CDL, driver detention issues identified as top DOT challenges

October 25, 2019

Tyson Fisher

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The U.S. Department of Transportation released its top management challenges for fiscal year 2020. Several trucking-related items are contained within, including CDL disqualification/fraud and driver detention.

On Wednesday, Oct. 23, the U.S. DOT’s Office of Inspector General published its DOT’s Fiscal Year 2020 Top Management Challenges report. Current law requires the department to report such challenges each year.

Commercial vehicle safety was among the several challenges identified in the report. More specifically:

  • Ensuring commercial drivers are qualified.
  • Prioritizing motor carriers for interventions.
  • Estimating the impact of driver detention.

“Because of the volume of drivers and differences in states’ commercial driver’s license programs, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration faces challenges in ensuring both drivers and states comply with federal requirements,” the report states.

CDL disqualification

States are required to exchange information on commercial drivers through a nationwide information system. The Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 sets penalties for serious traffic violations. Among the penalties is CDL disqualification.

However, the DOT has identified weaknesses in timely information sharing. In fact, one day before the report was published, the DOT announced it will audit FMCSA’s oversight of commercial driver disqualifications.

Both the report and announcement cite a case involving a driver with a Massachusetts CDL. The driver was arrested in Connecticut for driving under the influence. Six weeks later, the man was involved in a fatal crash in New Hampshire. The Connecticut violation should have disqualified the Massachusetts CDL, possibly preventing the crash.

Medical certification and CDL fraud

The Office of Inspector General also found issues with medical certificates. According to the report, several cases of fraud have been discovered.

Since August 2014, Office of Inspector General investigations have resulted in eight indictments and six convictions related to fraud. In one case, more than 2,000 drivers had to retake their medical exam. Land Line has also reported on a separate case in Pennsylvania, one in Georgia and another in Missouri.

Earlier this year, the DOT announced that it will conduct an audit of FMCSA’s medical certificate program.

The report also discovered numerous instances of fraud committed by state DMV examiners, driving schools and third-party CDL examiners. Land Line has reported on numerous CDL fraud cases, including a case involving the Mississippi Highway Patrol, another case involving an Alabama trainer and Georgia examiner, and large fraud ring within the California DMV.

Interventions with high-risk carriers

Addressing high-risk motor carriers, FMCSA the Compliance, Safety and Accountability program, which consists of the Safety Measurement System.

Recently, an Office of Inspector General audit found that FMCSA’s corrective action plan for improving CSA and SMS “lacks implementation details.”

“While FMCSA’s corrective action plan addresses motor carrier safety interventions, it lacks implementation details for improving transparency and its assessment of carrier safety rankings,” the OIG report said.

In August, several trucking groups, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, spoke out against a provision in an appropriations bill that would make certain CSA information available to the public.

“This dangerous policy rider would be a step backward for safety, rolling back the important legislative reforms in the FAST Act to repair the flawed CSA scoring system – a system that both the Government Accountability Office and the National Academy of Sciences found to be unsound, using incomplete and unreliable data to develop motor carrier safety scores,” the trucking groups’ letter stated. “The FAST Act directed a full diagnostics and reboot of the CSA system, yet this provision would disregard that legislative directive as well as the ongoing work at the Department of Transportation to improve CSA, instead returning CSA to a system of inaccurate scores.”

Driver detention

Lastly, the report found that the issue of driver detention likely has unintended consequences regarding safety.

“Drivers who experience excessive delays at shipping and receiving facilities – known as driver detention – may violate hours-of-service regulations or drive unsafely due to fatigue or the desire to recover lost income, increasing the risk of crashes that result in fatalities, injuries and financial costs,” the report states.

The FAST Act requires FMCSA to issue regulations that cover the collection of data on delays experienced by commercial drivers. But in 2018, the Office of Inspector General discovered that accurate data on driver detention does not exist.

FMCSA has not conducted a study regarding the impact of driver detention.  The Office of Inspector General estimates that driver detention increases the likelihood of crashes involving fatalities, significant injuries or towing.

“We estimated that a 15-minute increase in average dwell time – the total time spent by a truck at a facility – increases the average expected crash rate by 6.2%,” the report states. “We also estimated that detention is associated with reductions in annual earnings of $1.1 billion to $1.3 billion for for-hire commercial motor vehicle drivers in the truckload sector.”

OOIDA has been vocal about the issue.

“Although most drivers and owner-operators are weary of more regulations, several members have recommended introducing language into the federal regulations requiring either penalties for shippers, receivers, and carriers who do not compensate for detention, establishing a fixed hourly wage, or both,” OOIDA wrote in comments. “Additional suggestions included removing or changing the hours-of-service regulations or eliminating the federal exemption on overtime for truck drivers.”

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.