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Trucking groups unite behind ATA petition on Alabama rule

In a document submitted for the FMCSA comment period, the Alabama Department of Public Safety, the agency responsible for enforcement of the law, listed eight accidents occurring from 2006-2008 involving steel coils that caused more than $427,000 worth of damage.

By CLIFF ABBOTT
The Trucker Staff

1/31/2012

It isn’t often that the American Trucking Associations, the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association, numerous carriers and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration come down on the same side of an issue.

Such a scenario may well come to pass once the FMCSA rules on the ATA’s December, 2010 petition for a “Determination that Training Requirements Imposed on Interstate Motor Carriers by Alabama Are Preempted by 49 U.S. Code sections 14506 and 31141.”

The FMCSA published the request for determination on November 23, 2011, setting a two-month window for public comment.

Pointing out that the decision is “reserved to the agency’s judgment,” interested parties were asked to comment on “what effect, if any, Alabama’s metal coil certification requirement has on interstate motor carrier operations.” The notice made it clear that the FMCSA was seeking “safety, economic and operational effects” of the Alabama law, rather than legal conclusions.  

Many flatbed drivers are familiar with the Alabama Metal Coil Securement Act, which requires any driver picking up or delivering metal coils in Alabama to successfully complete an online securement course to obtain a Metal Coil Certificate, which must be in the driver’s possession when coils are the cargo. The law applies regardless of which state issued the driver’s CDL.  It applies to dry van drivers as well, if they are transporting palletized metal coils. The act also included increased fines for metal coil securement violations.

When introduced, some welcomed the securement training, while many others protested that a “certification” law issued by an individual state is tantamount to the state creating its own CDL endorsement.

“If every state is allowed to do that,” said one disgruntled driver, “some state will come up with a ‘chicken’ endorsement.”

Carriers complained about the cost of the test and the administrative burden of certifying an entire fleet of drivers even though only a small percentage of them might haul coils into or out of Alabama in a given year.

In June 2009, the FMCSA questioned the Metal Coil Securement Act in a letter to then-Gov. Bob Riley. In Riley’s August 26 response, he defended the Alabama law, claiming that it was passed “in response to numerous metal coil accidents that have occurred within Alabama.” The letter went on to say, “Those accidents have caused severe damage to the state's roadways, resulting in a loss of government resources, substantial traffic delays, and safety concerns for Alabama motorists.”

In a document submitted for the FMCSA comment period, the Alabama Department of Public Safety, the agency responsible for enforcement of the law, listed eight accidents occurring from 2006-2008 involving steel coils that caused more than $427,000 worth of damage. The document did not specify if securement of the coils was a factor in any of the accidents; however, loss of steel coils was responsible for over $400,000 in damage to Birmingham area interchanges in two separate accidents in 2006. 

In its 2010 petition, the ATA pointed out that states are prohibited by the FMCSA from enacting laws that impact interstate commerce if they are more stringent than federal laws already on the books. The petition said that Alabama’s law did not change or add to the regulations concerning securement of metal coils, but incorporated a burdensome training and testing requirement that does not present a measurable safety benefit. 

Several carriers were among those that weighed in before the comment period closed on Jan. 23. Dean Newell, vice president of safety and training for Maverick Transportation, pointed out that current roadside inspections already address cargo securement concerns.  The act, according to Newell, “has done nothing more than to generate a document and a driver database and impose a fee.” Newell also expressed concern with the practice of individual states imposing testing requirements at will, asking, “Would a carrier have to have a certificate to load any product in any state, with which that state feels they have a problem?”

Roehl Transport’s letter was signed by both Vice President of Safety John Spiros and President of Flatbed Operations Tom Witt. In it, they pointed out that Roehl’s cargo securement training is “superior to Alabama’s online course” because it incorporates hands-on training supervised by experienced instructors along with audio and visual presentations. “Further,” they stated, “validation of skills is suspect, as no method is in place to prevent the examinee from cheating on the online exam or to verify that the person taking the test is, in fact, the driver seeking certification.”

Vulcan Aluminum Mill in Foley, Ala., is a customer that is directly impacted by the Metal Coil Securement Act. Senior Vice President James E. Stewart Jr. lamented that the act was passed to address accidents that involved steel coils transported in an upright position, but was worded in a way that includes all metal coils, including aluminum coils shipped on pallets. “It is our opinion that the Legislature and governor did not have the complete picture on the shipment methods and types of carriers used when enacting this law,” he stated in the letter. He claimed that the mill’s primary LTL carrier will no longer transport the coils they produce, resulting in the need to pay truckload rates for the same shipments. The resulting increase in shipping costs “will make our product uncompetitive and cost us sales,” he said.

In OOIDA’s 12-page submission, President and CEO Jim Johnston agreed, noting that “An unmanageable patchwork of state certification laws should be anticipated if the Alabama law is allowed to stand.” He continued that, “Alabama would be better advised to focus its efforts on driver education as part of its own licensing procedures coupled with increased enforcement of existing state and federal regulations.”

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In a dissenting opinion, Henry M. Jasny, vice president and general counsel of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, wrote in favor of “proper training of truck drivers regarding securement of special loads... .” He went on to say that “states should have flexibility to adopt and enforce public safety measures, such as the Alabama Metal Coil Securement Act, that implement the safety requirements contained in federal regulations.” In the same letter, however, he stated, “Advocates takes no position on the legal issue of whether the Alabama Metal Coil Securement statute is preempted under federal law.” Finally, he recommended that the FMCSA “establish a requirement for a load securement special endorsement.” A few other dissenting comments were offered by individual citizens.

The FMCSA did not specify a date when the ruling will be issued. Interested parties can review the ATA petition and submitted comments by searching for Docket number FMCSA-2011-0318 at regulations.gov.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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