FMCSA shuts down Alabama towing company, driver operations for safety violations

An Alabama towing company has been ordered by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to immediately cease all interstate and intrastate operations.

Investigators found Woods Dependable Towing in Birmingham poses an imminent hazard to public safety, according to a March 8 federal order. 

A separate imminent hazard order was also served by FMCSA on March 3 to the company’s truck driver, Samuel Lee Wren, who holds an Alabama-issued commercial driver’s license (CDL). The federal order prohibits Wren from operating any commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in interstate commerce. 

FMCSA investigation

During a March 2021 compliance investigation conducted by FMCSA on Woods Dependable Towing, numerous serious violations of federal safety statutes and regulations were discovered, including:

  • Failing to have a systematic inspection, repair and maintenance program for its vehicles.
  • Failing to systematically monitor its drivers as required to ensure compliance with federal hours-of-service regulations to prevent fatigued driving.
  • Failing to ensure its CDL drivers are qualified. 

In the 24 months ending January 2021, Woods Dependable Towing’s vehicles were subject to 31 unannounced roadside inspections. On 16 occasions, or at a rate of greater than 50%, Woods Dependable Towing trucks were immediately ordered out-of-service for serious safety violations. (The average nationally for commercial vehicles ordered out-of-service following roadside inspections is 20.7%.)

The safety violations included: inoperable lights, deficient braking systems, and flat tires and/or tires dangerously worn with exposed fabric, ply or structural belt material. In reviewing the carrier’s maintenance records, FMCSA investigators found no evidence that vehicles were periodically inspected as required. In two instances, annual periodic inspection forms were found to be falsified.

Falsified records

Investigators found evidence that drivers had submitted falsified record-of-duty status and, in the instance of driver Samuel Lee Wren, evidence that he routinely disabled his mandatory electronic logging device (ELD). 

While driving for Woods Dependable Towing, within a span of about three weeks in fall 2020, Wren had two separate, single-vehicle crashes, one occurring in Tennessee, and the other in Ohio.

In both instances, Wren received driving citations from state law enforcement officers. FMCSA investigators found that prior to and on the day of the Tennessee crash, Wren had exceeded the allowable on-duty driving hours and that he had falsified his record-of-duty status.

During its compliance investigation of Woods Dependable Towing, FMCSA investigators found that even though driver Wren in May 2020 had been informed that he tested positive for a controlled substance — thus prohibiting him from operating a commercial motor vehicle for which a CDL was required — the carrier permitted him to continue to drive its trucks.

Facing civil penalties

FMCSA found the company’s complete and utter disregard for ensuring compliance with federal safety regulations substantially “increases the likelihood of serious injury or death for your drivers and the motoring public if your operations are not discontinued immediately.”

As a result of the violations, Woods Dependable Towing faces civil penalties of up to $27,813 for each violation of the out-of-service order. The carrier may also be assessed civil penalties of not less than $11,125 for providing transportation requiring federal operating authority registration and up to $15,691 for operating a commercial vehicle in interstate commerce without necessary USDOT registration.

If violations are determined to be willful, criminal penalties may be imposed, including a fine of up to $25,000 and imprisonment for a term not to exceed one year.

Separately, Wren may be assessed civil penalties of up to $1,895 for each violation of his federal imminent hazard order. Knowing and/or willful violation of the order may also result in criminal penalties.

Wren may not operate a commercial vehicle until such time as he successfully completes the statutorily required return-to-duty process overseen by a substance abuse professional.

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