360,000 Truckers Could Lose Driving Privileges, Report Says
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Up to 360,000 truckers could lose their driving privileges if states don’t step up their plans to comply with a new federal commercial driver’s license law, congressional investigators say.
The General Accounting Office said Monday that 33 states may not comply with a federal law that requires truck drivers to take tests and obtain federally approved commercial driver’s licenses by April 1, 1992. The law aims to get unsafe drivers off the road by requiring them all to meet national standards.
However, the Federal Highway Administration official overseeing the program said the states are doing ″a terrific job″ and that all plan to meet the deadline.
A quirk in the law gives states until October 1993 to establish testing and licensing programs, but the shorter deadline for drivers to have the licenses makes it necessary to set up programs 18 months earlier.
The commercial driver’s license law was prompted by the 4,500 annual highway fatalities involving large trucks. Trucks account for 4.5 percent of the traffic and 10 percent of the fatalities nationwide.
Before Congress passed the law, several states required only ordinary driver’s licenses for truckers and others had inconsistent requirements, leading some drivers to go shopping for lenient states.
The GAO study, which assesses conditions as of October 1989 when states were surveyed, said 13 states indicated they cannot meet the April 1992 deadline.
An additional 20 states plan to test and license between one-fourth and one-half of their drivers in the final three months before the deadline, which the study said probably is impossible.
Jill Hochman, chief of the highway agency’s standards review division, said seven states already are issuing the new commercial driver’s licenses . They are Arizona, California, Maryland, New Hampshire, Utah, Virginia and Washington. Michigan started but temporarily suspended its program because of a computer problem, she said.
Twenty-seven other states plan to issue licenses before the end of the year, Ms. Hochman said, and 10 states have not yet passed commercial driver’s license laws.
Ms. Hochman said a limitation in the GAO report is that conditions in a state can look different depending on which official answers the survey.
″The states have been making terrific progress,″ she said. ″Nobody said it’s going to be easy, but they all plan to meet the deadline and I’m certainly not going to challenge their plans.″
Most states plan to test and license all of their drivers over a two-year period rather than the four years permitted in the legislation that implemented the law, the GAO study said.
GAO also said most states are having problems in making changes in their driver’s license computer systems so they can hook into a national databank of information on all drivers.
Ms. Hochman said the Federal Highway Administration has been working with states to help them set up the computer system.
GAO researcher Ron Wood said the 13 states that indicated they could not meet the April 1992 deadline for all truckers to be licensed are Arizona, Hawaii, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Rhode Island, Kentucky, Wisconsin and Massachusetts.
Wood said the 20 states that plan to issue an unusually large share of licenses in the final three months before the deadline are: California, Oregon, Illinois, Florida, Iowa, Alabama, Alaska, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Vermont.
The 10 states that have not yet passed commercial driver’s license laws, according to the highway administration, are Alaska, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and New York. The District of Columbia also has yet to pass such a law.