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Lawmaker wants tougher standards for commercial driver's licenses

A state lawmaker who oversees transportation issues wants to consider tougher standards for a commercial driver's license in the wake of a fatal accident involving a driver with extensive violations.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, questioned why the driver of a semitrailer truck held a commercial driver's license with such a troubled record.

"Whether he had a commercial driver's license or a regular driver's license, if you have 27 offenses you shouldn't be driving at all,'' said Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.

One person was killed early Wednesday when a semitrailer truck, southbound on Interstate 75, pulled out to pass a BMW and clipped the rear of the car, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

The collision caused the semi to overturn on a stretch of I-75 that crosses the Alafia River in Hillsborough County. The car veered into the 5-foot deep river, killing the driver, 42-year-old James Dylan Proctor of Parrish.

Wayne Damari Waldon, 30, who was driving an ABC Fine Wine & Spirits truck, has not been cited, though an investigation is under way, the FHP said.

Waldon has a driving history that includes more than two dozen infractions in the past 10 years. Records show that his license was suspended six times.

But a motorist's previous driving history cannot disqualify him or her from getting a commercial license, said Lt. Jeff Frost of the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles. Beyond a valid driver's license, applicants need only pass a written test and vehicle skills test.

That's not enough, Brandes said.

Although Florida law generally complies with federal regulations, this case may show the need for tougher state standards to obtain a commercial license.

Brandes wants his committee to schedule hearings on the matter.

"It's definitely something that we should review and see what ultimately should be the standards for a commercial driver's license,'' he said.

Concerns about the ease of obtaining a commercial driver's license are not new to Florida.

In a 1999 case that drew widespread attention and spurred several investigations, Stacy Weeks of Tampa was driving a semitrailer truck that crashed in Indiana, killing him, his two children and his girlfriend.

Weeks' driving record included more than 16 violations and three suspensions in eight states, yet he still carried a commercial driver's license.

Most motorists have a non-commercial license, know as a Class E, which authorizes a driver to operate a vehicle that weighs less than 26,001 pounds, or a recreational vehicle. A commercial license authorizes the operation of vehicles weighing more than 26,001 pounds.

Waldon received his Class E driver's license at 19 in 2002. His violations since then span six states and include speeding, driving with a suspended or revoked license and driving with out-of-order equipment.

Yet Waldon sailed through the tests to earn his commercial driver's license in 2010.

As he met all the requirements, including holding a valid driver's license, he was eligible.

If Waldon is charged and found guilty in the I-75 crash, it would be the second violation against his commercial license.

The penalty would be suspension of his commercial license for 60 days.

News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Colleen Wright can be reached at cwright@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8913. Follow her on Twitter @Colleen_Wright.

Lawmaker wants tougher standards for commercial driver's licenses 02/14/14 [Last modified: Friday, February 14, 2014 11:13pm]
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