Bush's Transportation Plan Calls for Tougher Penalties

Tougher penalties for out-of-service violations and false records are part of the surface transportation reauthorization proposal announced by the U.S. Department of Transportation in May.

The Bush administration’s six-year, $247 billion proposal does not include a proposed increase in fuel taxes.

The proposal would double current record-keeping violations penalties to $500 for each day the violation continues, with a $5,000 maximum for each violation.

The civil penalty for an employer who knowingly allows a driver to violate an out-of-service order would be increased from a $10,000 maximum to $25,000. Also, employers who “knowingly and willfully ignore OOS orders” could receive a year’s imprisonment or a $100,000 fine, or, if the violation resulted in death, a maximum $250,000 fine.

Drivers who independently violate OOS orders would have increased penalties for a first offense – from a 90-day disqualification and a penalty of at least $1,000 to 180-day disqualification and a penalty of at least $2,500. A second offense would go from disqualification of one to five years and a $1,000 minimum penalty to two- to five-year disqualification and penalty up to $5,000.

The plan also cracks down on carriers who “tolerate widespread regulatory violations, and, when caught, declare bankruptcy” and rename the business in an attempt to evade payment of civil penalties.

The U.S. DOT would be authorized to suspend, amend or revoke registration of for-hire carriers with a history of avoiding compliance or covering up non-compliance. It could also deny an application to register as a for-hire motor carrier if any of its proposed officers had been part of this pattern.

Additionally, the proposal imposes a fine on carriers and shippers that deliberately impede the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s access to records.

Truckers may welcome a proposal under the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program that would authorize funds to enforce traffic regulations against non-commercial motor vehicles “when the behavior of smaller vehicles increases the risk of CMV accidents.”

The proposal would set up a new Medical Review Board as an advice source for FMCSA on areas relating to driver qualification rules, medical examiners’ guidelines and exemption standards.
The bill would authorize the DOT, through notice and comment rulemaking, to set standards for medical examiners to conduct physical exams for commercial driver licenses. The department would adopt a list of these examiners, and only those listed could examine a commercial driver and issue the required certificate.

The reauthorization proposal also more than doubles funding for commercial vehicle safety and research programs.

A copy of the proposal is available at www.fhwa.dot.gov/reauthorization.