New Law Requires Background Checks for Drivers Hauling Hazardous Materials

A new law will make background checks part of the application process for truckers seeking or renewing hazardous materials endorsements.

The requirement is part of expansive anti-terrorism legislation that quickly cleared Congress and was signed by President Bush Oct. 26. The section on driver background checks requires states to investigate hazmat applicants and report their findings to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Under the law, the DOT, in conjunction with the U.S. attorney general, will determine whether an applicant poses a security threat. States will submit names of applicants to the secretary of the DOT, who will investigative drivers’ backgrounds. The definition of a hazardous material is any substance that, in the opinion of the attorney general or the secretary of Health and Human Services, poses a potential threat to national security.

The law is known as the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act of 2001.

The new legislation comes on the heels of several investigations involving commercial driver’s licenses and hazmat endorsements. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, thousands of hazmat drivers were pulled over nationwide, and the trucking industry in general was placed under new public and regulatory scrutiny after a series of highly publicized arrests of Middle Eastern immigrants believed to have obtained or sought fraudulent endorsements to haul hazardous materials.

Although many were released, former Boston cab driver Nabil al-Marabh, an immigrant from Kuwait, who legally got his hazmat endorsement in Michigan a year before the attacks, remains in jail. Authorities say he was an associate of two of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

In another case, the FBI is investigating a Colorado trucking school that agents say trained up to 35 Arab men over the past two years, none of whom later sought a job in the trucking industry.

The men paid $3,400 apiece for a two-week training course, but never sought a job in the trucking industry after completing the course.

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The Colorado probe follows similar investigations in Michigan and Pennsylvania, as law enforcement officials focus their attention on CDL holders, particularly those carrying a hazardous materials endorsement.

The anti-terrorism bill also calls for tripling the number of immigration and border patrol agents along the 3,000-mile U.S. border with Canada.

In other news related to the terrorist attacks:

A U.S. Postal Service truck driver may be the first anthrax victim in the trucking industry. The Maryland truck driver was hospitalized Oct. 26 for a skin lesion that resembled cutaneous anthrax, the Baltimore Sun reported.

The unidentified truck driver, who works at a postal facility in Brentwood, Md., was hospitalized at Johns Hopkins Hospital for treatment of a suspicious skin lesion.

The Brentwood facility is thought to have handled the anthrax-tainted mail sent to the office of Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).

Roadway Express said the company and its employees collected more than $450,000 for the American Red Cross Disaster Liberty Relief Fund, which goes to support the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

For every dollar that an employee donated through a special payroll deduction plan, Roadway matched it with a corporate contribution.

Digby Truck Line Inc. of LaVergne, Tenn., has placed an American flag with the “God Bless America” sentiment on all of its 450 tractors. Owners Jim Digby and Cindy Bedore commissioned the flag decals immediately following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

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