Explanation of Civil Penalty Procedures
The PUCO is responsible for assessing monetary penalties for serious violations found during compliance reviews, commercial motor vehicle inspections, and household goods investigations.
Approximately 450 compliance reviews are conducted annually by PUCO employees. A compliance review is an on-site examination of a company's transportation records. Compliance reviews evaluate a company's compliance with regulations, informing carriers of the transportation regulations and comparing a carrier's safety experience with similar carriers. Records such as driver qualification files, records of duty status, vehicle maintenance records, and hazardous materials employee training files are reviewed for compliance with the regulations. Compliance reviews have shown to be very effective in identifying those areas where a carrier is experiencing difficulties with regulations and in affecting change in the carrier's practices. The results of compliance reviews are transmitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), which issues safety ratings to carriers.
Commercial Motor Vehicle Inspections
Random roadside inspections of commercial motor vehicles are conducted at various locations, such as rest areas and weigh stations, throughout the state. The inspections are conducted by employees of the PUCO and the Ohio Highway Patrol, who enforce federal motor carrier safety regulations and the hazardous materials regulations. Approximately 80,000 roadside inspections are conducted annually in Ohio.
Household Goods Investigations
Investigations of household goods complaints are conducted by PUCO employees. Ohioans have new consumer rights that are guaranteed by law when they contract with a mover within the state. These new rights will:
- Provide full disclosure of all important information in order to promote consumer choice;
- Protect consumers by preventing "curb-side renegotiations" of the contract;
- Promote the speedy resolution of all consumer claims in a fair and equitable fashion.
Violations found during a compliance review, a motor vehicle inspection, or an investigation of a household goods carrier are noted on an inspection report, which is transmitted to the PUCO for review.
The PUCO reviews each report, checking for serious violations found during the inspection, compliance review, or household goods investigation. Carriers must follow the federal motor carrier safety regulations.
Carriers and shippers of hazardous materials must adhere to hazardous materials regulations found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), title 49, sections 100 to 199. Violations are assessed monetary penalties, referred to as civil forfeitures. These forfeitures may range up to $10,000 per violation for hazardous materials violations and up to $1000 per violation for safety violations.
A "notice of intent to assess civil forfeiture" letter is sent by certified mail to the party who committed the violation. A carrier, shipper, and/or a driver can be assessed individually from one inspection. A party has 30 days in which to make payment or request a conference. Most conferences are held by telephone, although in-person conferences are occasionally requested. Learn how to pay your civil forfeiture or how to request a conference.
The advantage of the PUCO civil forfeiture program is that it allows company representatives to discuss or dispute violations with trained, experienced compliance officers during an informal conference. The program provides a consistent level of enforcement practices. It also provides a unique opportunity to closely coordinate and focus penalties as an effective tool. For example, penalties are based on a carrier's history of violations. Approximately 600 times annually, penalties are increased due to the past history of a carrier. Penalties are also decreased for carriers with a good history of violations. At times, substantial monetary penalties are held partially in abeyance, a form of "probation," to ensure overall safety improvement by a carrier. Cases not settled at conference may proceed to administrative hearings before the PUCO, and potentially to court.
Penalties for hazardous materials violations are based on the federal criteria contained in 49 CFR 107.331, and take into consideration:
(a) The nature and circumstances of the violation;
(b) The extent and gravity of the violation;
(c) The degree of the respondent's culpability;
(d) The respondent's prior violations;
(e) The respondent's ability to pay;
(f) The effect on the respondent's ability to continue in business; and
(g) Such other matters as justice may require.
Penalties for violations found during roadside inspections of non-hazmat vehicles are based on the Commercial Vehicle Safety Administration recommended maximum fine schedule. Penalties for compliance reviews are consistent with fines assessed under the USDOT uniform fine assessment schedule for similar violations.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has a new electronic educational and technical assistance package to assist new and existing motor carriers in their compliance efforts. It provides an easier way to obtain summaries of key regulations, required forms, and other safety-related information. This user friendly guide to truck and bus safety will help individuals gain a basic knowledge of the requirements of the federal motor carrier safety regulations.