Hazmat Haulers Face Rigorous Background Checks

Truckers with hazardous materials endorsements will soon face a rigorous background check by the federal government and could be disqualified from hauling hazmat loads if they have committed certain felonies or are judged to be a threat to national security.

The simultaneous rulemakings were announced May 2 to fulfill an obligation under a U.S. anti-terrorism law. The rules are a response to the USA Patriot Act, an anti-terrorism law passed after the Sept. 11 attacks. The rules were announced by the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Research and Special Programs Administration.

Under the rulemaking, TSA will begin checking the names of 3.5 million truckers who hold hazmat endorsements on their commercial drivers license against federal criminal, immigration and terrorism databases. The agency said the process will take 120 days, during which time the agency will also begin a fingerprinting effort.

By November, all new applications, renewals and transfers will require a driver to be fingerprinted and his background checked for crimes and immigration violations. States will be unable to issue an endorsement until TSA has approved a driver.

Disqualified drivers will only lose their hazmat endorsement, however, and will continue to hold a CDL. Truckers or their companies will have to pay for fingerprinting costs and will also absorb the cost of the background checks. The rules also require drivers with the endorsement to renew and undergo another security screening every five years.

Drivers can appeal a TSA decision. Those who fail to qualify can also apply for a waiver if they prove they are rehabilitated and capable of transporting hazardous materials safely, a TSA spokesman said.

Disqualifying crimes include: terrorism, murder, assault with intent to murder, espionage, sedition, kidnapping, hostage taking, treason, rape, aggravated sexual abuse, extortion, robbery, arson, bribery and smuggling. Felony convictions involving drugs, weapons and explosives can also disqualify a trucker, as can immigration issues or any transportation violations involving hazardous material. TSA may also remove drivers who have been declared mentally incompetent. The rule applies only to those violent crimes and violations that have occurred over the last seven years.

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The interim final rules are available at http://dms.dot.gov by searching for docket numbers 11117, 14982 and 14610. Questions can be sent to [email protected].