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Understanding Federal Hazmat Transportation Laws

Hazardous materials, also known as hazmat materials, present real dangers to society when improperly handled and/or transported. According to the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (HMTA), the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is the federal agency with the duty to regulate the transportation of hazardous materials. Thus, the DOT can impose fines against those who do not follow hazardous material transportation laws when transporting and otherwise relocating hazardous materials. Relevant laws regarding the transportation of hazardous materials require professionals to register with the DOT and pay a registration fee before transporting hazardous materials.

The Office of Hazardous Materials Safety (OHMS) is the government agency that represents the DOT on the U.S. National Response Team. The OHMS operates as a liaison between an assortment of agencies that are responsible for setting and enforcing hazardous material standards, both in the U.S. and worldwide. The OHMS coordinates and participates in activities carried out by and in conjunction with local and state governments, federal agencies/departments and also with non-government environmental and trade organizations. The OHMS also has the duty of representing the U.S. abroad and in most international hazardous material issues, specifically hazardous material transportation. Typically, hazardous material transportation violations include the following:

  • Use of hazardous materials in foreign carriers, interstate and intrastate transportation/commerce;
  • Any representation that a hazardous material is being stored in a container, package, vessel, motor vehicle, rail car or aircraft; or
  • The creation, marking, fabrication, repairing, recondition and/or testing of a storage device that is certified, sold, marked or represented to be used in hazardous material transportation.

The Top Hazardous Material Violations

Recently, the DOT Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released data it had regarding the transportation of hazardous materials. The data released was based on over 154,000 roadside inspections that were performed in 2012 that specifically target transporter compliance with hazardous material transportation regulations. These inspections revealed almost 35,000 hazmat transportation violations. The number one violation was hazmat transporters not possessing a copy of their U.S. DOT hazardous material registration number in the vehicle in which hazardous materials were being transported. Such violations accounted for 2,823, or 8.14%, of the total violations. Other violations included hazmat materials not being properly secured in the vehicle during transportation, and shipping paper issues regarding the hazmat materials, including the way in which shipping papers were stored during transportation.

These violations may seem mundane, but can result in expensive fines and other sanctions against transporters. In fact, criminal and civil penalties can be imposed as a result of an inspection of a hazardous material operation when violations of hazardous material laws are discovered. The minimum civil penalty is a fine that can range between $250 and $55,000. Criminal penalties can range from $250,000 for individual violators, all the way to $500,000 for corporate hazardous material violations.

If you are facing criminal charges for hazardous material transportation, you should retain the services of an experienced attorney. Contact defense attorney Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A. in South Florida today to discover how we can help you.

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