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Hoping For Stability

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November 19, 2012 by Minuteman Trucks

By: Dick Witcher, CEO of Minuteman Trucks and Chairman of ATD
Source: Massachusetts Auto Dealer

As I write this article we are exactly two weeks away from the Presidential election; I wish I knew the outcome. I watched all of the debates with great interest and Romney seems to have reinvigorated his campaign. But, if I step outside of myself I cannot see a clear winner. The race is really very close and it depends on which poll you read as to which candidate is in the lead.

In fact as I look around the country — thanks to the reports of Charlie Cook — I am seeing a divided populous, the passion isn’t as high today as it was in 2008 but, there are lots of people with hard positions and little flexibility. If the elections are as polarized as what I see, we will be divided for four more years. And that is what I am afraid of; the continued loggerhead we have witnessed during the last two years.

Sometimes I think the log jam is actually helping prevent the overwhelming addition of new legislation. Unfortunately the Administration uses the addition of regulations to enact its agenda. The truck business witnessed or is witnessing the addition of regulations at a very rapid pace; to name some: Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010, Hours of Service, Electronic On-Board Recorders, future emissions standards and the next round of standards subsequent to the 2014 regulations and the list goes on. I and many in my industry feel like targets and we don’t think we should feel like bad guys after a day’s work.

During the NADA Washington Conference, in mid-September, I, several of my colleagues on the ATD Board and our Dealer of the Year (Terry Dotson) visited the DOT and in particular the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to discuss the elimination of the DOT category known as “Registrant Only.” Before I get into the weeds, here is the end of the story: the author of the regulations apologized to us for not doing his homework — he didn’t realize the impact of his regulations and the very small size of the group he was attempting to reach. But, the regulations are in place! Imagine, here is a guy who wrote and DOT published regulations affecting an entire industry, it will cost dealers tens of thousands of dollars to comply and he apologizes because he didn’t know what he did!

So let’s go back. Dealers and truck rental companies used the “Registrant Only” DOT number on their rental vehicles to avoid the confusion of mis-directed citations between themselves and a customer. Assume a dealer owns 200 trucks in their lease and rental business, the typical ratio is 25 percent of the fleet is in rental service to support the lease vehicles when those units are out of service and of course the rental units are also available for short term use. Assume a customer gets cited while operating your rental truck; instead of looking at the bill of lading which is required for all commercial vehicles, the cop takes your DOT number off the door and the citation goes to you. Since you only register and assign the Registrant Only DOT number to rental vehicles the business is able to quickly identify the user and either collect the fee for the citation or advise the government entity of the vehicle’s operational responsibility.

Of course, there are bad actors in every facet of life but, it turns out that a very few companies trying to fly under the radar of government motor carrier supervision are improperly registering their vehicles with the Registrant Only DOT number and actually operating as motor carriers instead of a company that rents trucks. Instead of enforcing the existing law eliminating a DOT category throws everyone into the same pool and prevents someone from trying to cheat.

So what is the problem: users of Registrant Only numbers have to get a new DOT number and re-register their trucks? The re-registration work alone will cost money but in many states the dealers will need to pay a fee – depending on the state – to register a vehicle they have already registered. As all of you know registration fees vary significantly from state to state but assume the fee could be in the 5 percent of value range. Terry Dotson, our dealer of the year, owns 1,600 trucks 400 of which will need re-registration, former ATD Chairman Kyle Treadway owns 600 trucks and my Brother and I own 200. Use the 25% rental figure and the re-registration dollars quickly add up for dealers.

Bottom line, thousands of dollars is being spent to register trucks for which you have paid registration fees when the truck was first registered. Dealers and some truck rental companies are spending significant funds which could be better used: investing in the business, hiring additional staff, expanding the operation or even taking some money home to mother. There are approximately 2,000 dealers and truck rental companies in the U.S.; regularly running a computer name check of the Registrant Only DOT name list would have identified the bad actors. Instead, we get new regulations.

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