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Responding to FMCSA Notices

2000 54995By Brian J Riker

In the last week or two, I've received dozens of inquiries about (what appear to be) official notices from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and other agencies regarding various required annual filings. In all but one case, these have been solicitations for a fee-based service and not official communications.

This practice irritates me on many levels, most notably because it takes advantage of business owners that are either too busy to scrutinize or too naive to perceive the "sales pitch." Either way, this is an unethical practice that I refuse to engage in with my company; it can even be considered criminal in many cases.

The FMCSA has issued guidance on this subject, posting disclaimers on its website and during the application for authority process explaining that it does not endorse third-party service providers. Contrary to what most compliance services would like you to believe, it is not a legal requirement to use a filing service to obtain, update or voluntarily revoke your DOT authority.

The most popular scheme circulating this month involves changes and updates to the Unified Carrier Registration System. Unscrupulous providers are taking advantage of the confusion created during the transfer of responsibility for collecting and managing the fees as well as the delay from the FMCSA in determining the fees for 2019.

Typically, UCR filings are due in October; however the FMCSA has not finished evaluating the revenue collected and assessing the new fees for 2019. They are required to audit this revenue stream to ensure motor carriers are not being overcharged. Once the FMCSA has published its new fees, the filing period will commence. Until then, even if the fees are not published until after 2019 begins, no action is required by motor carriers at this time.

Further complicating this issue is a change in how and where carriers file and pay their UCR fees. Since the inception of the program, carriers have filed through the state of Indiana, which then distributed the fees to each state as required. Beginning Oct. 1, carriers are now required to use a FMCSA-managed online portal at ucr.gov to file and pay the fees.

Unscrupulous service providers are using this confusion to their advantage, charging "service fees" more than double the filing fee. You can do this yourself in less than five minutes at no additional charge above the federally required fees.

Some tips to determining if the email or fax you received is from a legitimate source. First, DOT/FMCSA does not initiate contact via email. Their first contact will always be via U.S. Mail. They only will use email if you emailed them first. It's the same with telephone calls. The FMCSA does not make unsolicited telephone calls. Again, they will only call you in response to your request they do so.

Check the source email address. If it ends in anything other than an official extension such as .gov or .state.us, then it is most likely fraudulent or a sales pitch. The FMCSA specifically prohibits companies from attempting to sound like they represent the agency and have even prosecuted one large service company for their deceptive sales practices.

If you are still unsure of the legitimacy of any correspondence you receive, ask the agency it appears to come from or contact a known source of information such as a local motor carrier enforcement officer. You can always contact me and I will gladly explain any notices you receive.

DOT compliance does require periodic updates, but they do not have to be complicated and can be done without a filing service. Some companies choose to outsource this responsibility simply to free up office resources or ensure they do not miss a filing. Voluntary outsourcing is a good idea, especially if you are not comfortable interacting with these agencies.

How you choose to confirm your filings are completed in a timely manner is irrelevant, as long as they are completed. Operating without valid authority or failure to pay your UCR fees on time can result in out-of-service orders for your trucks, as well as monetary penalties.

Brian J Riker is a third generation towman and President of Fleet Compliance Solutions, LLC. He specializes in helping non-traditional fleets such as towing, repossession, and construction companies navigate the complex world of Federal and State transportation regulatory compliance. With 25 years of experience in the ditch as a tow operator Brian truly understands the unique needs and challenges faced by towing companies today. He can be reached at brian.riker@fleetcompliancesolutions.net
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