WASHINGTON — The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has announced that beginning Aug. 10 drivers licensed in Canada or Mexico to commercially transport hazardous materials will be required to undergo a background check via the FAST program before transporting in the US. The requirement is restricted to quantities requiring a hazardous materials placard, and includes explosives.
“TSA has been working with CBP and our partners in the Canadian and Mexican governments to find a solution that both enhances security and promotes commerce across our borders,” said Stephen Sadler, TSA’s director of maritime and surface credentialing. “Use of the FAST card for drivers registered in Mexico or Canada brings consistency to the current rules so that the required background checks are conducted on all individuals who transport hazardous materials in the United States.”
From the outset the problem has been to find a mechanism for Canadian drivers to comply that would be acceptable to US authorities since a system of licence endorsements as prescribed for US drivers does not exist in Canada.
The announcement was welcomed by the Canadian Trucking Alliance, which first proposed the FAST card as a solution for Canadian drivers hauling hazmat into or out of the US over three years ago. However, the alliance’s CEO, David Bradley, said, “While we are pleased that the USTSA has finally adopted the solution CTA promoted over the past several years, it is difficult to understand why this announcement came less than three weeks from a legislated deadline, when the process to obtain a FAST card typically takes six to eight weeks — it’s frustrating but seems to follow the pattern of how so many US security measures are being dealt with.”
An estimated 3.5 million US hazmat drivers are subject to a background security check in order to obtain, renew or transfer a hazardous materials endorsement on a state-issued commercial driver’s license.The requirement for US drivers can be traced back to the USA Patriot Act of 2001, which was silent on how foreign drivers would comply. A subsequent piece of US highway legislation, SAFETEA-LU, required “motor vehicle operators registered to operate in Mexico or Canada” to undergo a “background records check similar to the background records check required for commercial motor vehicle operators licensed in the United States to transport hazardous materials in commerce.” The announcement makes it clear that the extensive driver checks done as part of the FAST program will satisfy this legislative requirement.
“Absent this announcement, there would literally be no way for Canadian drivers to comply with the law.CTA estimates that at least $12 billion in annual trade would have been impacted, involving everything from petroleum products and radioactive materials to fertilizers and paint,” according to Bradley. “On the positive side, we are aware that approximately 60,000 FAST cards have already been issued to Canadian drivers, so we are hopeful that no disruption in this trade will occur.”
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