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Uniformity? Hardly

Trucking in this nation has come a long way in the last 50 years.  As trucks have become longer, heavier, wider and flat out more powerful, laws have had to change to meet ever evolving “industry standards”.  Regulation has evolved to help (and tax) the industry so they can operate more efficiently in multiple jurisdictions.  Registration, fuel tax and the North American Out-of-Service Standards are uniform, but what about CDL’s?

For those readers who were older than toddlers in the 1960’s & 70’s, you probably have images of semi-truck grills and fenders loaded with multiple license plates from various states.  Every state wanted, and still wants, their cut of this tax.  The multiple plates evolved into a single “bingo plate” which only required a pro-rate sticker from the necessary jurisdictions.  The International Registration Plan (IRP), in development since the late 1960’s, has now become the uniform registration system for interstate commerce in the lower 48 states, Washington DC and 10 Canadian provinces.  Uniformity?  Absolutely.

Fuel tax is a similar story.  In 1983, three states started the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) loosely based on the same principles as the IRP.  By 1998, every IRP member jurisdiction was an IFTA member as well.  Now, each jurisdiction has a mechanism to recoup lost fuel tax dollars when trucking companies buy fuel in one state and do all their driving in another.  Uniformity?  For sure.

The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) was formed in 1980 in the western United States.  The goal of the CVSA was to standardize vehicle inspection and safety regulations and it didn’t take long to see the success of compatible safety standards.  Within a few years, both the United State and Canada adopted the CVSA standards.  Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Officers (CVEO’s) across all jurisdictions are trained to inspect and report in an equitable manner.  Uniformity? You know it.

And then there are Commercial Drivers Licenses.  Recently, an ITEA member police officer stopped a Canadian truck driver from Quebec driving a semi-tractor pulling a loaded tanker.  The Quebec license had no mention of an endorsement for tankers, let alone a classification to operate combinations.  After many phone calls to Illinois State Police CVEO’s and the Secretary of State’s office, it was determined the driver was legal to operate in Illinois.  Turns out, Canadian “CDL’s” are obtained in a totally different manner and with a unique set of qualifications…vastly different than the uniformity of CDL testing standards governed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations in the United States.  Obtaining status information from Canada is possible, but a very time consuming process.  For ITEA member police officers, some helpful reference materials are available for download on the message board.

IFTA, IRP and the CVSA have one common root…all are administered by private not-for-profit agencies, not the government.  While both the U.S. and Canadian governments recognize the authority of all three and are members, they do not have unilateral control over them.  CDL’s however are legislatively controlled by each country.  The point of this article is not to say U.S. or Canadian CDL requirements are substandard, but it is somewhat disconcerting to think a driver from a foreign country can lawfully operate an 80,000 pound tanker in the United States with no real assurance he has been vetted as thoroughly as our own drivers.

IFTA and IRP are based solely in revenue.  CVSA is about safety, and it seems CDL’s should follow the same path.  The qualification of drivers is of the utmost importance to the safety of our motoring public.  Now that the Obama administration has opened the door for cross border trucking with Mexican companies, it remains to be seen as to what kind or level of compliance comes in the form of IFTA, IRP, CVSA, or CDL’s.

Safe trucking is at an all time high…no one wants to see a regression.  It would be wise for this nation to rally with its international neighbors to bring solidarity to a hardly uniform CDL process.

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