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Government Affairs: Complying with truck/trailer safety regs

August 12, 2015 -  By

As the government relations consultant for the Pennsylvania Landscape and Nursery Association (PLNA), one of the most frequent calls I get is from members who have just had one of their trucks pulled over by the police and been given a huge fine for violations of state and federal motor carrier safety regulations. Fines in these instances often will run into several thousand dollars or more.

Starts with something simple

These stops will frequently start with something simple, like a taillight or turn signal light that has burned out. But then the cop finds that the driver does not have a CDL for the size truck and trailer he is hauling, or that the load is not properly secured, or that the log book is not current or that the driver’s medical card is expired. You get the picture. There are hundreds of potential violations of the motor carrier safety regulations on any given truck and trailer.

Complexity of the regulations

What makes this a problem for landscape contractors is the sheer complexity of the interrelated state and federal motor carrier safety laws and regulations. While the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has overall jurisdiction over the regulations, especially those governing interstate commerce, states have some latitude in their implementation of those regulations, so details can vary from state to state.

This becomes especially troublesome for landscape contractors who operate in a multistate metropolitan area, who must not only know the federal rules but also how each state in which they operate has implemented them.

Good reason for regulations

Nonetheless, the regulations are in place for good reason. In Pennsylvania in the last decade, we’ve had two deadly accidents involving landscape vehicles, both of which were caused by overlooked safety violations on the vehicles involved.

One involved a dump truck overloaded with topsoil and with faulty brakes that careened down a steep hill into a small town in south central Pennsylvania. The truck’s brakes failed and the truck crossed the street at the bottom plowing into a school bus stop, killing two.

A second involved a truck pulling a chipper along a divided highway in western Pennsylvania. The chipper hitch was not properly secured to the truck and the chipper came loose, crossed the median and slammed into the side of a van killing a father and two of his 4-year-old triplet daughters.

What should landscape contractors do?

So we have this complex set of regulations that are in place for good reason. How can landscape contractors keep their trucks on the road, keep their employees and the public safe and stay out of trouble?

1. Assign accountability. Someone in the company should have the accountability for knowing and understanding the rules. This may be the owner in a small company or an operations manager in a larger company, but one person has to be responsible for knowing the rules and how those rules apply to employees and company vehicles. Everyone in the company should know who that person is, so if they have questions, they know who to ask.

2. Share the rules. Employees who will be driving vehicles should know the rules. Training or shop talks before starting the day should be routine. Employees should know who needs their CDLs, what vehicles they are able to legally drive and what vehicle combinations are within the regulations. One landscape contractor I know with a large fleet color codes trailer hitches and truck hitches to make it easier for employees to know what trailer can be legally hauled with what truck. Green to green, yellow to yellow, etc.

3. Establish a walk-around policy. it should be the responsibility of vehicle drivers to conduct a thorough safety walk-around before taking a truck and trailer on the road. This practice should include checking lights, fluid levels, tie-downs, wheel chocks, fire extinguishers, etc. Provide a checklist to make this job easier and more thorough.

4. Engage officials. Touch base with local law enforcement. Often, state or local police are happy to do training sessions on vehicle safety for groups of landscape contractors. Your state or regional landscape association already may be doing this type of training or you can ask them to get involved.

After the tragedy that happened with the chipper in western Pennsylvania, PLNA worked with local police departments to do truck and trailer safety training and mock inspections for landscape contractors in the area. The police also held several sessions where landscape contractors could bring their trucks and trailers to a central location and have a safety inspection done with no threat of enforcement, as long as the vehicle owner agreed to take care of any violations found.

So while these regulations are a pain, it’s best to develop a solid plan for knowing them and implementing them in your company. The consequences of not doing so can be expensive or tragic.

 

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About the Author:

Gregg Robertson, Landscape Management's government relations blogger, is a government relations consultant for the Pennsylvania Landscape & Nursery Association (PLNA) and president of Conewago Ventures. From 2002 until May 2013 he served as president of PLNA. Reach him at gregg.robertson@conewagoventures.com.

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