Industry Issues: When in Rome, do as the Romans…Well, maybe
March 1, 2005
Of all of the security-related issues that have been debated post 9/11, few have generated more discussion than driver background security checks, particularly for drivers carrying hazardous materials...
Of all of the security-related issues that have been debated post 9/11, few have generated more discussion than driver background security checks, particularly for drivers carrying hazardous materials. The USA Patriot Act, passed a few short months after the attacks of September 11, created a requirement for hazmat drivers to undergo a background security check when applying for or renewing a hazardous materials endorsement on a state-issued commercial driver’s licence (CDL).
While there are those on both sides of the border who have challenged the measure as being overly invasive, the simple fact is that as Canadians, we understand that in order to continue to operate in the United States we must abide by U.S. law when we cross the border. We do not expect to be immune from requirements the United States imposes on its own citizens, and we would expect nothing less of American drivers operating north of the border.
It is understandable that in the rush to pass anti-terrorism legislation in the fall of 2001, the United States Congress could not have covered every contingency. Unfortunately for the Canadian trucking industry, one of the things not covered is that Canadian truck drivers – and CTA estimates that at least 70,000 of them cross into the United States each year – do not possess state-issued CDLs and therefore can not be covered by the background check requirements found in the Patriot Act. Now, more than three years later and only weeks from the beginning of a multi-year phase-in, we still do not know what will be done to extend a security check requirement to foreign truck drivers.
CTA has proposed to both the U.S. and Canadian governments that the only viable solution is for Canadian drivers to meet the spirit of the Patriot Act requirements by obtaining a driver card issued under the Free and Secure Trade Program, or FAST. This card is issued after extensive criminal, immigration and customs checks by both the United States and Canada. (Indeed, it might be argued that the FAST requirements set the bar even higher.) CTA has been told that Canadian and U.S. officials accept this as a reasonable, common sense approach, but to date a final decision has not been announced.
Meanwhile, the fact that foreign drivers cannot be subject to the Patriot Act’s CDL provisions has caught the attention of U.S. industry. The National Tank Truck Carriers, for example, in their comments to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on a proposed rule dealing with fees for hazmat driver checks, put the issue quite succinctly: “In terms of the U.S. regulations, what will be the status of these Canadian drivers? Will TSA accept FAST cards as an “equivalent” to U.S. requirements? If not, what will be required, and where will these drivers go for a threat assessment? Who will perform that assessment? Will loads under the control of unassessed Canadian (and Mexican) drivers be denied entrance at the border (and, if so, as of what date)?” These are excellent questions, and echo those we have been asking on both sides of the border for over three years.
CTA is not actively seeking ways to have additional requirements imposed on Canadian carriers and drivers, but we would be naive to think that at some point a decision will not be made to require Canadian drivers to undergo checks similar to what the U.S. imposes on its own citizens. More to the point, we must continue our attempts to head off any possibility that Canadian drivers transporting hazardous materials will at some point be denied access to the US, simply because the law is written in such a way that they could not comply, even if they wanted to.
CTA has been willing to live by the age-old adage of “when in Rome, do as the Romans” by proposing a solution that we believe will satisfy U.S. national security concerns, and at the same time put Canadian drivers on an equal footing with their U.S. counterparts. As we move into the implementation phase of this important initiative, we believe the time is ripe for TSA to end the uncertainty surrounding foreign drivers once and for all, and simply tell them what the rules will be.
– David Bradley is president of the Ontario Trucking Association and chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.