FMCSA Proposes Several CDL Adjustments

Sept. 1, 2001
Rules Designed to Enhance Transportation Safety AMONG new proposals for changes to commercial driver license (CDL) regulations are the addition of two

Rules Designed to Enhance Transportation Safety

AMONG new proposals for changes to commercial driver license (CDL) regulations are the addition of two major violations and three additional serious violations, according to information published in the Federal Register July 27. The changes to CDL standards, requirements, and penalties were filed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

FMCSA is soliciting comments on the proposal. Comments must be received by October 25, 2001.

Mandated by the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999, the proposed regulations are designed to enhance the safety of commercial motor vehicle operations by ensuring that only safe drivers operate commercial motor vehicles, according to the publication.

The two new major violations are driving while the CDL is revoked, suspended, or canceled, or while the driver is disqualified; and causing a fatality through negligent or criminal operation of a commercial motor vehicle.

The fatality-related violation would apply if a driver is convicted of homicide, manslaughter, or negligent homicide by motor vehicle. There would be no statute of limitations as long as the fatality occurred as the result of the motor vehicle accident.

The three new serious violations include driving without a CDL, driving without a CDL in the driver's possession, and driving without having met the minimum testing standards for the specific class of a commercial vehicle being operated, or for the type of cargo being transported on the vehicle. This section would also be amended to specify the disqualification period for first time and subsequent offenders.

The proposal recommends a one year maximum period for an emergency disqualification for drivers posing an imminent hazard. This is defined as the “existence of a condition that presents substantial likelihood that death, serious illness, severe personal injury, or a substantial endangerment to health, property, or the environment may occur,” according to the proposal information.

FMCSA proposes adding language to the regulation making clear that the imposition of an emergency disqualification does not preclude the imposition of an additional disqualification period, if the driver is later convicted of any disqualifying offense arising out of the same incident.

The proposal also addresses CDL applications. Drivers applying for an initial or transferred CDL would have to provide the state with the name of all states where they have previously been licensed to drive any type of motor vehicle so that the state may obtain a complete driving record for that person. The states then would be required to conduct a record check.

The proposal would prohibit states from masking conviction information, and from using diversion programs or other dispositions that defer the listing of a guilty verdict on a driver's CDL record. The proposal also requires that conviction records be made available to all authorized parties and government entities.

Some states issue “hardship” licenses that authorize holders to operate commercial motor vehicles, while barring them from driving non-commercial motor vehicles. Although this practice has always been questionable from a safety standpoint, FMCSA did not have the authority to prohibit it. The new proposal would give the agency that authority. A truck driver whose CDL was suspended for speeding or reckless driving in a personal vehicle now would be unable to obtain a hardship license, and could not drive a commercial motor vehicle until the CDL is restored.

States would be responsible for establishing and imposing appropriate civil and criminal penalties for drivers committing offenses while operating a commercial motor vehicle. They would be responsible for maintaining a driver history record of all convictions of state or local traffic control laws. The information would have to be made available to authorized commercial driver license information systems users as part of normal operating practices.

While the act passed by Congress did not specify a retention period for information on these convictions and other licensing actions, a minimum retention period of three years is needed.

If FMCSA determines that a state is in substantial noncompliance with the CDL licensing and sanctioning requirements, the agency can prohibit the state from issuing, renewing, transferring, or upgrading CDLs. Because of the severity of this new sanction, and the potential inconvenience to drivers and motor carriers located in states found to be in non-compliance, FMCSA recommends the penalty should be used only after other attempts to bring the state into substantial compliance with CDL requirements have failed.

To mitigate the impact on drivers and motor carriers in states that might be decertified, the proposal calls for allowing drivers licensed before a state was decertified to continue to operate commercial motor vehicles, as long as CDLs remain valid. FMCSA also proposes authorizing states that are in substantial compliance to issue nonresident CDLs to drivers living in states that have been decertified.