A Time of Greater Scrutiny

When the commercial driver’s license was first implemented, there was a great cry among drivers that it was unnecessary. Everybody who drove a truck supposedly knew how to drive, and future drivers would learn the way they’d always learned. That was good enough for the hard-nosed, commonsense truck driver.

The government, of course, saw things differently. A basic standard of performance was necessary in its view. Perhaps more important, a license would provide the means to track professional drivers, whose nomadic habits made them less visible to documentation by the states.

We live in a different world now, a world in which some trucks are potential bombs and the 2.5 million truck drivers with hazmat endorsements are under particular scrutiny.

Indeed, the 80,000 motor carriers registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to transport hazardous materials – everything from hairspray to nitroglycerin – are the subjects of that same increased attention. Tracking truck drivers, whose profession has recently become a possible means of terrorism following the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, is a priority. So it is that the CDL and the hazmat endorsement have taken on a significance foreseen neither by drivers nor by those who brought these documents into being. Having a valid CDL and a hazmat endorsement requires a higher level of responsibility and awareness than it did before Sept. 11. Professionals remember that a national emergency will require CDL holders to report to federal authorities. A truck driver’s skills will become even more indispensable in times of crisis. This fact alone makes the CDL more useful all the time.

Doubtless there are some Americans who have gotten their licenses and/or hazmat endorsements by less than legal means. In recent years, there have been license-buying scandals in Illinois, Pennsylvania and Florida, to name a few. Drivers who committed fraud by not going through licensing tests might once have been considered common, petty criminals. Now their indiscretions are significant blunders and their actions could have consequences for them far beyond having to live with personal stupidity. Sometimes one small step off the legal path puts a man in quicksand. There are more reasons than ever to abide by the law of the land.

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Steve Kozar, western regional manager for the Pennsylvania Bureau of Licensing, said there were approximately 31 people involved in the latest license buying scam in the Keystone State. He said all those licenses had been revoked and was adamant that “nobody else was involved.” That may well be. But drivers with false documents must recognize that other investigations are taking place.

Officer Genareo gives a clean bill of health to a tanker driver headed home for the border.

Having a valid CDL and hazmat endorsement is only the beginning. Increased enforcement of placarded trucks has already begun. More incidents or more rumors of plots are likely to ratchet up enforcement even further. Because trucking is an obvious means for terrorists to do their work, truck drivers will probably be the subjects of increasing scrutiny. Earl
Evans, an owner-operator who frequently pulls just-in-time freight out of Canada, said, “Security has been extremely tight both ways. There was a 22-mile backup coming into the States on my last trip.”

Evans also remarked that security was unusually tight at the Spring Hill, Tenn., plant where he delivered.

Harvey Zander, an owner-operator for Dart Transit who hauls food products, has not experienced security delays anywhere he has traveled, and unlike Evans has found no drop in freight volume. Such differences among various segments of the industry are to be expected, but as government agencies put new policies in place, or as more incidents occur and rumors spread, the smart driver will be prepared for delays and inspections. At least some state enforcement agencies have received letters from the federal DOT directing them to concentrate on a driver’s paperwork during inspections, especially inspections of hazmat trucks. Trooper Lynette Quinn, information officer for the Pennsylvania State Police, said on Sept. 27, “We will begin stepping up inspections in accordance with the letter received from the U.S. DOT very soon.”

Certainly licenses and endorsements as noted on them will receive attention, but drivers under hazmat loads can expect intense scrutiny. Level III inspections are called driver-only inspections but often the inspector will check for hazardous materials. Your driver’s license, medical card, logbook and annual inspection document will be checked. If your vehicle is placarded, the inspector could inspect the load, checking your paperwork against the contents of your wagon. If you have not thoroughly reviewed this paperwork and the contents of the trailer to make sure everything is in order, you can be sure questions will be asked if you are stopped. It is also wise to make sure you are displaying the proper placards. Failing to remove placards after delivering your hazardous material carries an expensive fine.

Even more suspicious after Sept. 11 is a placarded truck found off-route. Going through tunnels or over bridges with certain materials used to mean a big fine. Nowadays it means a great deal more. Certainly vehicles ignoring the law to stay out of tunnels and off bridges when carrying certain hazmat loads must be followed without exception. Using southbound I-95 through New York, all placarded trucks are detoured around the underpasses just before the George Washington Bridge onto the crowded streets of upper Manhattan. Many hazmat trucks simply run through the tunnels. Drivers do not put on hazmat signs until getting into Jersey. This behavior is even more dangerous than it was in the past.

It would be wise to make sure the rules for hazmat have not changed in urban areas through which you pass. Carrying a copy of 49cfr, the hazardous materials regulations, for reference could also prove to be useful. Perhaps even more important is verifying that your carrier has the proper certificate to haul hazmat. While major carriers likely are in compliance, small carriers, especially LTL carriers, may not have the certificate but ship hazmat anyway. These carriers will soon have the DOT and possibly the FBI knocking on their doors. When that happens, it would be best if your hazmat endorsement as well as other credentials are in good order. Even if a carrier has the proper certificate, he can easily bury a pallet of hazmat in other freight and never tell the driver it is there. Carrying hazmat without placards is a significant offense now more than ever. It could arouse suspicions from which a driver would have difficulty extracting himself. Check your load. Don’t haul hazmat that is not placarded and documented.

The smart driver can protect himself from suspicion by carrying valid licenses and documents, and driving like a professional.

Smart Driving Tips for Times of Crisis

  1. Make sure your medical card and license are up to date and legible. Medical cards are easily forged. Don’t do it.
  2. Anyone who did not legally earn his CDL will eventually be caught. New biometrics like fingerprinting, voice recognition and other identifiers are already in the works. It is extremely unwise to get a license without proper testing.
  3. Hazmat paperwork and placarding is in the spotlight. Check everything twice.
  4. Be aware of any unusual activity in truckstops and docks. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has warned citizens to expect more attacks.
  5. Lock your truck and load. Take the keys with you.
  6. Make an effort not to park off by yourself.
  7. Take two forms of identification if crossing the Canadian border.
  8. Cooperate with enforcement. Now is not the time to let your self-righteous anger cloud your judgment.
  9. Keep your log current. Any paperwork glitch will likely cause further scrutiny.
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