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39 U.S. states test truck drivers via third parties – how safe can this be?

Written by Steve Gursten Posted September 22nd, 2015

Truck accident attorneys can’t be the only ones who see a glaring safety problem with this shortcut system for driving skills testing

CDL skills test third party

Would you believe that in 39 states, the skills testing of new commercial truck drivers  is left to third parties?   This is the most important part of the testing for new truck drivers. It’s critical to protecting the public on our roads. And it’s being outsourced to commercial third parties who may have a serious conflict of interest in identifying dangerous and unfit drivers – before they get behind the wheel of big tractor trailer trucks.

Thankfully, it now looks like we (and other truck accident attorneys) are not the only ones speaking out.  The Government Accountability Office is now saying this is not in keeping with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) mission. In a recent report, the GAO office states that federal regulators provide weak oversight of third-party contractors that most states — a total of 39 states in fact— use to administer driving skills tests to truckers applying for commercial driver licenses

The problem is that third-party testing options are rife with the potential for fraud.

Recently, our Truck Roundtable attorneys wrote about an extensive Florida scam that distributed more than 600 fake CDLs to Russian-speaking drivers, after letting them pass fake written and nonexistent skills tests.

Here’s how the scheme went down: A commercial trucking school called Larex marketed itself to Russian-speakers online. For $2,000 a pop, out of state individuals travel to Florida to obtain the CDL. After falsifying each individual’s residency by claiming the individuals lived with them, the individuals who ran the school used covert communication equipment to provide students with answers to the written portion of the CDL test. And for the vehicle inspection tests, basic control skills tests and road tests, a crooked third-party tester authorized by the state of Florida was hired to administer the tests and pass drivers who would have otherwise failed.

Unfortunately, safe truck drivers get tarred by the same brush as dangerous truckers

Protecting the public is reason enough to stop this entirely, or at least to significantly increase state oversight of these third-party companies.

But the other reason is that this hurts the image of all truck drivers. And more people in the industry should be concerned. As an attorney, I represent many truckers who are hurt in very serious wrecks involving other trucks or passenger cars. This type of shortcut hurts everyone, including those who play by the rules and get their licenses to drive trucks the right way.

So what can we do in the meantime, when so many truckers are being tested, many likely by other fraudulent third parties as in the Florida truck driver scam?

We know the FMCSA and law enforcement are woefully underfunded. We also know there’s a serious truck driver shortage and that the U.S. needs more safe and qualified truckers to transport our goods.

It would be best to have a government or strong regulatory body uniformly administer all of the skills testing to potential new truck drivers. But this is not something that’s going to happen any time soon, due to limited financial resources and a lack of willingness by states to identify truck accidents as a crisis and take more aggressive steps to improve safety.

The GAO recommended the FMCSA continue to make changes to clarify its policy on oversight of states’ CDL programs and “improve or obtain a mechanism to track oversight activities.”

According to the GAO, a special committee has also been recruited to advise the FMCSA on minimum training standards. New training standards were mandated by a Transportation Bill signed three summers ago and are yet to be finalized.

This is an important start, to be sure. The mission of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration includes ensuring that drivers have the requisite knowledge and skills required to safely drive commercial vehicles.

But that doesn’t solve the conflict of interest of using commercial third parties.

States told the GAO that they use third-party testing agencies generally to cut costs, reduce wait times and backlogs and increase test availability. But rushing through without proper oversight is simply a recipe for disaster.

Does the state have liability when a truck wreck occurs using a third party?

One interesting issue for attorneys who litigate catastrophic truck accident cases – especially in Florida and other states that have arguably been put on notice by well-publicized examples of truckers fraudulently receiving CDLs on the news – is whether these states can also be added as proper party defendants in subsequent lawsuits where someone has been seriously injured or killed.

Most of these cases with unfit or dangerous truck drivers who have fraudulent CDLs will be exactly the companies with clearly inadequate insurance policy limits. Lawyers for the accident victims will have to carefully look at state governmental immunity laws and exceptions. Assuming the law allows a viable claim, it would seem a fact determination based upon actual notice or whether a state should reasonably have known. For the accident victims and their families, attorneys should likely take a close look at such a claim.

The other 11 states and the District of Columbia said they chose not to use third parties because they perceived a greater fraud risk.

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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