Decals Requirement for Trucks Is Ruled Illegal by FMCSA

New Jersey, N.Y.C., Cook County Required ID Display
By Michele Fuetsch, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Nov. 1 print edition of Transport Topics.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has ruled that it is illegal for the state of New Jersey and two local governments to require trucks to carry or display decals or other forms of identification.

Issued Oct. 20 in response to a complaint by American Trucking Associations, the ruling struck down identification requirements in New Jersey, New York City and Cook County, Ill.

With few exceptions, FMCSA said, the law prohibits states and local governments “from requiring motor carriers to display in or on [trucks] any form of identification other than forms required” by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation.

The state and the two local governments “may no longer enforce their credential display requirements,” FMCSA said.

ATA contended in its 2008 complaint that the 2005 highway reauthorization law that was dubbed  SAFETEA-LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users) prohibits such identification requirements because they are “burdensome” for the trucking industry.

The ruling, said Robert Pitcher, ATA’s vice president for state laws, is “a welcome indication that the FMCSA is serious about this statute and that they clearly feel as we do that it says what it means, that all sorts of state and local credentials on . . . motor carriers are preempted.”

In all three jurisdictions, the identification requirements were linked to revenue collection — that is, the sticker, decal or a certificate in the cab indicated which trucks had paid a required tax or fee.

New Jersey, for example, requires that carriers hauling fuel within or through the state, regardless of their home state, pay $50 annually for a special license.

In Cook County, truckers must pay a “wheel” tax, while in New York City they pay a “stamp” tax if at least half of the miles they run are in the city.

ATA did not challenge the taxes, only the identification requirements.

In December, after being notified of ATA’s complaint, Cook County acknowledged in a letter to FMCSA that the county is “preempted by federal law from requiring its window sticker” and has halted enforcement.

Likewise, after the ruling, New Jersey officials followed suit with their fuel-truck sticker.

“The State Police will not be enforcing it,” Bill Quinn, spokesman for the State Department of the Treasury, told Transport Topics.

Quinn said 780 trucking firms are licensed to carry fuel in the state, although the firms must pay the $50 license fee for each truck in their fleet.

Kendra Adams, executive director of the New York State Motor Truck Association, said she is unsure New York City will “give up easily” on the decal issue.

“It’s a fairly decent source of revenue for them,” she said by way of explaining that police there target trucks without decals and write tickets, regardless of whether the trucks run enough miles in the city to be subject to the tax.

Truckers usually pay the tickets, warranted or not, because fighting them means appearing in court and documenting that the truck does not run half of its miles in the city, Adams said.

New Jersey’s Quinn said the state will require fuel carriers to keep documentation in their headquarters to show they have the necessary license and have paid the $50 fee.

He added that the fuel license records are computerized but said he did not know if the state has added the license plate numbers of carriers that paid the fee to the New Jersey State Police computers.

Unlike New York City, the State of New York has computerized its payment records to facilitate enforcement of its state mileage tax on trucks.

That means law enforcement officers can stop a truck on a highway and check its license plate number in their computer system to determine if the truck has paid the tax and is running legally in the state.

Identification requirements by state and local governments are not uncommon, said ATA’s Pitcher, and the requirements are not always linked to a tax or fee.