Lag in hazmat background checks could put the brakes on for some truckers

| 1/26/2005

Some hazmat drivers could end up grounded because of the lag time for results of new security checks that will start Jan. 31.

The new security checks – required under the USA Patriot Act – will take roughly 30 days to run, and truckers will get only 60 days’ notification that their endorsement is due for renewal.

“They receive in the mail from the states a … notice that their hazmat endorsement is going to expire in 60 days from a certain date,” said Deirdre O’Sullivan, TSA spokeswoman. “They then are also told in that notification that they have 30 days to start the process” because of the time it takes to complete the security checks.

The lag time in processing the security checks could be a major issue for some drivers, said Rick Craig, OOIDA’s director of regulatory affairs.

“They say it takes 30 days,” Craig said. “For someone who is going to go in to get their first time endorsement, they could be walking in cold thinking they’re going to take a test and walk out with an endorsement. Then they find out they’re going to be sidelined for 30 days waiting on a security threat assessment.”

If truckers receive timely notices that their endorsements are up for renewal, the lag time might not be a problem. The difficulty, Craig said, is that many drivers will be out on the road when the notices arrive at their homes.

For a trucker who is out two months at a time, the 60-day notification required under the regulations may not be seen until the endorsement renewal deadline has nearly passed.

That situation could lead to a driver being forced off the road – and forced to do without income – for the entire 30 days it takes to process the security check – if the federal government completes it in the time predicted.

OOIDA requested that the government provide truck drivers with earlier notices of hazmat endorsement renewal dates. And initially, at the beginning of the rulemaking process, federal officials were talking about requiring states to give drivers 90 to 180 days advance notice of endorsement renewal.

However, Craig said the feds decided against that because many state notifications are set up for 60-day notification.

“In our comments, we suggested that it shouldn’t be any more of a burden for a state to notify somebody 90 days out as opposed to 60,” he said. “It shouldn’t.”

However, a California official said all of that state’s systems were set up to do 60-day advance notifications, not 90 or longer.

“So they would have to revamp their systems in order to notify anyone earlier,” Craig said. “That was TSA’s justification for backing down to a 60-day notification.”

States can offer truckers an extension if they are not able to obtain their new endorsement in time, O’Sullivan said. But not all states will do so.

“If for whatever reason they are not able to make it within that (60-day) window, they can apply to the state, and ask for an extension,” she said. “In section 1573.13B2, it talks about the fact that it is going to be up to the states to determine whether they will allow an extension of up to 90 days.”

In any case, O’Sullivan said, truckers should go directly to the agency in their state handling CDLs and ask whether their state offers extensions.

– By Mark H. Reddig, associate editor