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I was hammering through a bunch of past episodes of The Trucking Podcast when Buck said something I’ve heard at least 847 times before, “The Hazardous Materials endorsement just isn’t worth it any more.” Okay, that may not have been his exact quote, but it was something like that. So is that true?
Is it worth it to go through the hassle of calling the TSA (1-855-347-8371), finding a fingerprinting location, setting up an appointment, getting your fingers scanned, letting the FBI run your prints and do a background check, pass a written test, and pay $86.50 (at the time of this writing), all for the privilege of being able to haul hazardous materials? And then you get to do it all over again every 5 years?
Well first off, let me start by saying that I’m not singling out Buck. His comment is just what spawned the idea for this blog post. I totally respect Buck’s opinions and insights into the trucking industry. And the more I listen to The Trucking Podcast, the more I realize how truly ill-informed I am of this industry that I’ve been a part of for almost 18 years.
I doubt Buck would claim to be an “expert” in the field, but he’s a regular Stephen Hawking compared to me. I mainly chalk that up to the fact that he likes learning about the industry because he actually enjoys trucking. I, on the other hand, like it about as much as I’d enjoy sipping on a literal Bloody Mary. To me, this is just a job. I have no desire to learn more about it than is absolutely necessary.
So having said that, I don’t think anyone can make a blanket statement about having a Hazardous Materials endorsement (Hazmat). There are just too many different situations to consider. Let’s look at a few of the reasons a driver might want to get the Hazmat endorsement.
1. Not having a Hazmat endorsement might keep you from getting a job
I imagine that the vast majority of current CDL holders studied for and passed the hazmat exam while in truck driving school. I expect the schools have you do this because it makes new drivers more attractive to employers. This in turn, jacks up the reputation of the truck driving school. “Hey! Look at us! 100% of our students find jobs within one week of graduating! Aren’t we awesome!” Yeah. Maybe you’re awesome. Or maybe it’s because the industry is so desperate for drivers that they would hire Helen Keller if she walked through the door.
I know back in 1997 when all the trucking recruiters were coming to our driving school, every single one of them needed you to have the Hazmat endorsement in order to hire you. Now I doubt that’s the case anymore, because it just doesn’t seem like nearly as many carriers are requiring it. I considered calling a few companies and driving schools to verify my suspicions, but in the end that would’ve been like actual research, that quite frankly, I just didn’t feel like doing.
So my advice to newbies is to get your Hazardous Materials endorsement when you first get your CDL, even if the school you’re attending doesn’t require it. As a rookie with no experience, you already have fewer options to chose from. Don’t let the best job you have available escape simply because you didn’t want to jump through a few hazmat-fueled flaming hoops. Just get it. And if you find you don’t need it later, just don’t renew it. Or maybe you’ll have to…
2. The DMV might require you to have the Hazmat endorsement
Recently, I found a local job that would let me sleep in my own bed seven days a week. And it paid more than my OTR (Over-The-Road) job! I knew these jobs existed; one had just never popped up in my neck of the woods. That’s probably because I live so far out in the sticks that we don’t have roads. But guess what? The job was pulling fuel tankers. The problem? I didn’t have my Tanker endorsement.
Now as luck would have it, I talked to the recruiter on a Friday and told him I’d have the Tanker endorsement on my license by Monday when he read my résumé and cover letter. I just so happened to be delivering in Joplin, Missouri just before I went home, so I dropped my trailer at the customer and bobtailed over to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles).
But guess what? After I passed the written Tanker endorsement test, the Trooper said, “Do you have your Hazmat endorsement? ‘Cuz you’re gonna need it to get the Tanker endorsement.” As Ace Ventura would say, “Reheheheheheeeee-lly!” Since when? Since recently.
Apparently, the great state of Missouri decided that the two endorsements were to be combined. Well, sort of. You can have the Hazmat endorsement without the Tanker endorsement, but you cannot have the Tanker without the Hazmat. No idea why and neither did anyone at the ever-so-friendly and helpful DMV. Call that one a shocker.
Even weirder, it doesn’t matter if you’re going to be hauling milk or flour. If it’s in a tanker trailer, you have to possess the Hazmat/Tanker combo endorsement. At least in my screwed-up state anyway. Hey Missouri! “Show Me” some me reasoning behind this!
Well, as luck would have it, I already have my Hazmat endorsement so I was in the clear. Although the Trooper thought they might need a current record of me passing the Hazmat test. Bummer. So to avoid waiting in a long DMV line, only to be rejected back to the testing room, I sat down for another round of testing. Well, I’m happy to say that I passed with flying colors. Unhappily, that means if I can pass a hazmat test without studying a lick, then I’ve been driving a truck for waaaaay too long. Oh well. It be what it be.
