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Hazardous materials truckers to be checked

Transportation Security Administration cites terror concerns

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Transportation Security Administration announced Friday it will begin requiring commercial drivers who carry hazardous materials to undergo background checks.

The requirement will go into effect Monday when the new rule -- required under the USA Patriot Act -- is published in the Federal Register.

"This is a landmark rule in that it establishes vital safeguards to protect our national transportation network from possible acts of terrorism," said James M. Loy, administrator for the Transportation Security Administration.

"The rules will further ensure the continued safe transport of a range of products -- from chlorine to gasoline -- crucial to the economic viability of the United States."

An American Trucking Association spokesman said his organization is concerned there is no mechanism to inform trucking firms when their drivers do not pass the background check.

Richard Moskowitz, the association's assistant general counsel, said trucking firms could find themselves with drivers who have failed the checks and not know it.

He said the association also is interested in knowing why drivers might have failed.

The Teamsters union, which has not yet formally taken a position on the checks, said almost all its 65,000-member drivers have hazardous materials endorsements on their licenses because almost all of them carry hazardous materials at some time.

The union said it is concerned that information about why a driver failed the background check would be given to trucking firms, which might use it to fire the driver.

Roughly 3.5 million commercial drivers who have licenses to transport hazardous materials will be required to undergo the checks, which will include a review of criminal, immigration and FBI records.

"Any applicant with a conviction [military or civilian] for certain violent felonies over the past seven years, or who has been found mentally incompetent, will not be permitted to obtain or renew the hazardous materials endorsement" for their licenses, the Transportation Security Administration announcement said.

The checks also will verify that drivers are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents of the United States.

Under the rule, states will be forbidden from issuing, renewing, transferring or upgrading a commercial driver's license with a hazardous materials endorsement unless the applicant has passed the background check.

States also are required to set up a program to make sure drivers renew their hazardous materials endorsements every five years.

The rule does not apply to drivers who do not carry hazardous materials, and there is an appeals process for drivers who fail the background screening.

Among the crimes that would disqualify a driver from receiving permission to transport hazardous materials are terrorism, murder, assault, conspiracy, arson, bribery, smuggling and the improper transportation of hazardous materials.

CNN Correspondent Jeanne Meserve contributed to this report.

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