Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Does Alabama DOT really make you sign oversized load permits only in red ink?

We hear a lot of stories about “red tape” when it comes to trucking. But OOIDA member Mickey Harris brought us a new one about “red ink” when he paid a visit to our HQ in Grain Valley earlier this summer.

Harris, an owner-operator out of Poplarville, Miss., was hauling an oversized load in the northbound lanes of Interstate 65 on May 20, when he was stopped by an Alabama DOT officer. The DOT officer issued Mickey a warning for having a violation on his oversized load permit, all because the permit wasn’t signed by the driver in red ink.

You read that right – oversized load permits in Alabama must be signed in red ink. Not black, not blue, but red.

“I told the (DOT) officer it was legal madness,” Harris said.

Why red? Was the ink pigment choice meant to be a tribute to the Crimson Tide? What gives?

We started making some phone calls to see if we could get to the bottom of this.

Our first phone call was to the Alabama Trucking Association in Montgomery. We figured maybe the folks there would have some insight into what the deal was. When we got ahold of Ford Boswell, director of communications for the state association, his initially reaction sounded pretty familiar... He’d never heard of it, but he promised to do some digging.

Ford said he contacted the state DOT’s Permits and Licensing Office, who confirmed that, yes, permits are supposed to be signed in red ink. But even he wasn’t able to ascertain the why.

“I can only guess that it’s something to do with being able to prevent unauthorized duplicates,” he said.

We put our own call into the Permits and Licensing Office, to see if we could suss out the origins of the policy. We went looking for the proverbial “horse’s mouth,”who turned out to be Randy Braden, vehicle enforcement administrator for Alabama DOT.

Braden said the red ink was his idea, and that it came about “in the early days of faxes and scanning permits” as a means to prevent what he dubbed “bootlegging” of permits.

“Before the big crash of 2006-2007, we had nearly half of our oversize permits were mobile homes,” he said. “We were having a lot of duplication issues, you might call it bootlegging issues, with people getting a permit and changing it.”

Braden said using a unique ink color was a method of trying to combat the forging of permits, and that the choice of red was arbitrary.

“I tried to get (the permits department) to use it as an ad campaign,” he said. “Give truckers red pens with the phone number of the department on it. I told them they missed an advertising opportunity right there.”

While the red ink provision is not specified in any formal state code, Braden said the instructions are clearly written on the permit, and “whatever’s written on that permit, (drivers) are supposed to go by.” He said he was unaware of truckers getting anything more severe than a warning for not having the permit signed in red.

“I’ve never heard of them doing anything other than making them stop and sign that permit in red ink before they leave,” he said.

According to Braden, the state is currently working on policy revisions for electronic permits, many of which are now emailed to the recipient and downloaded to a mobile device such as a tablet.

To combat fraud or duplication, other states embed codes or unique identification markers into each permit, rather than putting the onus on drivers to carry a type of pen most people (other than editors and English teachers) don’t typically carry. Here’s hoping the state’s policy revisions come up with something a little less “colorful” solution to combating unauthorized permit use.