Nearly 2,000 commercial truck drivers in Florida have been notified their licenses will be canceled next month unless they retake a test demonstrating their driving skills.
In November, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles sent letters to 1997 commercial drivers license (CDL) holders informing them that the skills test they had previously passed to obtain their licenses may not have been valid.
Drivers who received the notices must re-take the exam before Jan. 19 or their licenses will be canceled, according to the notice.
To pass the skills test, which can cost $125 or more, drivers must prove their proficiency at conducting a pre-trip vehicle inspection, driving, and performing specified maneuvers.
"I've been running around out there with a truck for almost three years and I never had an incident," said truck driver Doug Cowell. "And all of a sudden you're telling me I've got to retake my skills test? I can't drive a truck anymore?"
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles said the decision to re-test drivers was prompted by the arrest of a Winter Garden man who had previously been certified by the state to conduct CDL skills tests.
News 6 is not identifying the third party test administrator since federal prosecutors later dropped all criminal charges against him and he is no longer formally accused of any wrongdoing.
In July, the FBI arrested Ellariy Medvednik and three accomplices for allegedly helping Russian truck driving students fraudulently obtain commercial drivers licenses.
Medvednik pleaded guilty to ID fraud charges in September. He is scheduled to be sentenced in January.
According to investigators, Medvednik operated a commercial truck driving school in Seminole County. After one of Medvednik’s associates helped students cheat on their written exams using covert communication equipment, authorities said Medvednik hired the Winter Garden man to administer the skills tests to approximately 600 students.
Federal investigators originally suspected the test administrator may have passed some students who committed errors that should have resulted in failures. According to a grand jury indictment, the test administrator admitted to improperly passing at least one student.
However, in August, the U.S. Attorney’s Office asked a judge to dismiss the charges against the test administrator, stating “further prosecution at this time would be against the interests of justice.” A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to provide any more details about the decision to News 6.
According to the test administrator’s attorney, investigators had misinterpreted the students’ testing records, mistakenly believing the records indicated irregularities with the tests. The test administrator denies helping students cheat, according to his attorney, and accused investigators of twisting his words.
Due to questions about the validity of the skills tests, all drivers who used that particular test administrator since 2012 have been informed they must undergo a re-test to maintain their CDL privileges, according to the DHSMV.
“(This) does not necessarily mean that the Commercial Driver License holder is unsafe to drive,” said agency press secretary Alexis Bakofsky. “DHSMV is required to enforce the safety of Florida roads pursuant to Florida Statute, and this is the only way that the Department can ensure that all drivers are tested properly.”
“We did everything we're supposed to. Now we're going to have to (test) again, plus you're going to have to spend all the money again,” said Timothy Johnson, who operates Atlas Trenching in Port Orange.
Due to many drivers trying to get re-tested by the Jan. 19 deadline, Johnson said he initially had trouble scheduling two of his employees for tests at another facility.
“You call every one of them, and they're all backlogged,” said Johnson.
Johnson eventually did find a truck driving school willing to squeeze in his employees just before their licenses would be canceled.
“I have to provide. I have a 3-year-old daughter and I have my wife. I care very much not to lose everything I worked hard for,” said one of those employees, Timothy Cowell. “Just to face the fact you could possibly be out of a job is just terrifying.”
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