Law enforcement officials are working to expose commercial driver license (CDL) holders who “mask” their disqualifying convictions through loop holes or by having multiple driver licenses.
They are hoping to stop a national problem that allows some of the most dangerous commercial drivers to stay on the job and Tennessee roads.
The problem is drivers who are able to avoid having their CDLs suspended or revoked by a practice of masking.
According to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, masking a CDL conviction means that a conviction for a CDL license holder was downgraded to a less serious offense, deferred or plea bargained.
The conviction is then not reported to the state that issued the CDL, so proper suspensions or revocations can be made as a result of the driver’s conviction.
“You have unsafe drivers driving 60,000 pound missiles,” said Jim Camp, the Traffic Safety Resource Officer for Tennessee’s District Attorney General’s Conference. “You have unsafe drivers who really shouldn’t have commercial driver licenses driving, and the driving public is unaware.”
Camp works to educate prosecutors, state troopers and other law enforcement officials about the federal regulations surrounding CDL holders.
He has also spent time explaining how some CDL holders are able to mask convictions from other states.
“They will pick a state like California, for example, and they will have a commercial driver license there, but then they will get another commercial driver license in the state of Arkansas,” Camp said. “One of those licenses will be the license they use to put their violations on, so if they get stopped for speeding they will present the California license that will be the one to get the speeding conviction.”
He continued, “They always have that one clean license that never gets revoked although they have other convictions in other states.”
Camp said it is difficult for law enforcement to track if a driver has multiple CDLs because the national database that tracks them is reliant on states to update driver information, something that is not always done effectively.
“What happens is the really good commercial motor vehicle drivers are the ones who suffer,” Camp explained. “They are the ones who work hard to keep their driving records clean, who train and are the ones that are really good professional drivers.”
The Tennessee Trucking Association told News 2 it supports efforts to uncover CDL masking by drivers.
“Our mission at the TTA is safely keeping Tennessee on the move. That would be driven by putting legal and safe professional drivers on the road,” Dave Huneryager said. “As such, we would be in favor of anything that would clean up this type of activity.”
It is also against Tennessee and federal law to mask CDL convictions by sending convicted persons to traffic school or dismissing with cost, according to the Department of Public Safety.
Beginning in January 2011, Tennessee toughened its reporting law by requiring a commercial vehicle conviction be reported within five days instead of the previously allowed 10 days.