Recent action by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to ease the burden levied by COVID-19 could leave motor carriers vulnerable to adding disqualified drivers to their ranks.
In a notice posted on April 17, the FMCSA informed state driver licensing agencies (SDLAs) that they will not be penalized if they’re not able to notify the federal government of driver violations, convictions and disqualifications within 10 days, as required by law.
Instead, SDLAs will have three months beyond June 30 – the date that the enforcement change expires – before having to return to reporting convictions and violations within the 10-day period.
“Many States are experiencing greater than normal employee absences or have closed offices of their SDLA in response to [federal] guidance…to use social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” FMCSA stated.
As a result, “FMCSA is exercising its discretion not to issue a finding or make a determination of substantial non-compliance for SDLAs unable, within 10 days, to post a driver’s disqualification or conviction to the driver’s record, to transmit notification of the disqualification or conviction to the driver’s State of record, or to report a driver’s conviction” to the Federal Convictions and Withdrawal Database, according to FMCSA.
“In no case will continued non-compliance be permitted more than 90 days after the effective period of this notice.”
Commenting on the FMCSA’s enforcement change, Dave Osiecki, President and CEO of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, said that the action is to assure SDLAs they will not be found in “substantial noncompliance” with federal commercial driver’s license (CDL) laws if the emergency affecting their ability to promptly post and report serious CDL driver violations and convictions.
For carriers, however, “the lack of posting or lack of reporting of a driver’s conviction could mean that a company could unknowingly use a disqualified driver, if the driver doesn’t self-report the violation or conviction,” Osiecki told FreightWaves. “FMCSA’s relief seems to make sense for the States but, for motor carriers, it could put them in a tough spot if one or more of their drivers is found to be operating while disqualified.”
Without access to more up-to-date information from the motor vehicle record during the screening process, Osiecki said carriers will have to rely even more on the honesty of the driver. “Just be as vigilant as possible and press the driver for all information concerning recent convictions and violation information.”
Among other restrictions recently eased for SDLAs during the COVID-19 emergency, the FMCSA gave skills-test examiners more leeway in conducting tests, including being allowed use cameras instead of being physically present in the truck cab.
The agency is also allowing third-party commercial driver’s license CDL test examiners to administer CDL knowledge tests without completing all the required training.