WASHINGTON — The five-month-old hazardous materials truck driver background check implemented by the Transportation Security Administration is hurting the trucking industry by imposing higher operating costs and deterring drivers from obtaining “hazmat” endorsements, a top trucking executive testified before Congress this week.
Speaking on behalf of the American Trucking Associations before the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, Steve Russell, chairman and CEO of Indianapolis truckload carrier Celadon Group and Kitchener, Ont.-based Celadon Canada, said that while the trucking industry supports the security objective, the current background check program has been “marred by a number of bad decisions.”
Russell, whose truckload carrier firm has over 2,700 tractor trailers operating nationwide, said TSA has constructed a process that applies to materials that pose no security risks and costs the industry nearly double what background checks for aviation workers cost.
The provision of the U.S. Patriot Act requiring commercial truck drivers with hazardous materials endorsements to their commercial drivers’ licences to undergo more stringent background checks went into effect after May 31.
The endorsement and the background check are required for drivers transporting not only explosives, but also non-threatening commodities like paint, nail polish, chewing gum extract and soft drink syrup.
The regulation does not yet apply to Canadian truckers entering the US. However, this past summer Congress passed legislation requiring Canadian and Mexican hazmat drivers to also clear a security background check.
The TSA still has three months to come up with a program for Canadian drivers, and there’s word that the deadline may also be extended another six additional months.
“The costs to drivers and carriers are unacceptably high and serve as a disincentive to obtaining a hazmat endorsement,” Russell says. “It is easy to see why drivers are discouraged.”
He said the program is implemented in a non-uniform manner across the states, has an insufficient number of fingerprinting locations and limited hours of operation. The ultimate impact may be the industry’s inability to haul hazardous materials, he concluded.
The ATA says that the background check provision will further exacerbate the driver shortage. By TSA’s own estimate, the background check will result in a loss of 20 percent of the hazmat-endorsed driver population.
ATA and its motor carrier members believe a sensible solution would be to target the background screening process to focus on hazardous materials that pose true security risks.
Trucks move more than 800,000 shipments of hazardous materials across the US each day, with hazmat shipments accounting for 14.8 percent of all truck tonnage moved annually.
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