RERMAG

Federal Surge Brake Rules Finalized

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in Washington, D.C., last week announced the publication of its final regulations that will allow surge brakes on all small and medium-sized trailers, even those used in interstate commerce. The new rules are effective April 5.

FMCSA previously issued guidance and regulatory interpretations that made surge brakes illegal for use in interstate commerce. Many states, but not all, followed the lead of FMCSA and also outlawed the devices. The result was a patchwork of inconsistent regulations that allowed surge brake use by private individuals while banning the same devices in commercial applications. This created great confusion, problems and numerous fines for rental companies, as well as a difficult situation for trailer and boat manufacturers. All three groups came together to form the Surge Brake Coalition, an ad hoc group, to address and change the FMCSA rules — a process ongoing for more than 10 years.

“The publication of these final rules is a major victory for the American Rental Association, our members and the Surge Brake Coalition,” said John McClelland, ARA’s vice president for government affairs, who led the coalition’s activities for the past four years. “I really appreciate the outstanding work FMCSA staff did on these final rules, which vindicates the position ARA and the Surge Brake Coalition took in our original requests for regulatory changes.”

The new rules eliminate the guesswork in the selection of a braking system for rental trailers. An enforcement suspension was issued in September 2004, allowing surge brakes to be used and the enforcement suspension remains in effect until the new rules are effective on April 5.

The rules published in the Federal Register have the force of law. The new rules also contain sections that repeal previous FMCSA guidance and interpretations that were used to make surge brakes illegal in many situations.

ARA suggests that all rental companies that currently have trailers equipped with surge brakes in their inventory read the summary of the regulation and keep a copy of the final rule readily available at their business for use with enforcement officials who may not be aware of the new regulations. ARA anticipates the rules will apply to all uses of surge brakes and that FMCSA will ask states to conform to the new regulation.

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