The number of Federal Rules and Regulations for truck drivers and trucking companies has continuously increased over the years, along with stricter enforcement both on and off the highways. A recent announcement by the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration shows that there will be even greater scrutiny just around the corner.
As stated on the FMCSA website:
"The Driver Pre-Employment Screening Program will allow commercial motor carrier companies to electronically access driver inspection and crash records as a part of the hiring process. The program is expected to begin in December 2009."
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood went on to say:
"This new initiative will help trucking companies ensure the safest drivers are behind the wheel of commercial trucks and buses. Making this information more transparent will make our roads and highways safer for everyone."
The new program will provide information about drivers through the Federal Government which will be comprised of "driver performance data including roadside inspection and compliance review results, enforcement data, state-reported crashes, and motor carrier census data."
The press release from the FMCSA went on to say:
"By using driver safety information during pre-employment screening, motor carriers will be able to better assess potential safety risks of a prospective driver-employee, and drivers will have additional opportunities to verify the data in their driving history and correct any discrepancies."
A recent article in the Pittsburgh Business Times added some specifics:
"The new system will rank companies and drivers based on seven BASICs, which are behaviors the FMCSA says leads to crashes. They are: unsafe driving, fatigue (hours of service), driver fitness, controlled substances and alcohol, vehicle maintenance, cargo issues and crash history."
In the past, trucking companies have relied on the DAC system to give them information about prospective employees. The main problem with the DAC system is that almost anybody can edit a driver's information - at times including former dispatchers, operations managers, and safety personnel. The DAC wound up with a ton of incorrect information which often was put on there to blackball drivers that a certain company or an employee within the company didn't like. Although there is a formal process that a driver can go through to get false information removed, the burden of proof often falls on the driver and the misinformation is difficult to remove.
The FMCSA promises that:
"Driver safety records will be readily available to motor carriers regardless of state or jurisdiction. In accordance with federal privacy laws, drivers must first give written consent in order for their records to be released."
So a company can't find out anything about you unless you sign a release stating that it's ok for them to obtain your information. Of course no company on Earth will hire you if you refuse to sign - you can be sure of that.
By ramping up enforcement of commercial vehicles over the years, there has been a lot of benefits to truck drivers and the general public, but not without some pain. Truck inspections have forced companies to be very careful about the trucks they put on the road. Scan the highways nowadays and you'll see that the vast majority of the trucks out there appear to be in excellent condition, and most are.
Companies have also had to watch closely who they put behind the wheel, which has led to an improved safety record for the industry and safer highways for the general public. And now companies will have access to even more information about the drivers they are considering for employement.
Regulators are hoping to prevent drivers from hiding past problems, including their criminal and driving histories, and past drug or alcohol problems. They are also hoping to hold trucking companies to higher standards by more closely tracking their safety record and hiring practices.
Another consequence may likely be a higher demand for drivers, and a higher driver turnover. Getting hired as a driver will become a bit more difficult because more driver incidents will be reported and tracked accurately, making them difficult to hide from employers. Employees will be less likely to "slip through the cracks" in the hiring process. But the added scrutiny will likely be the straw that broke the camel's back for those who have been driving for many, many years and can't take the constant scrutiny that now comes with being a commercial truck driver. I started driving in 1993 and the old-timers then were complaining about the constant scrutiny. Well believe me, that was nothing compared with the scrutiny drivers face today.
The added work required by trucking companies to document everything their drivers do, along with looking up new information they haven't had to look up before, will add expenses to the trucking company's bottom line. It's going to take more people and more resources to implement the new system.
Finally, of course, this will all cost the Federal Government a lot of money to implement, which of course means increased taxes for all of us somewhere down the line.
The trucking industry is all about limiting liability risk for the carriers. Trucking companies simply can not afford to put drivers behind the wheel that have questionable driving or criminal histories. It's getting to the point that it's incredibly difficult for someone to find a job as a truck driver if they've ever had a felony, a DUI, or other blemishes on their record regardless of how far in the past it was. Some companies do have a time limit on these types of offenses, but generally never shorter than seven years. Some companies will not hire a driver who has ever had a felony or a DUI.
If you want to get into the trucking industry, or remain in the trucking industry, it's becoming more and more important that you really keep your nose clean. The tolerance level for drivers with poor records is getting lower and lower all the time.