One of the first and most important questions a felon will ask themselves after being released from prison is, “How am I going to make a livable wage?” It may be difficult for them to know where to begin or what their options are.
A realistic and achievable career choice for many felons is truck driving. Truck driving generally comes with decent pay and benefits, which are essential in creating a stable lifestyle. Obtaining a Hazmat endorsement allows a driver to transport hazardous materials, which doesn’t necessarily mean in higher pay; but it does mean a wider variety of job opportunities.
How to Get Started: CDL
The first requirement for beginning a truck driving career is a CDL, or Commercial Driver’s License. In addition to a written and driving test, the Department of Motor Vehicles will run a background check to review driving records on applicants.
There are certain felonies that can prevent a person from obtaining a CDL. Each state has varying requirements and disqualifications, so it’s important to contact the DMV in your own state for details.
The following are considered federal disqualifiers: vehicular manslaughter, arson, smuggling, bribery, extortion, murder, kidnapping, treason, and trafficking or distribution of controlled substances or weapons/explosives.
Additionally, a felon will also face disqualification if convicted in the past 7 years, or released from prison in the past 5 years for:
- Assault with intent to murder
- Rape or aggravated sexual assault
- Kidnapping or taking a hostage
- Unlawful acts dealing with firearms
- Fraud, identity theft, or dishonesty
- Immigration violations
- Conspiracy to commit any of the above crimes
The Hazmat Endorsement
Once the CDL has been obtained, there is another set of steps to obtain the hazmat (H) endorsement. Hazmat requirements vary by state, just like the CDL, so contact the DMV in the individual state for specific information beyond what is provided in this article.
Up to 30% of truck drivers have the hazmat endorsement, allowing them to transport hazardous materials. Hazardous materials include explosives, gases, some solids, flammable and/or combustible liquids, and other harmful materials.
The obvious first step to obtaining the H endorsement is having a CDL. Drivers must also prove or provide the following information to be eligible:
- S. citizen/proof of legal status
- Social security number
- DOT card
- Ability to pass a vision test
Applicants must pass the Hazmat written test and the Hazmat Endorsement Threat Assessment, be free of the disqualifying convictions for CDL and any additional Hazmat disqualifiers (covered below), and get fingerprinted. There are also fees associated with getting the H endorsement, which may vary by state. Again, the DMV in each state will have specifics on the cost.
The TSA HAZPRINT driver application with need to be completed prior to going to a fingerprinting location. This can be done on the Hazardous Materials Endorsement enrollment website, or by calling the help desk at 855-347-8371. This cannot be completed at the fingerprinting site, it must be done in advance. You’ll also pay the $86.50 fingerprinting fee at this point.
There are over 200 locations nationwide to complete fingerprinting. The help desk number or website listed above will be able to provide information on finding the nearest location to you. In order to complete this step, two types of identification need to be provided. You’ll also review and sign your application here.
After the fingerprinting is done, the TSA will then perform the threat assessment. Ideally, this will come back within 30 days if no issues arise. Results will be communicated via letter and also to the state DMV.
Once the TSA assessment has been completed, the Hazmat skills and knowledge exam can be completed at your state DMV office.
As mentioned above, there are some additional felony convictions that could prevent an applicant from receiving their Hazmat endorsement. These include: terrorism, sedition, espionage, crimes involving explosives, crimes involving a serious transportation security incident (resulting in loss of life, environmental damage, economic or transportation disruption), RICO violations, improper Hazmat transportation, and conspiracy or attempt to commit any of these.
One important note is that if a felon has had their record expunged, their convictions will no longer show up in a criminal background check.
Obeying the Law
It’s important to remember that having the CDL with Hazmat endorsement isn’t enough if you’re not going to continue to obey traffic laws. The following violations will result in fines, or even disqualification: excessive speeding, reckless driving, leaving an accident at the scene, causing a fatality resulting from a traffic violation, drinking and driving, using any controlled substance, or committing a felony.
These disqualifications are almost never permanent, but need to be taken seriously. Even if the disqualification is only 60 days, that’s two months out of work.
Truck drivers’ salaries do vary more so than other careers, and for a number of reasons, including: experience, licensing and endorsements, type of driving or role, mileage and location. Assuming the vast majority of felons will be entry level truckers, the average salary in the first year for a driver with a CDL (before the Hazmat endorsement comes into play) is around $55,000/year. But realistically, we’re probably looking at somewhere in the $35,000-$40,000 range for a rookie driver. After obtaining the Hazmat endorsement, job opportunities and pay should (ideally) increase.
A good way to get a preview or idea of what truckers’ wages are in a particular area is simply browsing an online job search website or app, like Indeed or Monster. Compare benefits, starting pay, bonuses, and job descriptions between companies. This is also a good source for contact information for trucking companies looking for help.
In conclusion, the answer is yes. It is possible for a felon to obtain a Hazmat endorsement, as long as the conviction isn’t one that is considered a disqualification.
Remember, being open and honest about being a felon and the crime committed is key. If it comes back on the background check and it wasn’t initially reported, additional charges could result.