Feds, states trip up driver over hazmat background checks

| 7/18/2007

Ed Thompson has driven truck for more than 30 years and has held a hazmat endorsement for more than a decade.

Thompson, an OOIDA member from Salem, OR, used to drive fuel tankers for Texaco during the early 1990s “back when there was a Texaco,” he said.

After becoming an owner-operator, Thompson continued to renew his hazmat endorsement to keep his business more marketable.

On March 3, 2006, he received a letter from the Transportation Security Administration concerning a background check he initiated to keep his hazardous materials endorsement.

The agency determined that Thompson posed “no security threat,” the letter stated. A similar letter from the Oregon Department of Transportation verified the findings and said Thompson’s HME “remained valid until your next renewal,” scheduled for July 2011.

One year later, however, Oregon’s Department of Motor Vehicles sent another letter telling him his hazmat endorsement would expire within 30 days unless he initiated a second background check.

“I haven’t shot anybody since they did this – nothing on my record has changed,” Thompson said. “The thing that makes you mad is that they’re targeting the wrong people.”

TSA workers told Thompson that some drivers actually were required by their states to update their hazmat endorsements every two years.

OOIDA recognized the hazmat background check pitfalls during TSA’s discussion phase before background checks became a requirement, said Rick Craig, OOIDA’s director of regulatory affairs.

“This broad-brush approach just doesn’t work,” Craig said. “You’ve got guys hauling hazmat for 25, 30 years and now all of the sudden they’re a security risk? Come on … TSA worked up a bad rule and I’ll be damned if the states aren’t making it worse.”

Drivers pay $94 for the background checks, but more importantly many have to travel hundreds of miles and miss income for time to go through the process when they would have normally been on the road, Craig said.

Craig pointed to many large carriers, including Lowell, AR-based J.B. Hunt Transport Services, softening its stance of requiring all drivers to have a hazmat endorsement.

“If they did require them, they’d start losing drivers left and right,” Craig said.

The OOIDA Foundation’s 2006 study of Association members found that 47 percent of members responding to the survey possessed a hazmat endorsement, though 65 percent said they didn’t plan on renewing or obtaining an HME if they didn’t already have one.

Thompson decided to drop his hazmat endorsement, citing frustration with mixed signals from the federal government and Oregon, before a third letter from Oregon arrived in his mailbox Monday, July 16, saying his hazmat endorsement was good until 2011.

“You were sent the wrong letter,” the most recent letter said, complete with Oregon DMV letterhead. “Bring this letter into any full-service DMB field office … and you will be issued a duplicate CDL.”

Thompson planned on heading to the DMV late Monday to pick up his new CDL. The third direction he received on his hazmat endorsement did, however, leave him shaking his head.

“I think it’s pretty good they sent this letter, but it’s too bad nobody signed it,” Thompson told Land Line. “It’s typical government – nobody’s taking responsibility.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer