OOIDA continues fight on automobile transporters definition

January 22, 2020

Mark Schremmer


The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has not given up in its efforts to get the Federal Highway Administration to fix what it calls a mistake regarding the definition of automobile transporters.

On Tuesday, Jan. 21, OOIDA sent a letter to FHWA Administrator Nicole Nason asking for some formal clarification. Since 2015, OOIDA has been asking FHWA to fix regulatory guidance that has cost some auto transporters hundreds of dollars in fines. OOIDA contends the regulatory guidance is not backed up by federal law.

“Certain employees of the FHWA continue to assert that the agency has ‘always’ required a power unit to be capable of carrying cargo to be considered a conventional automobile transporter,” wrote Mike Matousek, OOIDA’s manager of government affairs. “This is demonstrably false. We respectfully request FHWA to formally clarify when the agency believes this requirement was established and what regulatory process was utilized to do it.”


OOIDA’s recent letter serves as a supplement to comments the Association filed in 2017 regarding the FHWA’s request for comments “on including noncargo-carrying tractor-high mount automobile semi-trailer combination in the definition of automobile transporter in the FHWA’s guidance.”

As part of those comments, OOIDA said the FHWA’s interpretation that the tractor has to be capable of carrying cargo to be classified as an automobile transporter and thus be able to use the overhang allowance is wrong.

“To the best of our knowledge, automobile transporters were first addressed in the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982,” OOIDA wrote. “(The Act) authorized the secretary to establish rules to accommodate specialized equipment, including automobile transporters. (The Act) also defined ‘truck tractor’ was a noncargo-carrying power unit that operates in combination with a semitrailer or trailer, except that a truck tractor and semitrailer engaged in the transportation of automobiles may transport motor vehicles on part of the power unit.

“In our opinion, Congress authorized automobile transporters to carry automobiles on the power unit but did not require it.” 

‘It’s time to fix it’

OOIDA said that view did not change until FHWA added regulatory guidance in 2004 that said “to qualify as automobile and boat transporters … both conventional and stinger-steered vehicles must be capable of carrying cargo on the power unit.” OOIDA contends that this phrase is the basis for FHWA’s current interpretation of what is defined as an automobile transporter but is not supported by federal law.

“We firmly believe FHWA made a mistake in 2004,” Matousek wrote in OOIDA’s letter to Nason. “It’s time to fix it. “To be clear, this can be accomplished by deleting the relevant sentence in the 2004 guidance as we outlined in earlier comments to the docket.

“Again, we implore FHWA to do the right thing. We are happy to assist in any way possible.”

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