- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 18, 2005

The federal government has told the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles to bring its commercial driver’s license program up to national standards by next month or face losing some highway funding.

The DMV disclosed last week in the D.C. Register of new government regulations that the District faces a Sept. 30 deadline to enact new regulations required by the federal Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act.

“A recent letter from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to DMV states that this rule-making must be in place … to avoid ‘sanctions,’ ” a written notice by DMV Director Anne Witt stated. “The DMV understands from discussions … that sanctions referenced would be the withholding of a portion of federal highway funds.”

The DMV’s new rules include notifying other jurisdictions if an out-of-state driver commits a violation and revoking any hazardous-materials permits for drivers deemed a “security threat” by the Transportation Security Administration.

The DMV said that “immediate action” is needed to ensure that “the District’s federal highway funds are not jeopardized, funds that are necessary to help ensure the safety of those who travel on the District’s roads.”

The District budgeted more than $170 million last year in federal grants for various transportation projects, according to budget documents.

Jim Lewis, spokesman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said the agency sent a letter in February notifying D.C. officials of needed changes because of requirements coming into effect under the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act.

Mr. Lewis called the letter “a cordial reminder,” but said states that do not comply could jeopardize federal highway funding.

“This was sprung on nobody,” he said.

Also in the most-recent D.C. Register, the DMV announced plans to issue fines for failure to comply with the International Registration Plan, which regulates the licensing of large commercial vehicles that travel in more than one jurisdiction.

According to DMV rules, failure to register, obtain a trip permit or exceeding gross weight restrictions will result in $500 fines.

The city long has struggled with how to handle tour buses dropping off tourists, then circling city streets because of the difficulty finding a place to park.

In 1998, the District was sued by the American Bus Association over a series of tour bus fee increases from $10 to $150. The bus companies said the fee increase hindered interstate commerce.

The District dropped the increase in exchange for a dismissal of the lawsuit, according to a 2003 report by the Volpe National Transportation Center, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Last year, the D.C. Office of the Inspector General issued an audit showing that the District could generate up to $3 million per year through trip permit fees charged to tour bus companies.

DMV officials did not return phone calls yesterday.

According to the DMV’s emergency rules, the District “has recently stepped up International Registration Plan” enforcement.

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