prevent mistakes.
  2. Truckers can do their skills test where they’re trained. Previously, potential drivers could not skills-test to obtain a CDL license at the same facility where he was trained. The FMCSA has changed its mind and now says that it is okay for truck drivers to take their skills tests at the facility where they trained.  My concern is the obvious conflict of interest. Any trucking school that fails too many unfit drivers would lose students to a competing school that is known for a high graduation rate. Once the school that follows the rules starts to lose a lot of students and income to a school with more lax standards, there will likely be no truck driver training school that would attempt to fail a unfit trucker, or even one on the borderline, who was educated at its home facility.
  3. Third-party CDL testers that are governmental entities no longer have to maintain bonds to cover re-testing of drivers if fraud is uncovered.
  4. States can use different photo techniques for CDLs. States were previously not allowed to use a digital color image or a black and white laser engraved photo of the driver on his or her learner’s permit. Now the states may use these techniques at their discretion.
  5. States do not have to conduct background checks on test examiners. This one is a big safety compromise. The FMCSA has now ruled that it’s too “burdensome” to require states to conduct background checks on all test examiners. Now the checks are required only when someone is hired.

With everything in the news about “grasshopper” truckers – drivers who cause too many accidents or kill people and have too many points on their driving record, then hop to different states, sometimes under a different name – the public needs all the safety checks possible to make sure that drivers who cut corners on safety (or just don’t give a damn about safety) are kept off the public roadways.

To me, as a lawyer now, the idea of screening test examiner applicants is one added deterrent.  There is very little cost involved because it would deter unsafe drivers in those states from even applying.  It is a very small and inexpensive measure that will save lives.

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Blog Author Steven M. Gursten
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