Carriers’ unpaid fines cost blameless drivers time

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | 1/12/2012

“Driver, pull around to the parking lot and come in here,” the voice told truck driver John Flester.

Flester, an OOIDA member from Jessup, MD, who has driven truck since 1970, thought it was odd he wasn’t asked to bring in paperwork at the weigh station near Roanoke, VA. Inside, state DMV workers told Flester they were detaining his truck and hazmat load until his company paid an old fine incurred by a different driver.

“I’ve been pulled over by DOT before; I understand that,” Flester said. “But what does this have to do with me? For me to be detained for something that’s not under my control, I don’t even know if that’s legal.”

Flester was driving on Interstate 81 in Virginia on Jan. 6 when he stopped at a weigh station. The stop cost him 45 minutes, and forced him to call his company until the fine was paid. Another driver told Flester he’d waited nearly 90 minutes until his company paid a fine.

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles operates 13 permanent weigh stations, which they call Motor Carrier Service Centers. According to the state DMV, Virginia motor carrier citations are directed to the “owner, operator or other person(s) responsible for the violation as determined by the issuing officer or agent,” and failure to pay within 21 days of the offense will prompt the state to suspend driving privileges.

“Your vehicles may be detained in Virginia until the total amount is due,” the state DMV website says.

According to Virginia’s state website, the General Assembly approved amendments in March 2011 that allowed Virginia to classify an operator of a motor vehicle as “his statutory agent for the purpose of service of progress in any proceeding against such person growing out of any violation under (weight, license or registration requirements)”at weigh stations.

Virginia DMV Spokeswoman Melanie Stokes said Virginia may hold a vehicle if the vehicle’s owner has unpaid citations. She referenced Virginia code 46.2-1133 and 46.2-1134, which states size and weight compliance agents “shall thereafter deny the offending person the right to operate a motor vehicle or vehicles upon the highways of the Commonwealth…”

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said states have been detaining drivers for decades over a beef with the driver’s carrier, something he said has been common for things like unpaid fuel taxes. 

“The real rub is, you may have had no part whatsoever in the violations that resulted in the enforcement action,” Spencer told Land Line Magazine.

Stokes said more than 300 motor carriers owe the state between $2,000 and $9,000, and at least 62 carriers owe at least $10,000. 

States have a right to collect for unpaid violations, but Spencer said drivers who haven’t violated the law shouldn’t be punished because of a motor carrier’s unpaid tickets.

“We understand where they’re coming from,” Spencer said. “But at the same time, the particular individual they have is not the one who created the problem – and he shouldn’t be penalized.”

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