According to the US Department of Transportation, or DOT, every day there are about 800,000 shipments of hazardous materials, usually flammable liquids like gas. Less than 10 percent of truck shipments include hazmat as all or part of the load. Less than 5 percent of truck crashes involve vehicles carrying hazmat. Statistically, people who drive hazmat are somewhat less likely than other drivers to be involved in a crash, but the risk of serious injury is much greater with this type of cargo.
The federal government is very serious about hazmat safety on the roads, particularly since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In order to apply for or renew a hazmat endorsement, you must meet specific requirements. You must hold a valid CDL. You must be a US citizen; natural, lawful permanent resident or otherwise be in lawful status. You must have the correct documentation to prove your citizenship status. You have to have a clean criminal record, be in good mental health, and pass a security screening by the the Transportation Security Agency (TSA).
To apply for the hazmat endorsement, go to your state’s department of motor vehicles. If you are applying for hazmat for the first time, then you should already have your CDL. The DMV will take your fingerprints and biographical information and send your file to the TSA. It might take 45 days for the TSA to review your file and assess your risk. If you are approved, you return to the DMV to get a new picture taken and receive a new license with a hazmat endorsement. If the TSA does not approve you, you will probably receive a denial letter in the mail.
The denial letter from TSA will explain the reasons why they turned you down. If you are rejected because of disqualifying criteria (not because you are an immediate threat), you can just let it go, appeal the decision, ask for a waiver or request an extension. You have 60 days to respond to the letter.
Safety should be the top consideration at all levels of the supply chain when shipping hazmats. According to the DOT, hazmat trucks are involved in about 200 fatal crashes and 5,000 nonfatal crashes per year. Given the nature of the cargo, these crashes not only put the driver at risk, they are a threat to other travelers on the roads, residents in the surrounding area, and the environment.
Aside from the fact that you are pulling poisons, explosives, or gasoline right behind you all day, there are some unique challenges to hazmat driving. You must keep excellent records or risk steep fines and possible jail time. You have to be particularly careful about planning routes, because not all roads allow placarded vehicles and it is the driver’s responsibility to make sure he is following regulations. Also, when you reach your driving and working time limit for the day, you can’t just pull over anywhere and rest. You have to find a designated “safe haven.” There are also specific rules about where you can park and how far from the vehicle you can roam.
Not everyone can qualify for a hazmat endorsement, so holding one sets you apart from the crowd and can increase your pay. Many companies offer a per-mile bonus for carrying hazmats. The most prevalent form of hazmat is liquid gasoline. Although there are many long-haul gas jobs available, you can also find local gas delivery jobs that keep you in your home town so that you can work a regular shift and have more home time.
Even if you don’t want to drive hazmat, having the endorsement on you license can help you qualify for higher-paying job opportunities. It also shows that you have a safe driving record, a clean criminal record, and that you have passed a basic TSA background check.