By SAODAT ASANOVA-TAYLOR
Capital News Service
LANSING – The move by the State Police to force commercial vehicles to obtain U.S Department of Transportation (DOT) identification numbers is under fire from some Michigan farmers and small businesses.
The federal regulation applies to pickups, vans and trailers that carry equipment and supplies if the vehicle weighs more than 10,001 pounds.
Matt Smego, legislative counsel for the Michigan Farm Bureau, said the problem is not obtaining an ID number but complying with the additional regulations and inspections that comes with it.
“By having this number, the pickups or trailers may be subjected to inspections that last for up to four hours. This timing is critical for many to run their business and provide jobs,” he said.
To get an ID number under the federal law, businesses must ensure their drivers undergo medical examination, meet federal driving qualifications and have their vehicles inspected annually.
Non-commercial vehicles are exempted from those rules, Smego said.
“It is absolutely confusing. For example, when you pull a horse trailer for personal use, it is exempt. If you pull the same trailer with the same weight for commercial purposes, then it is regulated,” he said.
State Police say the agency enforces the regulations due to safety concerns.
Inspector Randy Coplin, of the State Police Traffic Safety Division, said Michigan has a high number of road incidents involving such vehicles, and ID numbers are important to track them and ensure they comply with safety regulations.
“The rules are put in place for the general public to reduce bad behavior, to protect loads from falling off trailers, to make sure drivers are not intoxicated and to keep equipment to good standards,” he said.
In addition, Coplin said ID numbers enable police to record the number of crashes and the businesses that are involved.
But Rep. Greg MacMaster, R-Kewadin, said there is no evidence of safety problems involving small commercial vehicles in the state. He has asked the State Police to provide information on the exact numbers of crashes.
“It is anecdotal evidence. There were no facts provided. I expected more reliable information that indicates the real need for imposing such regulations, but they didn’t have it,” he said.
MacMaster has proposed legislation to exempt truck and trailers from commercial vehicle rules if they weigh less than 26,001 pounds.
The bill is under review in the House Committee on Transportation. Co-sponsors include Reps. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City; Josepth Haveman, R-Holland; Paul Opsommer, R-DeWitt and Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac.
“We shouldn’t impose fines that didn’t need to be there or slow down the operation of local businesses,” MacMaster said.
Herm Witte, owner of Witte Lawn Maintenance Inc. in Wyoming, said inspections and fines cost small businesses from $2,000 to $10,000, and in many cases police don’t even know the exact rules.
“On a couple of occasions, we complained to the local authorities to reduce the fines, as we believe issues were treated unfairly. Nobody in the local police knew the exact rules, so we took the case further to the State Police,” he said.
Witte is also president of the Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association in Okemos.
According to Witte, every time his vehicles are stopped for inspections, it raises his driver hourly cost by $35-$40, on top the cost of the product delivery.
“I don’t want to be tough on the guys who do their job, but there is suspicion that those of us that try to comply with the regulations are targeted more for inspections,” Witte said.
Gary Haynes, owner of Haynes Farms in Carson City, said the state is using its authority to make revenue.
“The paperwork for one truck cost us about $1,000. In addition, inspection fines costs twice than that. I just don’t know why they do it to us,” he said.
“We can’t be successful in business like that,” Haynes said.
According to Haynes, his drivers received fines for missing poorly marked road signs. In addition, many of his drivers are challenged as many other drivers ignore the heavy load equipment and pass at 70 to 80 miles per hour.
“Rather then impose more regulations on pickups, the local police should do more surveillance on the roads to provide signs and to ensure young drivers comply with traffic rules,” he said.