With data gathered over a three year period ranging from 2016 – 2018, FMCSA recently released its “Assessment of Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Holders’ Traffic Violations, Convictions, and Disqualifications” report. In short, the research goal was to determine the rate at which drivers are appropriately disqualified at the state level following conviction of disqualifying offenses.

The study, conducted by the Volpe National Transportation System Center, tracked the violation process from cradle-to-grave – from the time a violation was issued roadside to disqualification or suspension – in eight states in four geographic regions. They note several factors at play that create problems and can result in drivers continuing to operate after having been cited with a potentially disqualifying violation (PDQ). According to the study, these factors include discretion on the part of a roadside inspector in issuing a violation as a PDQ; ensuring there is accurate mapping from state violations to federal violations, a Court adjudicating a PDQ violation through dismissal or reduction of charges; poor record keeping processes to include lost or compromised data, data deficiencies and masking at the federal, state and/or local level and with the courts; state driver’s license agencies (SDLAs) failing to properly process the disqualification and post it to the state or CDLIS record; and a disqualified driver not being identified during a roadside inspection. The research discovered that process and data quality issues disrupt the citation, conviction, and disqualification process and impede the successful assessment and recording of PDQ citations.

While human error is at the root of some of these outcomes, there are other programmatic or systematic actions that could be taken to ensure drivers aren’t operating on a disqualified CDL. Among them, as pointed out in the study, are limiting the opportunity for discretion by roadside inspectors along with enhanced training on mandatory practices. State agencies and court systems also have significant room for improvement through enhanced data quality checks, record processing and file maintenance. STC believes this is where the greatest opportunity lies. In a review of the report’s data tables, of the 90,798 PDQs written during roadside inspections, only 6,331 of them were convictions that made their way to the CDLIS record – 7 percent of the total. While the study is quick to point out its data limitations — and the real number likely is not 7 percent – this still is a glaring problem. Additionally, the research was limited to a handful of states, so it is difficult to extrapolate this to the entire country., The one data point that seems to be solid, and should cause concern, is once the PDQs were adjudicated in court as convictions – in the 8 states studied only 54 percent of them (6,331 of 11,652 convictions) were found on the driver’s CDL record.

The problem that is created by this lack of accuracy is exacerbated once we layer this against driver safety performance data. According to FMCSA, drivers who are suspended for driving-related reasons are three times more likely to be in a crash than one suspended for a non-driving reason – and six times more likely to be in a crash than a driver who has never been suspended. This also correlates with research from the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), which highlighted specific violations and convictions in their 2022 “Predicting Truck Crash Involvement” study. ATRI noted in the study that of the top 13 violations or convictions correlated with future crash involvement, five of them are listed in 49 CFR 383.51, to include a “Disqualified Driver” violation – at 53 percent more likely to be in a future crash.

For those of you who have heard STC speak on podcast programs, Webinars, media interviews, or at events, you will note we talk often and glowingly about the ATRI Crash Predictor studies and that if you are a carrier, you should be looking beyond just MVRs and convictions – and use violation data as well. The two primary reasons for this are: 1) the ATRI study data shows that generally violations are as important as convictions in assessing crash risk; and 2) the issues illuminated by this FMCSA study identifying gaps and the fact that you most likely don’t have the full driver picture.

Whether human error during a roadside inspection or data quality concerns at various agencies, highway safety is impacted when these drivers fall through the proverbial cracks. STC is pleased to see this research made public and hopes it spurs more action to improve processes and keep unsafe drivers off the roads. In our view, given the findings from this study, one such action needs to be expanding this study to the entire country, and there needs to be a deeper dive to find out what is contributing to these gaps, document the symptoms of the problems, and to develop an action plan to address them.