Industry News

| December 11, 2008

Fingerprint-based background checks for drivers renewing or transferring hazmat endorsements will be postponed until May 31, but drivers seeking new hazmat endorsements must submit
to the checks beginning Jan. 31, as previously scheduled.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s interim final rule makes other changes in the process as well. TSA will accept applications from people with lawful non-immigrant status, refugees and aliens granted asylum – as long as they are qualified for a commercial driver’s license and can prove they are authorized to work without restriction.

TSA also modified the lengthy list of disqualifying offenses. For example, it removed one felony, simple drug possession, but added the unlawful purchase, receipt, transfer, shipping, transporting, import, export and storage of a firearm or explosives.

In addition, most drivers who seek to transfer hazmat endorsements from one state to another will not have to undergo a new background check.

TSA estimates 432,000 drivers will apply for a new or renewed endorsement in the first year of the new rules. While the agency has estimated a total of 2.7 million endorsement holders, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Census Bureau have calculated the actual number of truckers carrying primarily hazardous materials to be only 500,000 to 800,000.

TSA says it expects the number of endorsement holders to drop in the first five years of the program, because getting the endorsement will be more expensive, more difficult and more subject to disqualification.

The agency expects a 20 percent drop the first year of the program and a 5 percent drop in each of the second and third years. By the fourth year, the regulatory effect on the population should have run its course, the agency says, after which it projects a modest annual growth of 1 percent annually.

TSA will require each state to declare whether it will let TSA collect and submit its fingerprints, data and fees, or will do the job itself. Fees for TSA-performed collection will depend on the number of states that ask TSA to handle the task; for now, TSA’s estimate of the eventual fee is $83 to $103.

The more states enlist TSA, the smaller the fee, because “economies of scale would be greater,” the agency says. But states where the TSA does not handle this task could charge whatever they saw fit.

Many drivers can’t believe their good fortune these days. “We’ve had to battle owner-operators on the phone telling us it’s too good to be true, you can’t do that,” says Doug Albrecht, Barr-Nunn’s director of recruiting.

Albrecht refers to Barr-Nunn’s guaranteed low diesel price, one of a host of pay and benefit incentives that carriers are offering this winter in an industry desperate for drivers.

· Schneider National announced in December what it called the largest pay increase in its 70-year history. The per-mile base rate for Schneider owner-operators jumps from 86 cents to 90 cents, which means an extra $4,000 for someone running 100,000 miles a year.

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