Two recently reported events should have small trucking companies on notice. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, shut down two companies early this year. Both companies, one based in Colorado and the other in Nevada, were shut down in February of this year because the FMCSA made a determination that continued operations by the companies constituted an imminent hazard to the public. Among the justifications given for shutting down the companies were:
- The companies’ drivers either did not have CDLs or were unqualified to drive commercial trucks;
- The companies failed to provide drug and alcohol testing documentation;
- The companies failed in repairing, inspecting, and maintaining their fleets;
- The companies failed to remain compliant with hours-of-service regulations.
Under the terms of the orders, the companies must cease all trucking operations and their USDOT numbers were suspending pending fines being paid and measures taken.
FMCSA Authority to Shut Down Trucking Companies
The FMCSA draws its authority to enforce safety standards from the U.S. Code at 49 U.S.C. § 521(b)(5)(A). Congress gave the FMCSA broad authorities when it passed 49 U.S.C. § 521(b)(5)(A). That part of the code grants authority to the FMCSA to order any driver, employee, company, or employer to cease all commercial motor vehicle activities under certain circumstances. To exercise its authority to shut down a company, vehicle, or driver the agency has to do all of the following:
- Inspect or investigate the company in question;
- Determine the company has violated some safety standard or regulation established by either congress or the agency;
- Determine that the violation or violations pose an “imminent hazard” threat to safety.
Imminent hazard is defined in 49 U.S.C. § 521(b)(5)(B) as any condition related to the driver, company, or employee that “substantially increases the likelihood of serious injury or death” if it isn’t stopped immediately. If, after completing the three steps listed above, the agency orders a shutdown or restriction, then the order cannot go beyond what is necessary to eliminate the imminent hazard. The authority to suspend company operations and the companies’ USDOT number comes from 49 U.S.C. § 13905(f)(2) and 49 U.S.C. § 31134(c)(1), respectively. As you can see, the FMCSA’s authority is quite broad, and is subject to the discretion of the agency.
Before the companies can return to business, the FMCSA is requiring them to go through a host of steps. The companies will have to establish and implement alcohol and drug testing programs, safety and management controls, protocols to ensure drivers have CDLs, and implement controls that ensure complete safety regulation compliance.
FMCSA Faces Congressional Scrutiny
The order to shut down these two small trucking companies comes as the FMCSA is under increasing congressional scrutiny. After recent hearings in Washington D.C. where the FMCSA proposed a possible increase in motor carrier insurance premiums, at least one senator is looking to reform the agency. Some reasons cited for the ‘needed’ reform are a disregard for other agencies recommendations by the FMCSA, and the agency’s problems with the Compliance Safety Accountability program. The proposed reforms would implement more cost-benefit analysis in the regulation making process.
Truck Law Attorneys
In view of the all the developments happening within the trucking industry, it is important to have true truck law attorneys on your side. The attorneys at Anderson & Yamada, P.C. will work with trucking companies to remain compliant with the FMCSA, and if necessary, fight any burdensome regulatory issues.