A federal investigation into a fatal crash in 2019 revealed gaps in government oversight of commercial driver’s license disqualifications.
In June 2019, a licensed Massachusetts commercial driver killed seven motorcyclists in New Hampshire – despite Connecticut’s suspension of his driving privileges less than six weeks earlier for refusing to take a chemical drug test. the National Transport Safety Office discovered that the probable cause was the driver of the truck crossing the center line and encroaching on the oncoming traffic lane, which occurred due to his debilitation from the use of multiple drugs.
This driver, it was discovered, shouldn’t have been on the road at all.
An internal investigation by the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles found that the driver’s CDL would have been revoked prior to the accident had the agency followed its own procedures for handling out-of-state driver notifications. He also found that the state did not systematically process paper driver disqualification notifications it received from other states.
This led to an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation into how the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration handles state oversight of CDL disqualifications. In his July 14 Report, the IG office described a number of issues uncovered by its audit and made recommendations to strengthen federal oversight.
Federal regulations outline the minimum standards that states must meet to comply with the federal CDL program. For example, federal regulations require states to disqualify CDL holders convicted of specific offenses, such as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or using a vehicle to commit a crime. The regulations also state that states must notify other states of convictions within 10 days.
As part of its oversight, the FMCSA established its Annual Program Review (APR) process to verify that state CDL programs meet federal requirements for substantial compliance. However, the IG report found that “the FMCSA APR process lacks adequate standard operating procedures and other quality control measures to verify that state CDL programs meet federal requirements.”
Lack of timely notification
The Investigator General’s audit found that states did not deliver electronic sentencing notifications in a timely manner in 17% of cases. He also estimates, based on his audit, that 11% of major infractions were not reported in a timely manner, and 2% of serious traffic cases were not recorded in driver files at all.
One of the most egregious examples he uncovered was a conviction in New Hampshire in December 2017 of a driver for operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The conviction was not transmitted to the CDLIS system until July 2019, 565 days beyond the 10-day requirement.
(CDLIS, the Commercial Driver’s License Information System, is a national computer system that allows state driver licensing agencies to ensure that each commercial driver has only one license driver’s license and one complete driver’s record.)
“While states have taken steps to disqualify CDLs where appropriate, with few exceptions, the FMCSA’s assessment of paper conviction notifications is limited by state processes for recording and tracking convictions. sent by mail, ”the report says.
The problem with Snail Mail
Federal regulations require states where drivers are sentenced to transmit conviction data to the state where the driver is licensed electronically via CDLIS or by mail, but not both.
He found that for some states, paper files represent a significant percentage of their CDL conviction notifications. But the audit found that some states did not keep the required complete logs of sentencing notices sent by mail. Only 17 of the 50 states provided the agency with the required paper logs, and seven states told the IG office that they were not keeping logs of paper notifications as required.
On top of that, some paper notifications were duplicates of those the state had previously sent electronically.
The FMCSA Exclusive Electronic Exchange Final Rule, when completed, will eliminate the submission by states of paper convictions by mail. In the meantime, the FMCSA has put in place an additional process for its 2019 RPAs to analyze state processing of hard-copy conviction notifications. The additional process resulted in 25 paper processing-related findings from 20 states during the 2019 APR period. Although this process was not mandatory during the 2019 APR review process, the FMCSA in made a requirement in the RPA 2020 policy note.
One state, Louisiana, did not impose the appropriate disqualification for a paper trafficking conviction until the IG office questioned it about it. In this example, a driver was ultimately banned from driving commercial vehicles for life. However, Louisiana took 432 days – from conviction to updating the driver’s record – to disqualify the driver. According to a state official, a former employee received the notification by mail but did not update the driver’s record, and another official corrected the record later. As a result, the pilot spent over a year holding a CDL before being disqualified.
States do their own thing
The IG report also concluded that the state’s non-compliance with federal CDL disqualification requirements and other state actions poses challenges for the oversight of the FMCSA.
“For example, some states have offered administrative remedies to out-of-state drivers, canceled disqualifications, and backdated CDL disqualification periods. As a result, some drivers have served disqualification periods shorter than federal law requires. “
For example, according to the report, after Pennsylvania convicted an Ohio-licensed driver of hit and run, Ohio conducted an administrative hearing on the disputed aspects of the conviction. As a result, Ohio did not disqualify the driver, despite the court process completed in Pennsylvania, which the FMCSA found in violation of federal regulations.
The IG report also found that the FMCSA did not have an adequate process to identify repeated compliance issues and impose sanctions against state licensing entities.
It found that 22 of 51 annual reviews conducted in 2019 listed repeated findings – and that some findings had been identified as early as 2010. For example, a finding in 2010 indicated that the state of Massachusetts had not identified all disqualifiable offenses. and therefore did not take the required disqualification measures.
The IG office made seven recommendations to strengthen oversight of the FMCSA and reports that the agency endorsed all seven recommendations.