If you haul hazardous
materials, does your trailer display the flip-style placards? You know, the
placards that read "Please drive safely" "Drive carefully"
when no hazmat identification is displayed? According to the Federal Motor
Carrier Safety Administration, pleasant slogans used in such a way are now
in violation of federal regulations and must be removed pronto.
"We've got 1,900
trailers that use those kinds of placards," says Harry Crabtree, vice
president of driver services for Tennessee-based truckload carrier LandAir
Transport Inc. "What are we doing about it? We're having those 'drive
safely' signs spray painted black." Crabtree says on Oct. 7 a LandAir
driver received a $50 ticket.
OOIDA is recommending
that trucking companies who have not yet removed the slogans from their flip-style
placards do so as soon as possible to avoid costly fines as the FMCSA is now
enforcing a requirement prohibiting motor carriers from placing "extraneous"
information on placards and in placard holders. According to FMSCA's Dave
Longo, this new restriction, effective as of Oct. 1, 2001, subjects violators
to a civil penalty of not less than $250 and not more than $27,500 per violation
and possible enforcement action by FMCSA.
Why all the flap and
the high fines for what appears to be a benign message? FMCSA says the revised
placard rule represents an effort to protect the traveling public and believes
that "extraneous" information displayed on placards, placard type
displays and in placard holders detracts from the basic function of the placard.
Placards must be strictly reserved for hazards communication with all other
confusing or conflicting displays prohibited.
"The primary function
of the placard is to inform and protect initial emergency responders and first
at the scene people," explains John Siebert, Project Manager, OOIDA Foundation
Inc. "In their final rule, it was the conclusion of the Research and
Special Programs Administration (RSPA) that a placard with a public service
announcement content could possibly look like an alert placard if damaged
in an accident. People approaching a crash site should be able to know immediately
if the truck is carrying highly explosive fertilizer chemicals or boxes of
How would you get a
$27,500 civil fine for violating the new rule? The Federal Motor Carrier Safety
Administration (FMCSA) cites two ways. Chief of FMCSA's Hazardous Material
Division, Bill Quaid, says serious fines could be levied if the motor carrier
demonstrates willful non-compliance of the rule effective Oct. 1 or a big
fine could result from a serious incident.
"If there was
an incident and it was established that confusion over the placard significantly
hampered response teams," " explains Quaid. "For example, if
I-95 were closed down for 12 hours because emergency responders thought a
(crashed) truck was hauling dangerous hazmat, it's possible this could mean
a big fine."
This action enforces
a section of a final rule, originally issued Jan. 8, 1997 by the Research
and Special Programs Administration (RSPA) in response to the Hazardous Materials
Transportation Uniform Safety Act of 1990 (HMTUSA). In the final rule, RSPA
amended the rule to prohibit any sign, advertisement or slogan (such as "Drive
Safely") or device that could be confused with any placard.
"There are other
places and other ways to say 'drive safely' that does not put in jeopardy
the placard system for emergency responders," says Siebert.
The specifics are contained
in 49 CFR, Ch.1, subpart 172.502 under prohibited and permissive placarding.
Effective Oct. 1, 2001, "Any sign, advertisement, slogan (such as 'drive
safely'), or device that by its color, design, shape or content, could be
confused with any placard prescribed" in the rules. The rule gives the
safety slogans as examples. For additional information, the final rule may
be viewed in pdf or text format at: http://hazmat.dot.gov/hm206.pdf or http://hazmat.dot.gov/rules/hm206.htm,
FMCSA is instructing
anyone with questions concerning the enforcement of this rule to contact their
nearest FMCSA Service Center: Eastern (202) 366-6892, Southern (404)-562-3600,
Midwestern (708) 283-3565. Western (415) 744-3088, Monday through Friday between
7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. On weekends, holidays, or after hours, please contact
the 24-hour Department of Transportation Safety Hotline at 1-888-DOT-SAFT,