States have been falling short of the requirement to promptly submit their electronic conviction notifications to federal regulators, according to a recent audit by the Department of Transportation Inspector General.
“States did not timely transmit electronic conviction notifications 17 percent of the time,” noted the audit. “Specifically, we estimate that states of conviction did not timely transmit 18 percent of 2,182 major offenses and 17 percent of 23,628 serious traffic violations in our universe.”
Additionally, there are not sufficient quality control methods in place in regards to determining whether or not state commercial driver’s license programs meet federal requirements under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s current annual review process, the audit added. As of now, states must disqualify the commercial driver’s license of drivers who have faced convictions of serious traffic violations, major criminal offenses, or other serious violations, as mandated by the federal regulations presently in place.
“Major offenses warranting disqualification include convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol or committing a felony with a motor vehicle,” the audit explained. “Serious traffic violations, such as excessive speeding or reckless driving, require disqualification if the second offense occurs within three years of the first.”
Disqualifying particularly unfit or unsafe drivers from operating commercial motor vehicles and overall prevention of large truck and bus crashes is the main goal of the FMCSA’s oversight regarding state commercial driver’s license programs, said the audit.
“While FMCSA has established annual program reviews to monitor state compliance, those reviews have gaps in the oversight of CDL disqualifications,” explained the document. “These weaknesses may limit FMCSA’s ability to keep unsafe CDL drivers off the road and enhance public safety.”
When states fail to take adequate action in these circumstances, further unsafe–or even deadly–incidents can take place, such as that cited in an example offered by the audit. In June of 2019, a Massachusetts-licensed commercial driver was involved in a deadly New Hampshire accident in which seven motorcyclists were killed. This incident occurred in fewer than six weeks following Connecticut’s decision to finally suspend his driver’s license after the driver initially refused to undergo chemical drug testing.
“A subsequent internal investigation conducted by the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles concluded the driver’s commercial driver’s license would have been revoked before the crash if the Registry of Motor Vehicles had followed its own procedures for processing out-of-state driver notifications,” explained the July audit. “Furthermore, RMV was not systematically processing paper notifications it received from other states. This traffic incident illustrates the importance of timeliness in processing driver convictions.”
States must notify other states regarding their convictions through the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators’ Commercial Driver’s License Information system system within 10 days. This traffic conviction notification is sent directly to the state in which the convicted driver is licensed. The Inspector General’s audit also added that states are able to mail physical paper conviction notifications as well.
“In either case, under federal requirements, states of conviction have 10 days to send a traffic conviction notification to the state of record, which, in turn, has 10 days to process the conviction and post it to the driver’s record,” noted the audit.
Some mistakes made by various states regarding these regulations were also noted in the audit, such as when Pennsylvania convicted a commercial driver based in Ohio for a hit-and-run incident, but later underwent an administrative hearing regarding the disputed parts of the conviction itself. Because of this, although Pennsylvania completed the judicial process, the state of Ohio did not disqualify the driver. FMCSA found this to be in violation of the federal regulations at hand.
“One state, Louisiana, did not impose the appropriate disqualification for a paper-based traffic conviction until we inquired about it,” said the Inspector General in the audit. “In this example, an individual was eventually disqualified from driving commercial vehicles for life. However, Louisiana took 432 days from conviction to update of the driver record to disqualify the driver.”
Because of incidents like these, as well as many states deciding to allow drivers to face a shorter disqualification time than required by federal law (by backdating the disqualification period to before the state of conviction notification date), Inspector General auditors have presented seven recommendations to FMCSA consisting of methods in which the agency can boost its commercial driver’s license program monitoring.
So far, FMCSA is in agreement with these recommendations.