Not All Hazmat is Created Equal

Not All Hazmat is Created Equal

Licensing of truck drivers for transporting hazardous materials is an important issue for the industry and the general public.  

Not all hazardous cargoes are created equal. Under today's regulations, commercial truck drivers -- regardless of the type of hazmat they are carrying -- all must submit to the same onerous and expensive fingerprint-based security screening process. By focusing fingerprint-based screening on drivers who transport hazmat that poses a truly significant risk to homeland security, the Safe Truckers Act will significantly enhance security as well as the proper handling and transport of highly security-sensitive products.

Materials defined as truly hazardous have been so designated because they require special consideration during handling, storage and transport, or during cleanup in the event of an accidental release. The broad definition of hazmat includes commodities like paint, perfume, common household cleaning supplies like bleach and over-the-counter insecticides, and soft drink concentrate.

These are not commodities that would be attractive to a terrorist as a weapon. Passage of legislation like the Safe Truckers Act is necessary to differentiate between hazmat that poses a truly significant threat to homeland security, and hazmat that does not.

My company, Con-way Freight, is like many others when it comes to hazmat transportation: hazmat shipments only make up roughly 3.5 percent of our overall shipments, or about 2,000 shipments daily. Today, given current regulations and to ensure efficient service to our customers, we require all of our 14,500 drivers to have a hazmat endorsement. We pay the fees charged to them for the fingerprint-based screening.

Our most frequently transported hazmat is paint or paint-related material -- again, not a threat to homeland security. Yet a significant amount of time and money is spent on fingerprint-based screening of individuals who transport paint and similar products -- goods that have no application as a weapon potentially of use by a terrorist.

As an example, if the list of materials identified as security sensitive mirrored the list of materials that Congress identifies as requiring carriers to obtain a federal permit, my company would only have 16 covered shipments per day.

We would not require all 14,500 drivers to go through the fingerprint-based screening. Our drivers and customers would save time and avoid inconvenience. We would save money. But most importantly, the focus of these policies and their actions would be on the real risks to homeland security.

With some suggested modifications we believe the Safe Truckers Act can become a bill that American Trucking Associations and its members can enthusiastically support. 

First, the bill needs to be modified so that the fingerprint-based background check required for a permit under the safe truckers act replaces -- and is not simply in addition to -- the current fingerprint-based background check required under the Patriot Act provision. Second, ATA is concerned that the Safe Truckers Act may be creating a different Transportation Worker Identification Credentialing standard.

Since the disqualifying criteria for the security sensitive material permit and the TWIC are the same and the same databases are checked, there does not appear to be any need to modify the TWIC. The same TWIC that will demonstrate a truck driver has successfully been screened for access to maritime ports should also serve as the security sensitive material permit. 

Third, the interstate trucking industry relies on uniformity and thus benefits from federal statutes preempting state laws in several areas. Homeland security would seem to be an appropriate area. Allowing states to require checks of their own databases -- rather than requiring states to upload the relevant data to the federal databases -- results in lessened security nationwide.

Fourth and finally, Congress has already recognized that failure to notify employers when an employee is determined to be a security threat creates an unnecessary risk. Congress addressed that risk by requiring employer notification under the current hazmat background check program as part of the Highway Reauthorization bill. Employers should similarly be notified under the program to be established by the Safe Truckers Act. 

The industry appreciates the efforts by the subcommittee to achieve our shared homeland security objective in a rational manner. My colleagues in the industry have done a lot -- most of it voluntarily -- to enhance the security of the freight transportation we provide. In return, we only ask for reasonable, risk-based approaches to protecting our homeland.


McClimon is president of Con-way Freight. Excerpted from testimony McClimon delivered June 16 to the House Subcommittee on Economic Security, Infrastructure Protection and Cybersecurity, Committee on Homeland Security in support of the Safe Truckers Act of 2006.