November 17, 2014 2:30 AM, EST

IFTA Might Replace Decals With an Electronic System

By Jonathan S. Reiskin, Associate News Editor

This story appears in the Nov. 17 print edition of Transport Topics.

The International Fuel Tax Association said it is considering changing the organization’s credentials for commercial vehicles to a digital form and possibly eliminating its longstanding decals.

The IFTA board of trustees has created a working group on electronic credentials to “determine if the current form of IFTA [decals and licenses] is still practical” or whether a digital form lends itself to a more efficient tool for administering and enforcing motor-fuel taxes, said CEO Lonette Turner.

The working group is supposed to report to the board in February.

Classes 7-8 trucks that operate on an interstate basis across the 48 contiguous states and all 10 Canadian provinces must display two stickers — one on each side — demonstrating compliance with the International Fuel Tax Agreement.

The IFTA agreement is a cooperative program to collect and distribute fuel-tax revenue among member states and Canadian provinces. The program benefits carriers by consolidating licensing and reporting requirements through their home states.

IFTA decals are distributed annually to carriers, and failure to display them is probable cause for stopping a truck and grounds for a fine.

Large fleets, especially, don’t like the decals because putting hundreds or thousands of stickers on trucks and making sure they do not get bleached out by the sun or washed off during cleaning is a lot of work.

“It’s an administrative burden for larger fleets,” said John Jabas, director of sales for FleetLegal Solutions Inc., a vendor of compliance services.

And Mahlon Gragen, director of safety and compliance for ATC Transportation, said, “Decals on the vehicle were the accepted standard for indicating a carrier is registered since the 1980s. But we’re at that point with technology for the industry and for law enforcement that it’s time to move on.”

ATC is based in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, and the state’s government usually distributes the decals in December.

“We’re trying to place these decals on trucks in December or January in Wisconsin. You need temperatures of at least 40 degrees or they won’t stick,” Gragen said.

“A decal usually costs $2 to $5, but if it’s not on, you would have to pay a fine for hundreds of dollars,” he said. “The potential consequences for failure are painful — doubly so if you actually do have the decal but couldn’t attach it or maybe it fell off.”

Gragen and Jabas agree that vehicle transponders and smart phones might offer a means for verification that could render the decals obsolete.

Robert Pitcher, American Trucking Associations’ vice president for state laws, said the federation backs the shift away from the decals, calling them “basically useless.”

He said ATA wants to build support for decal elimination among IFTA-member states and provinces next year and then try to win approval via balloting, probably in 2016.

However, Stephen Keppler, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, called the IFTA documentation “critical” to verifying compliance.

“It is a screening tool for enforcement that allows them to visually check compliance on the external of the vehicle,” he said.

CVSA members don’t vote on IFTA, but the motor vehicle administrations and tax departments that do vote often listen to the law enforcement agencies.

The license proves certification, but if it is inside the cab it is not immediately visible by a truck inspector outside.