FMCSA answers questions on new hazmat endorsement rules

By Sandi Soendker, managing editor | 1/2/2002

At an event sponsored by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) in Washington Dec. 7-8, representatives of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) answered many questions raised by jurisdictions on the upcoming rule on hazmat endorsements.

FMCSA is soon issuing an interim final rule to implement Section 1012 of the U.S.A.Patriot Act, which prohibits states from issuing hazmat endorsements until a background check is completed. While it became a public law Oct. 26, 2001, this new requirement could not be implemented without a U.S. DOT rulemaking. The FMCSA advised states to continue to renew old and issue new CDLs under their usual procedures and went to work fast-tracking an interim final rule. John Grimm, the agency's Office Director of Safety Programs, says that rule will be issued in mid-January and be in effect by April 1. It will require all new applicants for a CDL with hazmat endorsement,and renewals, to pass a criminal background check to determine if the driver poses a security risk.

How will it work? Grimm says an applicant will go to the DMV, be tested and then be directed to the local police department. There, the driver will request to be fingerprinted and undergo a criminal background check. The check will actually be done by the Department of Justice. The DOJ will forward the information to the Department of Transportation for analysis. If the applicant is not determined to be a "security risk" the DOT will notify the DMV with a "yes." Grimm says it will be a "yes, no" or maybe a "we don't know yet." If the background check reveals information that requires further investigation, the DMV will be notified. Criteria for what is considered a driver who is a "security risk" has not been finalized.

How long will all this take? Grimm said it could take approximately two months fora driver to renew or get the hazmat endorsement on a new CDL. He indicated nearly a third of all CDLs currently have hazmat endorsements.

What about the cost? Grimm says the fingerprinting will cost about $25 and the background check will cost $25 or maybe more. Who'll pay? In the case of a company driver, he said, perhaps the motor carrier will pay. In the case of an owner-operator, no doubt it will come out of the o-o's pocket.

If the applicant is turned down, can't he just go to another state and apply? Grimm says the results are submitted to the CDLIS data base as "turned down "for the hazmat endorsement. If the driver applies in another jurisdiction, the CDLIS check will reveal the turned down status.

If a driver is turned down, what about due process of law? Grimm says if the applicant is turned down or the DOT tells the DMV "we don't know yet" then a follow up procedure will be in place to assure the driver of fair treatment under the law.

Drivers from Canada and Mexico seeking hazmat endorsements will also undergo the same background check procedures, says Grimm, subject to negotiations under the NAFTA. Details are yet to be worked out, he said. He indicated that one of the areas concerns whether or not the U.S. DOT will "simply accept" an assurance from Canadian or Mexican governments that a thorough background check has been completed.