The trucking industry faces a fresh challenge: fines for violating certain DOT regulations are increasing in 2024, pegged to inflation. Effective December 28, 2023, the final ruling enacts the legislatively prescribed 2024 adjustment to civil penalty amounts applicable to breaches of specific DOT regulations.
The list of updated fines can be accessed in the federal register, which we've provided for you on our site.
Background on Ruling
This final rule, effective immediately and without notice or comment, follows the 2015 Act's clear directive to adjust civil penalties annually, overriding section 553 of title 5, United States Code.
On November 2, 2015, the President signed the 2015 Act into law, amending the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act (FCPIAA) to enhance civil monetary penalties' effectiveness. The Act requires federal agencies, including the FMCSA and the NHTSA, to implement an initial "catch-up" adjustment through an interim final rule (IFR) and subsequent annual adjustments.
In 2016, OST and DOT's operating administrations issued the "catch-up" IFR mandated by the 2015 Act. This rule now fulfills the annual adjustment requirement. Importantly, these penalty adjustments apply only to violations occurring after the rule becomes effective, without altering previously assessed or enforced penalties actively collected by DOT.
Commentary on the Ruling
Offering context, penalties in the trucking industry surged by 8% in 2023 and 6% in 2022. Truckers are rightfully expressing anger at the implemented 3% increase in 2024, perceiving these penalties as unfair as inflations do not mean increased wages that can accommodate increased penalties. Truck drivers continue to tout the trucking industry as the most over-regulated industry in the country.
In a recent video, Vitali from AFT Dispatch and A2C Logistics expressed concerns about the implementation of annual adjustments on trucking fines, emphasizing that these changes occur without prior notice or public comment.
He suggested that the government may be favoring certain acts, pointing to the broker transparency bill, which is delayed until 2025 or 2026. Despite being intended to secure fair rates for truckers, the bill is pushed back, prompting Vitali to question the government's priorities. The frustration is warranted since broker fraud is estimated to cost the trucking sector $800 million annually.
Furthermore, despite the persistent surge in penalties, the question of whether these increases in truck fines effectively promote vehicle maintenance practices and safe driving remains unanswered. In fact, out-of-service orders for truckers reached an all-time high in 2023, likely exceeding 35,000 orders.
Daniel Koors, an owner-operator and council member for CDL Drivers Unlimited—an advocacy group dedicated to enhancing working conditions and lifestyles for commercial drivers—is unsurprised by the record-high out-of-service orders. He attributes this trend to the current economic conditions in the trucking sector, which are exacerbating the situation.
“It’s simple—there’s not enough money in the market right now…,” explained Koors. “Many are barely able to maintain their homes, let alone their trucks.”
The escalating penalties appear out of touch when juxtaposed with growing worries about the rising operational expenses in trucking, which are outpacing the returns. Koors highlighted that, in addition to maintenance costs, fuel costs, and freight rates, new entrants especially are facing challenging circumstances. “I would say a majority of the new entrants that have fallen out are the ones that started during the pandemic,” he stated. “They don’t have the back-office support, they don’t have the capital, they jumped in when things were hot, and they didn’t set up the relationships needed to get them through this downturn.”
Navigating 2024's Regulatory Landscape
As the trucking community braces for increased fines in 2024, the industry faces an uphill battle in adjusting to the evolving regulatory landscape. The abrupt implementation of annual adjustments raises questions about fairness and industry priorities. Truckers, already grappling with economic challenges, express frustration as penalties surge without a corresponding increase in wages.
The delayed broker transparency bill adds to the industry's concerns, highlighting the need for transparent communication between regulators and those on the road. As the trucking sector navigates these challenges, the pivotal question remains: Will these fines truly enhance safety and maintenance practices, or are they an additional burden on an industry already stretched thin?