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US Steps up Cabotage Enforcement


While none of the rules have changed, and no initiatives have been publicly announced, U.S. Border Patrol officers appear to be asking Canadian drives more questions than usual as they leave the U.S. This is observation anecdotal, based on calls OBAC has received and discussions that have taken place at recent conferences.

The issue is compliance with American cabotage rules. These rules govern the movement of goods, vehicles and people across borders while engaged in commerce in that country. While Canada has similar rules, in this case we are referring only to the U.S. rules.

There are certain activities Canadians can legally engage in while in the U.S., and some that are illegal. Some are obvious, like "interstating," as it is commonly known among drivers. This involves Canadian drivers hauling domestic loads in the U.S. For example, hauling a load from Atlanta to Buffalo. That's not allowed, and most driver probably realize that.

But there are other activities that are not so obvious, such as repositioning empty trailers. For example, a Canadian driver hauls a load from Toronto to Charlotte, drops the loaded trailer at a customer and picks up an empty trailer. The driver takes that empty trailer to a customer across town and drops it at another customer's door to be loaded. But rather than waiting to be loaded, the drivers grabs a pre-loaded trailer and takes it back to Canada. In this instance, the movement of the empty trailer was illegal. The rest of the move was okay.

Border Patrol officers have the authority to stop drivers as the prepare to exit the U.S. and ask what they have been doing while in that country, including demanding paperwork or electronic records of the trip. The officer would see the movement of the empty trailer and could take enforcement action against the driver. Penalties include being banned from entering the U.S. permanently or for some period of time.

This PDF document is a recap of some of the cabotage regulations related to truck drivers. It's not a recent document, and the links at the bottom of the document no longer work, but very little, if anything has changed since this was first released.

And to clarify, there are references in this document to "vehicles" and "drivers." Vehicle are allowed to make certain movements that drivers cannot. Customs regulations apply to the vehicles, while Immigration regulations apply to drivers. Be careful not to confuse the two.

This article appeared in TruckNews in 2002. It covers all the common mistakes drivers can be caught up in, even with approval or direction from the carrier. Just because your boss says it's okay, or that they have been doing it this way for years, it doesn't mean it's legal.