AUSTIN — People convicted of human trafficking will no longer be allowed to drive commercial vehicles in the United States.
Federal regulators announced this week that drivers would lose their commercial driver licenses if caught human trafficking, reflecting new changes from the “No Human Trafficking On Our Roads Act,” which President Donald Trump signed into law last year. The legislation is aimed at curbing human trafficking in the United States.
“This is an important step in the Department-wide campaign to keep America’s roadways, railways, airways, and waterways from being used for human trafficking,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said.
That especially influences Texas, which as a state has the second-highest number of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline each year — behind California. A decade ago, then-Gov. Rick Perry spearheaded a plan to combat human trafficking in the state. Other state and federal lawmakers have tried to chip away at growing numbers over the years.
“We’ve supported all those efforts to do that,” John D. Esparza, president & CEO of the Texas Trucking Association, said on Thursday. He hopes these new federal guidelines will allow for new educational opportunities for truck drivers in the state.
Kirsta Melton heads the human trafficking arm of the Texas Attorney General’s Office. She said drivers who are involved in trafficking should worry more about upcoming prison time than driving privileges.
“If you get convicted of trafficking you are going to prison — you’re going to prison,” Melton said in a phone interview on Thursday. “So your CDL license is the least of your concerns if you’re going to prison for that significant of a crime either at the federal or the state level.”
“The trucking industry itself has decided to be proactively educated so that they can identify victims and bring traffickers to justice,” she said.
State prosecutors also hope law-abiding drivers will help.
Last year, in an interview for another report about trafficking, Melton mentioned truck drivers are a crucial part of identifying people who are at-risk.
“These individuals might have access to or run into individuals who are trafficked — they need to know what a trafficked person looks like — they need to recognize them as such and they need to be willing to report,” she said in that interview.
“This is a crime of capitalism,” Melton said Thursday. “Where you have people who are willing to buy either trafficked people or trafficked goods, you have people who are willing to sell. This is a profit motivation, it’s a profit-driven crime.”
The new punishment for truckers goes into effect in two months. States have three years to get in compliance with the new federal requirements.
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking you can call 1-888-373-7888 to get help.
KXAN’s Alyssa Weinstein contributed to this report.