Commercial driver's license provider in Sikeston under investigation

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Missouri State Highway Patrol is conducting a criminal investigation into a commercial driver's license provider formerly operating out of Sikeston. The facility, known as a "third-party tester," was shut down April 22, 2005, and operated under the name Commercial Driving Academy.

Officials said the academy was simply rubber-stamping drivers without issuing the complete test as required by state law.

The Missouri Department of Revenue is mailing letters to 2,000 truck drivers who received licenses from the academy. Department spokeswoman Maura Browning said 560 of the licensees living in Missouri have been notified and 800 out-of-state licensees have received letters.

Browning said her office is staggering the notification so as not to overwhelm the highway patrol stations charged with retesting.

Only one licensed driver in Cape Girardeau County has received the notification, said Browning.

The drivers are being informed their licenses are no longer valid and that they must schedule a retest within 30 days at an examination station operated by the Missouri State Highway patrol.

The Sikeston facility was known to those in the trucking business to be an automatic pass.

"We have dealt with this for years," said Regina McClendon of the Southern Missouri Driving School in Malden. "I can remember an individual who could not pass the test after our four-week course. We offered him a two-week extension, but he chose instead to go to Sikeston and magically they could do something in two days that we couldn't get done all that time."

McClendon said at some third-party teaching and testing facilities, "everybody passes and instead of a learning thing it becomes a money thing."

Capt. Chris Ricks of the state highway patrol said his office is in the process of re-examining Missouri's third-party providers and has not licensed any new providers in the past four years.

Ricks said there are certain indicators that a licenser is a problem. "A good CDL examiner can do four tests per day. Sometimes they can only do three per day because they're so careful," said Ricks. "So when you see volumes of 2,000 and above at some of these places, that's a major red flag that something is up."

The test, which includes a pre-trip inspection checklist with 105 points, also evaluates city driving, highway driving and ability to reverse. The test generally takes one hour and forty-five minutes to administer, said Ricks.

Ricks said the highway patrol does not currently have the capability to do all the testing itself. He said the office relies on an automatic retest of 10 percent of drivers to keep facilities honest.

"We've found some of these places giving tests in five or 10 minutes, if at all," said Ricks.

McClendon said her school requires all its graduates to test with the highway patrol because its the only reliable way. "If my 16-year-old daughter has to go to a state testing site to drive an 8,000-pound vehicle, then shouldn't a trucker have to go there before getting behind an 80,000-pound vehicle?" she said.

She has learned that other facilities can be susceptible to influence. "Everybody has got a price and a lot of people -- even testers -- can be bought for a couple hundred bucks."

tgreaney@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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