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The fine print is no small matter


Disclaimers. They’re everywhere. Every product, contract, and service comes with a warning these days. Want to change lanes on the freeway? Your mirror will tell you that objects may be closer than they appear.

As someone who works with fuel taxes, vehicle registration, and other trucking regulations, I need bifocals for my bifocals in order to read the fine print.

But I’m glad I have them. Case in point: let me tell you about Lloydminster.

Lloydminster has the geographic distinction of straddling the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The main street, 50 Avenue, runs right through the middle of town. Business names like the Lloydminster Border Market and the Best Western Plus Meridian Hotel connote a border city.

Charming.

But for truckers, the border creates distinctly different sets of rules for operating commercial vehicles.

For example, Saskatchewan regulations state that an Alberta-plated commercial vehicle can be driven within 16 km of the border without penalty with respect to registration.

The Alberta Operator Licensing and Vehicle Control Regulation says differently. It specifies that an Alberta-based carrier can operate a commercial vehicle within an area not more than 17 km from the Alberta-Saskatchewan border without a Saskatchewan vehicle-licence permit as long as the vehicle is properly registered and insured in Alberta.

This exemption does not impact a carrier’s requirement to obtain a Safety Fitness Certificate (SFC) with federal operating status.

Legally, Alberta-based carriers with provincial operating status are considered to be within the authority of their SFC under two conditions: they’re within the city limits of Lloydminster on either side of the Alberta or Saskatchewan border, or on Hwy 17, provided the trip starts and ends in Alberta and no services are received or provided in Saskatchewan.

Sounds good.

But in the fine print, “Services received or provided” include fuel, accommodation, vehicle loading/unloading; meals, vehicle repair/maintenance, other work activities, etc. It does not include any such service received or provided wholly within the city limits.

Therefore, if you’re an Alberta carrier and fill up with food and fuel or have a nap in Saskatchewan, boom, your operating status is federal. You can pick up a hot dog at the 7-Eleven on the Saskatchewan side, but you’d better not drop a load there.

In the end, whether you actually pay a penalty for your transgression comes down to enforcement. One block into either jurisdiction, would law enforcement tag you? Probably not. But they could, especially if they see you there often enough.

Maybe you’ll never come within a day’s drive of Lloydminster, but it shows how regulatory details can trip you up if you’re not careful.

If you’re unsure about fuel tax or licensing rules in the jurisdictions where you operate, or may operate, the simplest way to reduce your risk is to register your vehicles with the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) and International Registration Plan (IRP). These agreements were established to make it easier for jurisdictions to collect fees and taxes on a prorated basis. They supersede provincial legislation and their exemptions.

Want to stay a provincial carrier for National Safety Code and not a federal carrier? Be careful of your area of operation. But if you’re already a federal carrier, just license your trucks under IRP and/or IFTA.

When you operate a commercial vehicle in places other than your home state or province, you probably owe those jurisdictions a portion of your fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees.

You don’t have to read the regulatory fine print to know that they’re going to want their fair share. But you should anyway.

***

Sandy Johnson has been  managing IFTA, IRP, and  other fleet taxes for more than 25 years. She is the author of the book, 7 Things You Need to Know About Fleet Taxes, and operates northstarfleet.com, which provides vehicle tax and license compliance services for trucking operations. She can be reached at 1-877-860-8025 or info@northstarfleet.com.


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