News Story

Truckers See Local Fines as a Cash Grab

Local agencies have financial incentive to regulate

Ask drivers of commercial trucks about safety enforcement and they will tell you they are under siege. Truckers can be cited for any number of offenses and fines can run into the hundreds of dollars.

Consider the case of James Cotter, who runs a truck rental business. When his wife was driving one of the company trucks, she was pulled over by the Michigan State Police and fined $425 because her medical certificate expired three months earlier.

“We were under the impression that medical certificates were keyed to your driver's license through the Secretary of State and that licenses would not be renewed without a valid certificate,” he said.

What irritated Cotter was the assessment Eaton County added to the ticket. He checked other counties and discovered that had his wife been pulled over one half-mile north in Ionia County, the fine would have been $125.

Cotter challenged the ticket and the magistrate reduced the fine by $65. But the experience left him frustrated and angry.

“I think it is outrageous and still don’t understand the lack of uniformity between jurisdictions in assessing fines. We can still appeal but with time and distance involved, it really isn’t a feasible option,” he said.

It is difficult to determine how much the state collects from truck fines. The trucking industry has tried to keep track but state data has been too complex. Another difficulty is that courts and municipalities keep some of the fines, and much of that money is not tracked at the state or national level.

"Inspections are necessary but they have to be done properly and for the right reasons," said Mike Matousek, the director of state legislative affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“We support a commonsense approach to inspections but unfortunately, that doesn't always prevail, again, if the incentive for inspections is to generate revenue,” he added, saying truckers avoid areas with aggressive inspections because they can cost them thousands in fines and lost productivity.

Senate Bill 861 and House Bills 5490-5492 won’t address the Cotter’s issue specifically but does attempt to reduce the local revenue incentive for truck safety and weight inspections. The Motor Carrier Division of the Michigan State Police conducts the majority of inspections but local police departments can also get authorization and their municipalities can keep all the fine revenue if citations violate a local ordinance. Somerset Township in Hillsdale County has considered such an ordinance but has put the issue on hold after outcry by truckers and the community.

The bills would order any local fine revenue associated with commercial trucking to be redirected to county road commissions and clarify that agencies must have probable cause to pull drivers over. Michigan prohibits ticket quotas but recently, a deputy in Newaygo County was caught on video telling commissioners how he reprimanded subordinates for not writing enough tickets.

“When people get pulled over, they want to know they are getting pulled over for the right reasons,” said Senator Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, who is sponsoring SB 861.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the National Motorists Association support the bills. The Michigan Township Association does not support the bills.

“We are concerned that the bills redirect fees away from local units of government—an all too common occurrence impacting local budgets. The bills also fail to recognize that townships incur costs in maintaining Michigan’s roads and enforcing local ordinances. Although townships have no statutory obligation to do so, they contribute well in excess of $186 million each year to local roads and bridges, in the form of matching funds or paying for road project costs in their entirety, as well as public safety and ordinance enforcement,” said MTA spokesperson Jenn Fiedler.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.