Jefferson City, Mo. Stuck in a financial pothole, Missouri’s highway department has been selling equipment and eliminating employees to scrounge up enough money to repair its roads. Unless it also changes state law, it could lose tens of millions of federal highway dollars as a penalty for not adopting new safety requirements for commercial truck drivers.
Though Missouri’s financial predicament may be extreme, it is far from unique. Approximately one-third of states have indicated they may not meet a Jan. 30 deadline for their drivers’ license offices to require interstate truck drivers to provide proof from a medical professional that they are healthy enough to drive, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
States that fail to comply with the federal mandate could lose 5 percent of their highway funds — about $30 million in Missouri’s case. If they remain out of compliance for a second year, that penalty doubles. But noncompliant states could receive a grace period; as long as they submit a plan to obey the mandate, federal officials have indicated they may not start deducting money until 2014.
The federal agency declined to provide a list of the states in jeopardy of missing the deadline. But Missouri’s plight was confirmed by state officials and documents obtained by The Associated Press through an open-records request. Officials in several other states, including Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma, also confirmed to the AP that they will not be able to fully implement the federal requirement by the deadline.
“It’s hard enough to keep our roads in good condition, and this is going to make it more difficult,” said Missouri state Rep. Eric Burlison, a Republican who unsuccessfully sought to bring Missouri in line with the federal requirements.
The federal government already requires interstate truck drivers to get a medical OK from a doctor. Drivers currently carry around their medical certification cards in case stopped by a police officer or inspector. Under the federal requirement that kicks in Jan. 30, truck drivers are to begin submitting their medical approval forms to state licensing offices, which are to enter the information in a nationwide database that also tracks things such as invalid licenses and driving violations.
“Its whole purpose is just to make sure that the drivers on the road are safe,” said Claire O’Brien, a spokeswoman for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.
Adding truckers’ medical status to the database was supposed to relieve them of the duty to carry medical cards. But because some states have been slow to implement the requirement, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration plans to continue the card-carrying requirement until Jan. 30, 2014.
Some states have had trouble meeting the technological standards needed to submit truckers’ medical certifications into the nationwide database. Colorado, for example, plans to require truck drivers to submit the medical forms to the licensing bureau beginning Jan. 30 but doesn’t expect to be able to enter the information into the database until mid-summer, said Mark Couch, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Revenue. The Kansas Department of Revenue said it could be a few months after the deadline before its computers are capable of meeting the federal requirement.
“We already have information up on our website explaining the information they’re going to need to bring in, we just don’t have a date to begin processing,” said Jeannine Koranda, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Revenue.