Will a program aimed at tightening security for hazardous material shipments end up driving hazmat truckers from the business? One trucking industry exec warns that this could be the unintended effect of the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) hazmat truck driver background check program.
Testifying on behalf of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) before a House homeland security subcommittee, Steve Russell told his audience that although the trucking industry supports the security objectives, the program has been "marred by a number of bad decisions." Not only has the program raised truckers' operating costs, but it has also deterred drivers from applying for the hazmat endorsements needed to haul hazardous cargo, charged Russell, who is chairman of Indianapolis-based trucker Celadon Group Inc. He also complained that the TSA's protocol applies to materials that pose no security risks and costs the industry nearly double what background checks for aviation workers cost, according to the ATA's report on his testimony.
"The costs to drivers and carriers are unacceptably high and serve as a disincentive to obtaining a hazmat endorsement," Russell said. "It is easy to see why drivers are discouraged." He added that the application process had proved inconvenient to truckers, citing an insufficient number of fingerprinting locations and limited hours of operation. The ultimate impact, Russell believes, may be the industry's inability—or unwillingness—to haul hazardous materials.
The program, designed to fulfill a Patriot Act provision requiring truck drivers with hazmat endorsements to undergo more stringent background checks, took effect May 31. The endorsement and the background check are required for drivers transporting not only explosives, but also commodities like paint, nail polish, chewing gum extract and soft drink syrup.