CBS 7 Investigation: Truck Drivers Without CDLs 11/23/12
CBS 7 News
November 22, 2012
West Texas is part of a rapidly growing oilfield industry. Now everywhere you look, a new building, restaurant, or oil rig is popping up.
But the demand for the movers of this economy is at an all-time high, leading to a major shortage for drivers who transport everything from oilfield equipment to retail goods.
This driver shortage is leading to a different kind of boom.
In a one month investigation CBS 7 found that a number of crashes are linked to truck drivers who hit the road without a Commercial Drivers License.
In just one year, 350 crashes in the Permian Basin involved drivers behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle without a CDL.
In those crashes 14 people were killed.
Its a battle The Department of Public Safety fights and the roads are the front line.
Troopers who specialize in commercial vehicle law have increased their presence in the Permian Basin.
In 2010 the Texas Department of Public Safety issued 139 tickets to truck drivers without a CDL.
Last year that number went up to 200 and so far this year 300 tickets have been issued troopers say at this rate the number could double by the end of the year.
Reeves, Ector and Ward Counties are in the lead with the number of tickets this year.
Trooper Shawn Baxter gave CBS 7 a first hand look at what they have to deal with everyday from weighing these trucks to checking for faulty tires.
He says drivers who lack training for a CDL do not know how to care for their trucks or how to safely drive them.
Trooper Baxter says the majority of truck drivers follow CDL rules and are licensed.
Bob Timmons is one of them.
He's been a certified commercial driver for more than ten years and says drivers who drive without being trained and licensed are giving them a bad name.
"They need to train like everybody else," he said.
Our investigation revealed violators do not drive for major corporations, but small independent companies.
Through a public information request, we found over 130 different companies in West Texas employed drivers who did not have a CDL.
Most of them are in the oilfield and construction industries.
RG and Darleen Phillips topped the list.
According to their website, they are independent truckers out of California and just this year they received seven tickets in Loving County for driving with out a CDL.
CBS 7 attempted to call but their listed number is disconnected.
Not far behind on the list is Bartlett Construction in Midland. Drivers had six tickets in several different counties in the Permian Basin this year.
CBS 7 made multiple attempts to contact the owner Andrew Bartlett for an explanation. CBS 7 even spoke to his assistant but as of Wednesday he has not commented.
So why are so many of these companies willing to risk lives and break the law?
We spoke with several county judges across west Texas who say something needs to be done or repeat offenders will just continue to pay the small fee.
The employee can be charged with a class C misdemeanor and a $500 maximum fine.
Ector County Judge Susan Redford says drivers like us can face jail time if we're repeatedly caught without a license, but the punishment for truck drivers is not nearly as harsh.
"They would never learn, these drivers can afford to pay the citations and take the risk," she said, “Some companies will even pick up the tab.”
CBS 7 contacted state and national lawmakers and showed them what we found. they also agree something must be done.
"The boom happened so fast the laws need to keep up with it," said State Representative Tryon Lewis says he will look for a solution in the next legislative meeting.
According to the DPS companies can be audited by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which can lead to fines based on the gross income of the business, but CBS 7 was told that because of limited manpower, it can take up to a year to audit a single citation.