FHWA Considers Revising Car Hauler Definition
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is currently considering the possibility of revising the definition of automobile transporter in order to reduce frustrating regulatory burdens on the industry. Of course, this directly affects A1 Auto Transport, so we are very much vested in the outcome of this deliberation. Current regulations define an “automobile transporter” as “any vehicle combination designed and used for the transport of assembled highway vehicles.” The three main most common types of potential car haulers included in this general description are traditional, low boys, and stinger steered. In addition, the regulations also state that car haulers must be able to carry vehicles as cargo on the truck tractor itself. Up until now, the FHWA has taken that to mean that transporters that cannot haul cars on the tractor are not actually auto haulers. Basically, the main category excluded by this interpretation is a traditional tractor pulling a car-hauling trailer. This differentiation may be slightly confusing for those outside the industry, but this is a situation where a picture is worth a thousand words.
The top picture shows what is now unequivocally considered an auto transporter, and the bottom picture shows what is not. There are several obvious differences between the two, but of course, the general purpose of each seems very similar. The tractor-trailer rig (top) is able to transport up to twelve vehicles, so it is more often utilized to haul vehicles from manufacturing plants and rail terminals to dealerships; while the conventional tractor pulling a car-hauling trailer is limited to eight, and is most often used to move used cars for dealers, auction houses, and salvage yards. With the current regulations not recognizing the conventional tractor as an auto transporter, there have been many cases of drivers hauling vehicles to be cited for exceeding the limit length of 53 feet allowed for traditional cargo hauling trailers. Auto transporters are also allowed a certain amount of overhang due to their purpose, which could be extended to the tractor-trailer combination units if the definition were to be expanded.
Although the verbiage in the current regulations has been scrutinized and pondered over for years now, it was the high demand for auto transporters because of the recent widespread hurricane damage in Texas and Florida that has brought the topic back up for debate. The Owner-Operator Independent Driver’s Association (OOIDA) is and always has been the chief proponent of instigating the change, claiming the FHWA’s current interpretation of the regulation is incorrect. The OOIDA believes that when Congress imposed the regulation, they gave permission for automobile transporters to carry vehicles on the power unit, but did not require it. At this point in time, in an effort to avoid current congressional involvement, the FHWA is accepting comments and input from the public regarding the proposed change in regulation. Anyone interested in weighing in on the topic has until October 16th to do so on the FHWA website here. After the deadline, the input received from the public, along with independent studies of safety and impact will be reviewed and the FHWA will come to a decision regarding changing the definition of auto transporter or keeping it the same.
If the decision is made to update the definition, the verbiage would include “noncargo-carrying tractor-high mount automobile semi-trailer combinations” as a viable option for a car hauler. This would mean that no one state would have the authority to subject auto transporters to standard length regulations applicable to non-car cargo. Instead of a 53 foot limit, the allowable length would be 65 feet, same as traditional and low boy configurations. There would also be an overhang allowance of 3 feet in the front and 4 feet in the back. It is speculated by the executive vice-president, Todd Spencer, of the OOIDA, that the misinterpretation of the regulation could be costing the industry between “25%-50% reduction in efficiency and revenue.” No time line has been set on the expected decision date of the proposed changes, but it is anticipated an informal ruling will be made by the end of the year.
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