License testing shutdown leaves “thousands” of drivers in limbo

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Thousands of truckers may soon be traveling U.S. highways on expired CDLs without even knowing it.

Drivers who obtained a commercial driver’s license through an unnamed third-party tester in Tennessee between May 2005 and January 2008 may be required to do a complete retest, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety.

Tennessee has mailed letters to the approximately 1,300 CDL-holders in that state who obtained CDLs from the third-party tester – one the state declines to name – between May 2005 and January 2008, said Laura McPherson, a spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Safety.

The department has a breakdown of affected drivers by state, McPherson said, including about 1,200 from Georgia and likely at least 5,000 nationally who were issued CDLs from the third-party tester during that 32-month span.

“They will be notified by mail through our department if they are in Tennessee,” McPherson told Land Line. “The states they live in have all been notified – the states, it’s their prerogative.”

Tennessee will not name the third-party tester, or its address, McPherson said. The Department of Safety has not been threatened with a lawsuit, the spokesman said, though she said it is not releasing the company name of the third-party tester “for legal reasons.”

Many long-hauler truckers work for months at a time before coming home, and may unknowingly have an invalid CDL. Told that states such as Virginia have required retesting by Feb. 6, McPherson said those issues are between the driver and their home state.

Nearly one year ago, a third-party CDL testing center at a Swift Trucking facility in Memphis was raided by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, the U.S. Department of Transportation inspector general; Secret Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement; U.S. marshals; Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration; and Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Tennessee Department of Safety.

Documents were seized, and the investigation reportedly centered on the illegal issuance of CDLs.

Swift Transportation, for its part, has acknowledged the raid, and the subsequent shutdown of the testing facility run in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Safety, although a driving school in the Memphis facility is still in operation.

Dave Berry, Swift spokesman, said Swift is trying to find out more specifics about the Tennessee CDL issue.

“We don’t know if they’re referring to us or not; we’d like to help the state,” Berry told Land Line. “If these are our guys, we can help them get retested, get notified or do what’s proper. It’s very peculiar.”

Berry pointed out that no law enforcement agency has charged anyone associated with the testing facility or Swift with wrongdoing.

As the company understands it, Swift believes problems related to the testing facility were on the skills test portion, not the written test.

“We’re cooperating fully, 100 percent. Like the state, our interest is safety,” Berry said. “Our drivers, the state, everybody’s number one concern is safety. This is about the skills test. They don’t need to take the written exam, or do these other things. As near as we can tell – my advice to the driver would be – first of all – I’m sorry that something like this is happening. I would advise them to follow the instructions they had from the state.”

OOIDA’s Member Assistance department has spoken with drivers who obtained their CDL in Tennessee during the period in question but who can’t retest because they don’t own a truck and are out of work, preventing them from taking a skills test.

Whether a driver has to retake all of a CDL test may depend on which state they live in.

Kentucky CDL-holders who received their CDL test from the third-party in question are receiving a letter giving them 30 days to be re tested, including the "vision, written and skills tests," according to the letter from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet's Division of Driver Licensing.

“If you fail any part of the CDL test, you will be required to surrender the CDL in your possession and be issued a duplicate operator license.”

Daniel Nicholas, a currently out-of-work driver from Oakton, VA, recently received a letter from his home state saying he had to redo the skills portion of his CDL test or forfeit his license.

Nicholas said he attended Swift’s driver training school in November 2005, before obtaining his CDL that same month. The driver and sometime construction worker said he’s upset that no one will tell him why his CDL test must be retaken, and said he doesn’t own or have use of a truck to retake the skills portion of the test.

“The Tennessee Department of Safety won’t respond to e-mail, and when I call, I get the runaround,” Nicholas told Land Line. “They won’t release information.”

The driving school was selective, Nicholas said, remembering only about one-third of the 160 classmates graduating.

“No one passed, out of my entire group, that couldn’t drive a truck,” Nicholas said. “Those that couldn’t, they failed them.”

For more information, go to www.tennessee.gov/safety, call the Tennessee Department of Safety driver services department at (615) 253-5221 or call your home state licensing agency.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer
charliemorasch@landlinemag.com

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