The Armstrong family never knew what hit them. Edward was behind the wheel of their car with his wife, Melissa, next to him and ten-year-old daughter and six-year-old son in the backseat. Traffic was choked to a near standstill on the stretch of Interstate 81 in Tennessee. But one driver apparently didn’t notice the approaching snarl.
Nasko Nazov, an illegal immigrant from Macedonia, didn’t hit the brakes in time and his tractor-trailer plowed into two idling vehicles, one of them the Armstrongs’ car. No one in the family survived the horrible crash.
Adding to the senselessness of the tragedy, officials soon learned that Nazov had been driving his truck with a bogus commercial driver’s license (CDL). The suburban Chicago resident had obtained false documents claiming he was a resident of Wisconsin (where he took his driver’s test) and had gotten help from a translator on the answers to a written exam. In 2006, Nazov was sentenced to four years in prison.
In recent years, 32 states have reported cases of commercial license fraud, with busts ranging everywhere from Florida to Ohio to Colorado. A 2006 report from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) identified about 15,000 “suspect” license holders in 27 states, over a third of whom ultimately had their CDLs taken away or voluntarily gave them up.
In Macon, Georgia, according to an investigative report by the Chicago Tribune, one truck-driving school paid private “third party” testers to falsify the exams of 623 students. When Georgia officials uncovered the racket and had all those students retake the test, only 142 qualified.
According to safety advocates, there are probably tens of thousands of truckers on the road with sham licenses. It’s bad enough that we’re sharing the highways with these risky drivers. But there are huge homeland security concerns too. After all, some truckers who get phony licenses may wind up hauling deadly chemicals or other hazardous materials that could be used as terror weapons.
Industry representatives point out that the overwhelming majority of their drivers (and there are about 1.5 million on the road at any given time) are hard-working and responsible. “We have a very strong safety agenda,” says American Trucking Associations spokesman Clayton Boyce. Clearly, however, more trucking companies need to examine credentials for signs of fraud. Nasko Nazov’s Wisconsin address was the same one used by other Illinois residents applying for CDL certification.
It’s no mystery why licensing scams are an increasingly bigger problem. Since 1980, the number of interstate trucking firms has ballooned from 20,000 to 564,000, thanks largely to deregulation of the industry.