August 11th, 2015, federal and California State officials said that at least 100 commercial truck drivers paid up to $5,000 each in bribes to state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) employees for fake California commercial drivers licenses (CDLs). Immediately following the news and after further investigation, the DMV revoked over 600 CDLs that they found linked to the fraud scheme, and federal officials accused 20 individuals in a criminal complaint lawsuit.
Finally, on November 16th, 2022, the last person of the 20 defendants was sentenced. However, this scheme is just one of many across the US, and some experts are concerned that recent regulation reliefs could cause CDL fraud to rise. If we can't trust trucking schools to actually teach drivers the basics of the profession and there are bureaucrats actively helping these fraudsters, is it even possible to find a regulatory solution to this problem?
How Many Regulations do we Need for Commercial Truck Companies?
So if commercial truck and highway safety experts are concerned more CDL training schools will commit fraud, does this mean the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) needs to add more regulations instead of reducing them? Not necessarily.
In February 2022, FMCSA's Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) took effect after a decade of discussions between several safety advocates, federal agencies, and trucking organizations. While the ELDT rules and requirements for training new commercial truck drivers generally satisfy all the involved groups, ELDT is really only just another hurdle for scammers to jump. Sure it adds another layer of steps needed before someone can earn a CDL, but if a DMV employee is ready to accept bribes to forge test scores, then it is likely the DMV employee would also be willing to forge the needed training certificate too.
So if adding more regulations isn't likely to stop CDL scams, perhaps the companies hiring drivers will be able to mitigate how many bad drivers are on the road.
Employers Don't Always Ensure That Their Hired Professionals Can Actually do the Job
Sure, if a trucking company hires a driver with a falsified CDL, then the trucking company is a victim of the larger CDL scam, but that is no excuse for hiring a bad truck driver and letting them loose on the road. If a truck company is looking to hire a new driver, should the only requirement be, "show an active CDL"? Of course not.
The unfortunate truth, the dirty secret if you will, in the trucking industry is that simply having a license (of any kind) is not a guarantee that someone is a safe driver. Just as the 2015 California scam shows, not every trucking school can be trusted. So, to combat this issue, responsible truck companies will ask their interviewees to take a road test proving to the company that they will not be a liability. The only problem is that road tests prior to hiring are not federally required and therefore are not standardized. One company might ask a driver to perform a series of maneuvers, another company might ask the interviewee to drive a short route, yet still another company might not ask for any road test.
So, more regulations from the federal government won't stop fraud, and trucking companies don't always test their drivers well enough before sending the drivers out on the road. Is there anything that works?
Lawsuits are the Last Line of Defense When Even the Bureaucracy Is Corrupt
The age-old saying "money talks" has stuck around for a reason. Trucking companies and negligent truck drivers tend to understand the idea of losing money more than the idea of a moral obligation to keep others safe. As such, negligence laws are the final backstop to protect everyday drivers from dangerous commercial drivers.
Companies are responsible if their employees hurt someone while performing the required job. Especially, if the job is inherently dangerous. So the threat of financial responsibility for their drivers hurting or even killing someone tends to make companies vet their employees closely.
Basically, truck companies don't want to pay millions in lawsuits, so the companies avoid lawsuits by hiring capable drivers and routinely examining those drivers to ensure minimal liability. They do not want to be accused of negligent hiring, so they create programs to avoid it. This in turn helps keep the number of truck accidents low.
Of course, the hope is that all CDL holders earn their license legally, but just in case they don't, companies often drug test, train, and skills test their drivers so the chance of an expensive lawsuit remains low.