Two years ago, The Post called the Capital Beltway "Your Deadliest Drag Strip," saying "life in the Beltway fast track is a fiesta for trucker-bullies terrorizing the lowly cars."
The solution was urgent. Since then, tractor-trailer accidents on the Beltway have jumped 43 percent.
On average, there is now an accident involving a tractor-trailer on the Beltway every 18 hours. Two-thirds of these trucks are not registered in Maryland, D.C. or Virginia.
They are trucks carrying produce from Florida to New York City, or manufactured goods from Connecticut to Atlanta, and their drivers might be licensed in Ohio or even Arizona.
Poor communication between states enables that minority of interstate truckers who are unscrupulous to hold licenses from several different states and to spread among them any reckless driving penalties they might receive.
Thus drivers who might otherwise have lost their driving privileges are able to "keep on trucking." Even worse, 20 states allow anybody with a car driver's license to drive a truck with no additional testing.
No wonder trucks, which constitute only 3.2 percent of the traffic on the Beltway, are involved in 19 percent of the accidents.
The dangers of multiple licenses and of no special testing for trucks were brought home to me by the tragic death of Kamy Nathanson, a schoolmate of my son Mark at Bethesda's Pyle Junior High School. Kamy was on vacation in Rhode Island when she was killed by a truck driver who should have been off the road, but wasn't because of these flaws in the system.
She was in a car that was slammed from behind by a speeding tractor-trailer. The license of the driver, we later learned, had just been suspended for the seventh time by his home state of New Jersey. But the driver had gone to Arizona and obtained a new license -- the license with which he was driving the day he killed Kamy. Arizona officials did not know of this driver's New Jersey license, let alone that it had been suspended, nor did Arizona require him to show that he was competent to handle a 35-ton rig on this nation's superhighways.
The magnitude of the multiple licensing loophole shows starkly in these figures: There are an estimated 2.5 million to 3 million truck drivers, yet of the 30 states that do issue trucker licenses, some 6 million have been handed out. In other words, there are more than twice as many truckers' licenses as drivers.
Poor coordination of information on license holders plus the fact that 20 states require no special test for would-be truckers add up to a public policy that is proving very dangerous for the general driving public.
Driving a truck is much more difficult than driving a car, and some truckers carry hazardous materials that require special responses in case of collision or leakage.
Maryland has strong licensing requirements for truck drivers that include both a written test with truck-specific questions and a driving test at the wheel of a tractor-trailer. But we have no way of knowing that truckers passing through from Arizona and Alabama, West Virginia, Ohio and 16 other states have any idea of how to drive a truck.
Congress has been studying these problems, but the pace of reform has been slow. The most promising of the solutions now under scrutiny involve the following:
A computerized data base, which states could quickly check for problem drivers when processing license applications. It would contain only names and states; the inquiring state would have to check further with that driver's home state for specific information.
National uniform licensing standards that all states would be required to apply, though the actual testing and licensing of truckers would remain the responsibility of the states.
Cost estimates for such a program range from $20 million to $30 million for the entire electronic data network and, for the states that do not yet have them, some $40 per truck-specific licensing exam. These costs could easily be met by user fees.
If each truck driver were tested every two years, the cost of the data network plus tests would still run each driver only about $30 a year. That is a small price to pay for a safer, more reputable trucking industry that would benefit truckers and for safer, more pleasant highways for all drivers.