Motor Vehicle Administration offices in the Baltimore area were mobbed yesterday and so were their counterparts across the nation as truck drivers stood in line for hours to renew their licenses.
Midnight yesterday was the deadline for all drivers of commercial vehicles -- a category that includes buses, tractor-trailers, tankers and other heavy trucks -- to recertify their driver's licenses under a federally mandated program.
The program imposes tougher, uniform standards on drivers and sets mandatory penalties for driving infractions.
Perhaps most significantly, it enrolls truckers on a federally maintained computer data bank which, among other things, prevents bad drivers from hiding their records by obtaining multiple out-of-state licenses.
Stanley Hamilton, a spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration's Office of Motor Carriers, said about 100,000 drivers were recertified nationwide yesterday and reports of delays and crowds at MVA offices were commonplace.
Truckers who failed to recertify face a civil penalty of up to $2,500 and criminal penalties of up to a $5,000 fine or 90 days in prison under federal law if they are caught driving a commercial vehicle. Drivers caught in Maryland could also face a $500 fine and a point on their license.
Most commercial drivers had to pass a written test and pay a fee to be recertified. Only novice drivers or ones with poor records had to demonstrate their driving skills, but that didn't prevent many truckers from procrastinating as long as possible.
"When you run coast-to-coast like I do, it's hard to find the time," said Dennis Wyatt Sr. of Hoopeston, Ill. who estimated that the long wait at the MVA office in Glen Burnie cost him about $1,800 in business.
"It's a waste of time and money," he said.
Mr. Wyatt was joined by about 75 fellow truckers who waited in a line that snaked outside the door of the MVA office on Ritchie Highway. By noon yesterday, workers there had administered about 300 written tests.
The situation was much the same in the MVA's Essex office where the staff processed 1,740 trucker's licenses last week and 273 on Saturday alone.
James Crusse, 40, brought along a wooden stool for his long wait in the Essex office on Eastern Boulevard. He had been there Saturday but was frustrated when the national computer system went down. He returned Monday and waited two hours only to find out he first had to pay off a 1988 traffic ticket from Virginia.
Mr. Crusse said, "I got a book last year that said it would cost $16 for this license and now they say it went up to $40 in January. It never said that in the book."
Bethlehem Steel worker Reginald Bright, 39, of Abingdon, also felt he had been harassed by the system. "When you been driving for 17 years," he said, you shouldn't have to get a new, costlier license.
"It's a way for the state to get money," he said.
MVA Administrator W. Marshall Rickert said that by the close of business yesterday more than 105,000 of Maryland's 196,000 commercial drivers had converted to the new system. Many of the 91,000 who haven't switched are probably no longer driving trucks, he said.
Truckers had 27 months to recertify but the MVA wound up processing about 20,000 drivers in March, including a peak of 1,400 last Friday. "Yesterday was also the last day of the month so that meant people were coming in for vehicle registrations, too," said Mr. Rickert. "It was a busy day."