In an effort to crack down on truck drivers with bad driving records, the Transportation Department yesterday ordered truckers with more than one driver's license to surrender the extras by July 1 or face stiff fines.
Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole told a news conference that the only reason truck drivers hold more than one license is to hide traffic accident and violation records from authorities and avoid license suspensions.
"It is unconscionable that a truck or bus driver today can obtain several driver's licenses from different states, then hide bad driving records by distributing traffic violations among them," Dole said.
The department was ordered by Congress last year to issue regulations limiting bus and truck drivers to one license by July 1. The regulation covers trucks weighing more than 26,000 pounds and buses that carry at least 15 passengers.
Dole said the rule applies to 4 million truckers and 1.5 million bus drivers across the country, but acknowledged she does not know how many drivers hold more than one license because in some states it is impossible to check an applicant's driving history. Industry and government officials estimate that a third of the country's truck drivers may hold more than one commercial driver's license.
The federal government plans to use a centralized computer clearinghouse to keep a national record of driver's licenses, but it will not be fully operating until early 1989. In the meantime, Dole said the rule has been supported widely by organized labor, and she expects many drivers will voluntarily surrender extra licenses.
As an example of the way multiple licenses are used, Dole described the case of a truck driver whose driver's licenses from two states were suspended, but who still obtained a temporary license in a third state. Then, he caused the death an 80-year-old pedestrian in a fourth state and was charged with manslaughter.
"While awaiting court proceedings, he applied for and was granted a driver's license in the fourth state," Dole said.
She also described a 1980 National Transportation Safety Board survey that showed 44 truck drivers involved in accidents held 63 driver's licenses, had 98 suspensions, 104 accidents and 465 traffic accidents.
"The consequences of a driver in an 80,000-pound rig can be catastrophic," Dole said.
The rule also requires that drivers report any traffic tickets, including any received while driving their cars, to their employer.
Initially, the rule will be enforced by the Federal Highway Administration, then later by the states. States will be required to participate in the program by 1993 or risk losing 5 percent of their federal highway funding.