A new federal audit finds that many state driver licensing agencies are not quickly sharing information about traffic convictions by Commercial Driver’s License holders. Auditors also found that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is not properly conducting oversight of state CDL programs, as required by federal law.
The Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation conducted the audit between November 2019 and May 2021. It noted fatalities involving large truck or bus crashes increased over the past five years, jumping 12.4%, from 4,505 crashes in 2014 to 5,064 crashes in 2019.
The audit lays some of those fatalities squarely at the feet of lax state CDL administration. In one incident the audit cited, seven motorcyclists were killed by a commercial driver six weeks after his CDL was suspended for refusing to take a drug test in a neighboring state. His home state failed to process that notification in a timely manner, which should have resulted in revocation of his CDL long before the fatal crash.
Federal regulations describe the minimum standards states must meet to comply with the federal CDL program. For example, states where a conviction occurred have 10 days to send a traffic conviction notification to the state of record for the truck driver’s CDL. The state in turn has 10 days to process the conviction and post it to the driver’s record. The DOT audit found that states did not transmit electronic conviction notifications in a timely manner 17% of the time. An estimated 11% of major offenses were not posted in a timely manner and 2% of serious traffic violations were not posted to driver records at all.
Major offenses warranting disqualification under federal law include convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol or committing a felony with a motor vehicle. Serious traffic violations, such as excessive speeding or reckless driving, require disqualification if the second offense occurs within three years of the first. Failure of a state to transmit or post a conviction in a timely manner, or at all, can leave others vulnerable to unsafe drivers.
Federal regulations also require FMCSA to review each state CDL program to determine compliance. The DOT audit found that while FMCSA does have an “Annual Program Review” process to verify that state CDL programs meet federal requirements, the process omits key quality control steps to assure accurate results. For example, the checklist FMCSA provides its reviewers requires that they ask states whether the states transmit and post-conviction notifications in a timely manner – but it does not require the reviewers to verify the accuracy of state responses.
The DOT audit made seven recommendations for improvement of FMCSA oversight. FMCSA has accepted all seven.
In a related development, FMCSA recently published a final rule requiring states to exchange driver history records, such as convictions and disqualifications, exclusively via electronic means through the Commercial Driver’s License Information System. This will eliminate the mailed paper notifications, which have further delayed many state postings. States must be in substantial compliance with this rule by August 2024.
Certainly the COVID-19 pandemic, which largely occupied the same time period as the DOT audit, affected the normal processing of CDL convictions by state and federal officials. The convictions of concern, however, are not missed CDL renewal deadlines or misunderstandings of pandemic hours of service exemptions. These are convictions for major offenses and serious traffic violations which lie at the very heart of traffic safety.
The DOT audit does illustrate what safety-minded motor carriers and professional drivers know: it takes the whole team, from roadside enforcement to state administration to federal oversight, to protect us all from those who do not make safety their number one priority.