FMCSA wants feedback on towing practices, scheduled meeting upcoming

Trucking news and briefs for Monday, June 3, 2024:

Feedback, dialogue sought on towing fee transparency

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has announced it will host a public meeting this month to gather feedback from the trucking and towing industries on current industry practices regarding the disclosure of towing fees to the truck owners, and whether the owner is made aware of costs and fees prior to the tow.

The meeting will be held June 21 from 9 a.m. to noon Eastern. The meeting will be held at the DOT Headquarters Building, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20590-0001. Those interested in attending this public meeting in person should register here by 11:59 p.m. Eastern on June 11. There will be room for 50 people at the in-person meeting, and there also will be a virtual option.

Those interested in filing comments can do so here.

In a Federal Register notice published Friday, May 31, FMCSA cited a Federal Trade Commission notice of proposed rulemaking from November, titled “Rule on Unfair or Deceptive Fees,” that "would prohibit unfair or deceptive practices relating to fees for goods or services, specifically, misrepresenting the total costs of goods and services by omitting mandatory fees from advertised prices and misrepresenting the nature and purpose of fees,” FMCSA said.

The agency submitted comments in support of the proposal, noting that it believes the rule could “significantly benefit” its regulated community, particularly in relation to predatory towing practices.

[Related: Buttigieg, FMCSA call out predatory towing, propose penalties]

FMCSA acknowledged that predatory towing often occurs in nonconsensual-tow situations, where a truck is towed without the owner’s permission. “Predatory towing companies can use their possession of the vehicle as leverage to price gouge and otherwise prey upon CMV owners and operators who are in no position to push back,” the agency said.

FMCSA’s upcoming public meeting “is intended for interested parties, including motor carriers and representatives of towing and recovery service providers to discuss common trends in invoicing in commercial towing circumstances, with the aim of learning about trends in particular regions or in particular types of tows,” FMCSA said. The notice added that to the “extent that tow truck companies are charging legitimate fees, those fees should be transparent and well-communicated.”

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The agency intends the meeting to "serve as a forum for diverse stakeholders to interact and identify fees and practices that are legitimate and necessary to keep the roads clear of disabled vehicles, while establishing best practices to prevent rogue industry participants from engaging in predatory behavior by charging unfair or deceptive fees,” the agency concluded.

[Related: New state law takes aim at notorious predatory tow companies]

Truck driver gets 7 years in prison for human smuggling

A Dallas-based truck driver was recently sentenced to 7 years in prison for his role in transporting undocumented migrants into the U.S., according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas.

According to court documents, Sedrick Zelitis Smith, 47, was a member of a human smuggling organization, coordinating the transport of migrants who arrived in Laredo from Mexico, serving as the go-between for organization leadership and drivers during smuggling events, and assisting in the theft and procurement of tractor-trailers.

On multiple occasions, Smith traveled between Dallas, San Antonio and Laredo to assist with smuggling loads. He also served as a driver for the organization, smuggling migrants from Laredo to San Antonio, using his CDL.

Smith’s arrest was the result of an investigation led by Homeland Security Investigations beginning in May 2021. Agents learned that the human smuggling organization had smuggled more than 900 migrants from Laredo to San Antonio inside tractor-trailers in at least 19 different human smuggling events. The loads ranged from approximately 30 migrants to more than 100 packed into a single trailer.

“With the rise of human smuggling in recent years, it is absolutely critical that we send a message to criminals throughout all levels of these organizations that their crimes at the expense of vulnerable individuals are serious, they are dangerous, and we are here to readily prosecute,” said U.S. Attorney Jaime Esparza. “I appreciate the dedication of our partners at HSI and our Joint Task Force Alpha initiative. Their efforts have been essential in taking down this HSO and many others. We’ll continue to dismantle these groups and serve justice together.”

Nine others have been indicted in the case -- Bryan Adamson, Ronnie Joe Branch, Eliseo Loredo, Rodney Edward Shavers, Mark Algie Holliday, Francisco Arredondo-Colmenero, and Debbie Marie Gonzales await court proceedings. Fredi Zagala-Servin was sentenced in April to 8 years and 1 month in prison for Conspiracy to Transport Illegal Aliens. Norman Lee Walker Jr. was arrested May 21.

“Justice was served for a human smuggler responsible for coordinating the transportation of hundreds of noncitizens from Laredo to San Antonio. These noncitizens were crammed into tractor-trailers during multiple smuggling events in the stifling Texas heat,” said Special Agent in Charge Craig Larrabee for HSI San Antonio. “HSI is committed to aggressively target human smugglers and smuggling organizations who continually victimize people for profit.”

[Related: At least 50 migrants dead in human smuggling attempt in tractor-trailer]

New York seeks I-84 truck parking feedback

The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) is asking for feedback from the trucking industry on locations to add freight parking facilities along Interstate 84 (I-84) in the vicinities of Route 9, in the towns of Fishkill and East Fishkill, and the Route 747 interchange in Newburgh.

NYSDOT has set up two ways for fleets and drivers to provide feedback: an I-84 truck parking survey, and a mapping tool -- both are available here.

The survey asks questions about truck parking preferences and challenges along certain routes. The mapping tool lets users add a marker on a map to share where they have issues with parking in the study area. The map tool also allows users to identify locations that lack parking, where there are safety issues, locations that lack amenities, places where unauthorized parking occurs, and places where there are parking restrictions.

[Related: Truck Parking Club turns free spaces paid: Is this the future of truck parking?]

Driver recognized for assisting at site of head-on collision

Richard Morrell, 50, a truck driver from Plano, Texas, has been named a Highway Angel by the Truckload Carriers Association for stopping to help drivers involved in a head-on collision late at night on a Texas highway. Morrell drives for ABF Freight.

Richard MorrellRichard MorrellOn May 16 around 12:15 a.m. in Jefferson, Texas, Morrell was traveling northbound on I-59 when he came upon the wreckage of two cars that had been involved in a head-on collision.

“It was beyond horrible,” Morrell said. “I was first on the scene and there was wreckage everywhere.”

One car was on the shoulder of the highway, and the other was in the fast lane. Both drivers were severely injured and pinned in their vehicles. One vehicle had an injured passenger as well.

Morrell called 911 to report the wreck. He then stayed to help the drivers, and several others stopped to help as well. Eventually, emergency personnel were on the scene, as well as a helicopter to life-flight victims from the accident. The conditions of those involved in the crash is unknown.

“It was horrifying,” said the 15-year truck driver who was on the scene for over three hours. “But we have to help each other -- I’ve always helped -- I’ve always stepped up.”

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