The point here is that if I didn’t already have my Hazmat endorsement, my résumé might’ve been tossed into File 13 before I even had a chance at the job. Before 9-11, this wouldn’t have been any big deal. Take the written hazmat test, pay the fee to add it to your license, and be done with it. But now that the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) have their fingers all up in your junk, it can take up to 30 days to get approved for a Hazmat endorsement. Find out the complete process to obtain your Hazmat endorsement here.
And for the record, I didn’t get the job. I found out afterward that another driver had been talking to a regional manager with the company for over a year, so he was pretty much a shoe-in. Now I’m not wishing any ill-will on anyone, but… oh who am I kidding. I hope he’s a lazy sack of crap that gets fired in the first month! You’ve got my number, Mr. Recruiter! Call me!
3. You could get more loads with a Hazmat endorsement
I have experienced this one numerous times. You see, my company doesn’t require us to have a Hazmat endorsement, but they sure love the drivers who do. I recall many times getting a call from dispatch asking if I had my Hazmat endorsement. “Yepper. Why?” “‘Cuz we need you to cover for another driver who doesn’t have one.” Sometimes this even meant extra deadhead miles!
So, great. The Hazmat-holder gets the worm (I think I screwed up that idiom). But put yourself in the position of the other driver. He was all set to take a load. He started his 14-hour clock and now it’s ticking away because he couldn’t cover the load. I would say I feel sorry for him, but I’m far too busy driving down the road with his load. Yes, my compassion for humanity never ends.
But guess what, there’s an even bigger benefit of me having the Hazmat endorsement…
4. You could get paid more for having a Hazmat endorsement
This is the part that I love more than getting a scalp massage from The Evil Overlord, which I believe I last felt somewhere around the turn of the century. My company pays me 1¢ more per mile for having a Hazmat endorsement. But the even more important fact is that this penny pay raise is for all miles run, even if I’m not hauling a hazmat load.
And here’s the real kicker; I can take off one sock and count the number of hazmat loads I pull in any given year. Heck, I could even lose a couple of toes in a freak rhinoceros stampede and still count high enough! And even on those loads, often times the quantity of hazmat is so low that placards aren’t even needed.
Now you still might be thinking that it isn’t worth the hassle of getting your Hazmat endorsement. Let’s do the math. The TSA fee will run you $86.50 (at the time of this writing), and let’s add on a few extra bucks for gas getting to the appointment, your time wasted, license renewal fees, etc. So now we’re up to, say, $150. But let’s not forget, that’s every 5 years.
Now let’s figure up how much extra I can make in five years by keeping my Hazmat endorsement intact. According to my last pay stub of 2014, I made an extra $1,258.84 last year. At a penny per mile, I guess that means I drove 125,884 miles. And to think my mother-in-law falls asleep on the 30-minute drive into Walmart. Ah, but wait. We’ve got to compare apples to apples here. The hazmat cost is every five years. If I average the same mileage for the next five years, I will have made $6,294.20.
So is it worth it to have your Hazmat endorsement anymore? Well, maybe you’ve got a crystal ball or you’ve chopped off the head off a live chicken and you are 100% certain that you won’t need your Hazmat endorsement in the near future. Or maybe your company doesn’t pay you extra for having a Hazmat endorsement. If either of these is the case, then by all means, save the 150 bucks. But for me, I’m going to harken back to elementary math class with this simple equation:
$6,294.20 > $150
(Or is that the other way around? That symbol always screws me up.)[hr]
Additional links from the podcast version:
This is the last announcement for the Trucker Country CD by Erich McMcann. Enter to win 1 of 3 free copies by sending an email to TruckerDump@gmail.com with the subject line: Trucker Music. I DO NOT need your physical address at this time.
Freightliner’s new Inspiration is the first licensed autonomous big rig in the U.S. Link includes a video demonstration.
The Trucking Podcast with Buck and Don is a great podcast that covers trucking and non-trucking stuff. This father-son duo have a lot of laughs, so if you aren’t listening yet, click the link and start doing so.
I do a brief Ace Ventura imitation… really poorly.
Missouri is the Show Me state
If you don’t know what a hazmat placard is, well… you will in a second.
In the feedback section:
After much knashing of teeth and numerous recording devices, Greg sends in an audio clip about super truckers. Afterward, I wonder if other drivers consider me a super trucker due to the way I drive on snow-packed roads.
And lastly, 19-year veteran trucker Sam writes in and we have a discussion about driver complacency, driving in the oil fields, and going the speed limit. Afterward I start whining about how much work it takes to do this podcast. Surprise, surprise.
Sam also makes fun of my singing, so I point to a video of a much-younger me rocking some Led Zeppelin (WARNING: Explicit language) and some more recent (and much worse) singing I’ve done over at SingSnap.com
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