Inspector General recommends more HOS, cabotage and CDL fraud enforcement

| 4/6/2005

The head of a federal watchdog agency recently recommended that the FMCSA and NHTSA take a series of actions – including increased enforcement of cabotage laws – that it said would help the federal government meet its goal of reducing highway deaths.

Kenneth Mead, Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation, also said that beefed up enforcement of the hours-of-service rules and action to cut back on CDL fraud would help the two agencies meet the federal goal of cutting the overall highway fatality rate to one death per 100 million vehicle miles traveled by 2008.

In his testimony, Mead said the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration both “have, overall, made good progress,” including a drop in the number of traffic fatalities. However, he did make several suggestions on how their performance, especially in that area of reducing fatalities, could be improved.

His comments regarding cabotage were especially pointed: “Even before the border has opened, records indicate that state inspectors have already found more than 100 Mexican trucking companies operating illegally in the interior United States.”

The FMCSA issued an order in 2002 that said state inspectors should place Mexican trucks lacking authority out of service; however, the Office of Inspector General found that five states had no law allowing them to enforce the rule, and others were not doing so because the rule is not included in the out-of-service criteria used by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

The Inspector General also recommended the Department of Transportation use “covert methods” to find CDLs obtained through fraud, as well as to make sure that truckers who received CDLs from inspectors suspected of fraud have valid licenses.

Those covert methods would including have police office pose as truckers and attempt to obtain a CDL.

Mead said the CDL fraud problem is widespread.

“We have found far too many CDL fraud schemes — in 23 states — and identified more than 8,000 drivers who had obtained their CDLs through state employees or ‘third-party examiners’ suspected of fraud,” he said.

He added that “when corrupt examiners are caught, the holders of CDLs approved by those examiners be retested.”

Mead also called on the DOT to increase its activities to stop the worst violations of the hours-of-service rules. But rather than concentrating solely on heavier enforcement against drivers, the Inspector General also spoke about increased enforcement against companies.

“We have conducted criminal investigations of egregious cases in which trucking company officials have been prosecuted for systematically forcing their drivers to drive well in excess of the limits,” he said. “Unscrupulous trucking companies and drivers view FMCSA’s fines for Hours of Service and log book violations simply as a cost of doing business.”

Mead said that if black boxes were not included in the new hours-of-service currently being developed by FMCSA, that the agency should “to develop additional strategies to deter Hours of Service violations.”

“Current penalties and enforcement methods can be further strengthened to deter this offense,” he said.

Among the HOS changes he recommended:

  • End the distinction between a missing or incomplete logbook and possessing a false logbook. A false log carries a fine up to 10 times greater than a missing one.
  • End the policy that restricts inspectors conducting compliance audits from using data from carriers’ GPS or onboard recording devices to check for HOS violations.

Mead made the comments in the written version of his testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine, which is part of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. He testified April 5.