State and federal laws require truck drivers to obtain and maintain a valid commercial driver’s license. The Illinois Secretary of State says that Congress passed the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety of 1986 due to a prior patchwork of laws that posed risks to anyone on the road when an unqualified driver got behind the wheel of a tractor trailer. To drive a massive truck in Illinois a driver must be qualified to handle the rig (subject to specified exemptions). To obtain a valid CDL, the driver must pass a battery of tests to show his or her knowledge and ability to safely handle the vehicle.
Unfortunately, major safety programs aimed at reducing the risks for serious injury and death can be sidestepped, at times, by unscrupulous people. The Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General recently released a report outlining several schemes that have been used by unqualified drivers to get a CDL.
Notably, none of the criminal investigations cited in the report occurred in Illinois. However, the information is still highly disturbing — especially in light of the prevalence of interstate travel in the trucking industry.
A Small Sampling Of Recent CDL Investigations
- A test examiner accepting bribes — In one Southern state, federal investigators note that a duly authorized licensing examiner used his position to falsify skills test examinations for CDL applicants in exchange for cash. It is not clear how many applicants took advantage of the scheme, or if any had sufficient skills to pass the tests. However, one has to wonder why a true professional would need to avoid taking the test.
- Falsified medical records — In May of this year, a trucker was convicted of lying to federal officials in a medical card application related to his job. Safety rules require that drivers are sufficiently healthy to operate big rigs and the DOT requires CDL applicants to submit a medical form and card to obtain their licenses. The driver forged the signature of a registered nurse on medical paperwork. The investigation revealed that the driver had previous had a physical at the injury prevention center where the nurse worked and used that prior paperwork to forge the nurse’s signature.
- Proxy CDL test-taking for hire — Last year a group of people were found guilty of running a scheme at five testing centers on the East Coast. The conspirators hired lookouts, runners and others, including a person to take the tests in place of actual drivers seeking a CDL.
From time to time, the Office of Inspector General releases information on similar criminal activity related to CDLs. The real takeaway is that despite the vast regulations that exist to promote safety on our nation’s highways, there are often companies, drivers and other actors who act negligently. Experienced personal injury lawyers need to have a full command of the federal and state safety regulations to gain a full picture of what is amiss in the record when a serious truck accident causes harm to innocent victims.