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July 16, 2021 1:15 PM, EDT

Some States Slow to Transmit Driver Convictions to Regulators

Truck pulled overGitpho/iStock/Getty Images

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A new Department of Transportation Inspector General audit criticized states for too often failing to transmit driver electronic conviction notifications in a timely manner to federal regulators.

The audit also concluded that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s annual review process lacks adequate quality control measures for verifying that state commercial driver license programs meet federal requirements.

“States did not timely transmit electronic conviction notifications 17% of the time,” said the audit, made public on July 14. “Specifically, we estimate that states of conviction did not timely transmit 18% of 2,182 major offenses and 17% of 23,628 serious traffic violations in our universe.”

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Federal regulations require that states must disqualify the CDLs of drivers convicted of major offenses and serious traffic violations and other offenses as expeditiously as possible.

“Major offenses warranting disqualification include convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol or committing a felony with a motor vehicle,” the audit said. “Serious traffic violations, such as excessive speeding or reckless driving, require disqualification if the second offense occurs within three years of the first.”

The audit offered a troubling example of the potential effects of state inaction: On June 21, 2019, a commercial driver licensed in Massachusetts was involved in a crash that killed seven motorcyclists in New Hampshire, less than six weeks after Connecticut suspended his driving privileges for refusing to take a chemical drug test.

“A subsequent internal investigation conducted by the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles concluded the driver’s CDL would have been revoked before the crash if the Registry of Motor Vehicles had followed its own procedures for processing out-of-state driver notifications,” the audit said. “Furthermore, RMV was not systematically processing paper notifications it received from other states. This tragic incident illustrates the importance of timeliness in processing driver convictions.”

The IG audit noted that federal regulations require that states notify other states about convictions within 10 days. The state issuing the traffic conviction uses the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators’ Commercial Driver’s License Information System to notify the state where the driver is licensed. States may also mail paper notifications of convictions, the audit said.

“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,” the audit said.

FMCSA’s oversight of state CDL programs is key to prevention of large truck and bus crashes and disqualification of unsafe drivers from operating commercial vehicles, according to the audit.

“While FMCSA has established annual program reviews to monitor state compliance, those reviews have gaps in the oversight of CDL disqualifications,” the audit said. “These weaknesses may limit FMCSA’s ability to keep unsafe CDL drivers off the road and enhance public safety.”

The audit singled out a few examples of state glitches, including:

  • “One state, Louisiana, did not impose the appropriate disqualification for a paper-based traffic conviction until we inquired about it. 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.”
  • FMCSA found that Pennsylvania convicted an Ohio-licensed driver for a hit-and-run violation, but conducted an administrative hearing about disputed aspects of the conviction. As a result, Ohio did not disqualify the driver despite Pennsylvania’s completed judicial process, which FMCSA found was in violation of federal regulations.
  • Some states backdated the disqualification period to a date prior to the notification by the state of conviction, allowing some drivers to serve a shorter disqualification time period than federal law requires. Roughly 5% of a sample of major offenses in Colorado and Kentucky had retroactive disqualification start dates that effectively reduced the federally mandated driver disqualification period.

IG auditors gave FMCSA seven recommendations to improve its monitoring of CDL programs. FMCSA concurred with all of the recommendations.

“Accordingly, we consider all recommendations as resolved but open pending completion of the planned actions,” the auditors said.

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