LEGAL: Driving Performance

A waste truck driver with a bad driving record — on or off the job — now can be disqualified from operating any commercial vehicle, according to a rule issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C.

Effective Sept. 30, 2002, the rule implements provisions of the Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1999 and reinforces licensing requirements and penalty provisions of the commercial driver's license (CDL) program. The FMCSA wants to create a strong incentive for CDL holders to improve their general driving performance and seeks to remove dangerous drivers from the road.

“These comprehensive requirements for those who want to drive trucks … will help ensure that our highways are safer,” says Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta. “Only safe drivers should operate trucks … and this rule will help make that happen.”

State motor vehicle authorities that fail to comply with federal licensing and sanctioning standards within three years face losing financial assistance through federal grants under the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program. Additionally, the FMCSA will forbid noncomplying states from issuing, renewing, transferring or upgrading CDLs. If a driver holds a license issued by a state that has lost its CDL licensing authorization, he can apply for a nonresident CDL from a state in good standing. To enable a state driver-licensing agency to obtain a candidate's complete driving record, CDL applicants must fully disclose where they previously have held any motor vehicle license.

The new rule allows the FMCSA to disqualify truck drivers who have been convicted of traffic violations while operating any vehicle and, as a result, their driving privileges have been suspended, canceled or revoked. The rule also disqualifies drivers who have committed drug- and alcohol-related offenses while operating any vehicle. Additional disqualifying offenses include driving a commercial vehicle with a suspended, canceled or revoked CDL, and causing a fatality through negligent or criminal operation of a commercial vehicle. No “hardship” exemptions will be allowed.

A driver who accumulates two or more convictions for “serious traffic violations” — speeding, reckless driving, unsafe lane changes, following too closely — within a three-year period will be disqualified, regardless of the type of vehicle driven. Similarly, two convictions while driving a commercial vehicle for these offenses also will result in disqualification — a failure to obtain or possess a CDL, and a failure to meet the minimum testing standards for the vehicle class drive or the type of cargo transported. The FMCSA chief safety officer may disqualify, on a case-by-case basis, any CDL holder who presents an imminent risk of death, serious personal injury or substantial public danger.

Besides the general legal duty to entrust company vehicles and equipment only to competent operators, the rule gives waste company owners and managers another reason to investigate and monitor job candidates' driving records, and current employees who hold a CDL.

Conscientious employers should check with state transportation officials to determine the extent to which the state expects companies to participate in the screening process.