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Law and the Border: How to Stay Out of Court

Whenever you have government regulation, you have enforcement, so it should come as no surprise that the heavily regulated transportation industry is subject to close review in a number of ways.


Whenever you have government regulation, you have enforcement, so it should come as no surprise that the heavily regulated transportation industry is subject to close review in a number of ways.

Carriers in international commerce between the U.S. and Canada must be aware of, and comply with, laws and regulations in a variety of jurisdictions at the national, provincial and state level. Drivers must not only be concerned about typical rules of the road, such as speed limits and other traffic regulations, but also industry-specific regulations relating to public safety and the paperwork that accompanies cross-border movement of goods.

Attention from law enforcement personnel seems to increase when the carrier adds another factor to the analysis, such as hauling overweight or over-dimensional loads, or hazardous materials. Trucks entering the United States are often met at the border by a law enforcement or DOT official, conducting a safety inspection. At other times, one problem can lead to another, such as a full safety inspection following a speeding ticket, which in turn reveals other violations.

A review of cases handled by our office reveals some trends and patterns in the types of activities and types of situations that trigger tickets for safety violations. Many of them can be avoided by driver training or implementation of procedures prior to departing with a load. Here are some common examples:

Specific state laws – The carrier needs to know if there are any special registration or permit requirements for the states in which the carrier either passes through or makes pickups or deliveries. Until the reciprocity rules changed a few years ago for registration and plating of equipment, Illinois was a trap for out-of-state carriers. Since Illinois did not participate fully in the International Registration Plan system, many Ontario drivers found themselves and their equipment put out of service until their employer could pay a bond or penalty to compensate for the failure to be plated in Illinois.

As noted in this column a few months ago, New Jersey takes similar action against out-of-state carriers that are delinquent in filing state tax returns. A driver may be stopped for a traffic violation or routine safety inspection and asked about his company’s U.S. tax identification number.

The failure to have such a number may indicate that the company has not complied with the New Jersey tax laws, and the driver will be forced to post a bond before being allowed to continue.

Canadian carriers need to know the rules of each state in which they enter in the U.S. – in particular, they need to know the level of activity within the state that triggers tax liability.

Safety violations – A safety review requires the exercise of good faith discretion on the part of the inspector. Is the load secure? Is a brake hose chafed or adequately attached?

For hazardous materials, do the shipping papers comply in all respects with the hazmat regulations? Some of these issues relate to all equipment on the road and should be addressed by the company’s routine maintenance procedures.

Others are more particular to the type of commodity shipped, and the carrier must understand and train its workers in the specific regulations – for example, steel haulers must understand and comply with the specific rules regarding load securement, and hazmat haulers must understand the “shipping papers” regulations. For hazmat haulers, this also means to make sure they are dealing with reliable shippers or other third parties who may be primarily responsible for the preparation of those papers.

Compliance with permits – The vast majority of permit violations are preventable, because they pertain to technical violations and not to violations that create a genuine safety hazard. Every company should have a procedure in place to match the applicable permit to the equipment and load, prior to departure. Are the power unit and trailer properly identified on the permit? Do the tires on the equipment correspond to the tire ratings on the permit? Is the axle spacing correct? We have seen numerous examples where a permit was deemed to be void, and the carrier subject to significant penalties for overweight or over-dimensional violations, because the permit did not exactly match the equipment. A detailed review of the equipment prior to placing the permit order or a detailed review of the permit prior to departure can eliminate most of these problems.

State regulations and state taxes add enough to the cost of doing business without unnecessary “self-inflicted” costs due to the carrier’s failure to maintain equipment, train its personnel, or review its paperwork properly.

– Daniel Joyce is a partner with the Buffalo N.Y. law firm Jaeckle Fleischmann & Mugel LLP. He can be reached at (716) 843-3946.


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