Coming into U.S. with hazmat? New rules kicked in Monday

| 11/13/2006

The phase-in period that allowed CDL holders from Mexico and Canada to haul hazmat into the U.S. without a FAST background check has come to an end.

As of Aug. 10, Canadian and Mexican drivers licensed to commercially transport hazardous materials must undergo background checks before entering the U.S. as part of the Free and Secure Trade program, or FAST program.

However, Canadian and Mexican CDL holders hauling hazmat into the states had until Nov. 13 to complete the FAST background check process. From Aug. 10 to Nov. 13, foreign drivers without the background check who entered the states with a hazmat load were just handed information on the new regulation - a portion of the phase-in program called "informed compliance" - and turned loose.

In the 2005 highway funding legislation, Congress directed TSA officials to establish a background check system for hazmat haulers entering the U.S. Officials at TSA have decided that the background check used in the FAST program meets that requirement, according to a TSA press release.

FAST began in December 2002 in an effort to shorten wait times at the border by pre-approving commercial drivers and adding special FAST lanes at border crossings. The program was initially a collaborative effort between the U.S. and Canada. Mexico joined the program in December 2003.

The FAST cards are issued in the U.S. by the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. Stephen Sadler, TSA's director of maritime and surface credentialing, said in a July press release that the FAST program satisfies the inspection standards mandated by Congress.

"Use of the FAST card for drivers registered in Mexico or Canada brings consistency to the current rules so that the required background checks are conducted on all individuals who transport hazardous materials to the United States," he said.

FAST had been proposed as a solution to this issue in the past, but critics claimed that the guidelines for who can and cannot be given a FAST card have not been spelled out specifically enough.

OOIDA has challenged the logic behind allowing a FAST credential for non-U.S. truckers, while U.S. truckers are faced with the tougher and more expensive hazmat endorsement background checks.

To see more on OOIDA's challenge of the FAST background checks, click here.