Legislation introduced in the Senate yesterday would establish a national hiring standard for motor carriers, a move supporters said would clarify industry practices for hiring trucking companies and would no longer force shippers, freight brokers, and third-party logistics providers to make hiring decisions based on faulty and imprecise data.
The bill, the "Transportation and Logistics Hiring Reform Act" (S.1454), was introduced by Sens. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). A similar version in the House was introduced in February by Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.).
The legislation would deem a motor carrier to be safe to operate if it is properly licensed, has adequate insurance, and has a better than "unsatisfactory" rating from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the subagency of the Department of Transportation that oversees truck safety. Supporters say the language sets clear guidelines for shippers and intermediaries to follow when selecting a motor carrier. Those guidelines don't exist today, they maintain. Instead, users said they are often asked to determine on their own which carriers are safe and which are not, even though it is the FMCSA's role to make that assessment.
In a statement issued by the Transportation Intermediaries Association (TIA), a trade group representing freight brokers that strongly supports the initiative, Ben Campbell, chief legal officer at C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc., the giant broker and 3PL based in Eden Prairie, Minn., said the bill's provisions "can be relied upon by anyone hiring a motor carrier."
The agency said it is crafting rules to establish a "Safety Fitness Determination" criteria that assesses a carrier's fitness to operate. The rules will be designed using data from the agency's highly controversial carrier-grading system known as "Compliance, Safety, Accountability," or "CSA." The industry faults CSA's methodology as impractical and inaccurate, adding that the data from the program is used by plaintiffs' lawyers to successfully sue carriers in the event of an accident on grounds of faulty carrier selection or negligent hiring. The Fischer-Blunt bill would prohibit any data other than from the national hiring-standard methodology from being used as evidence in a legal case involving damages resulting from a claim of faulty carrier selection and negligent hiring.
FMCSA officials defend CSA as the most cost-effective way to monitor the nation's hundreds of thousands of truck drivers, and remove the unsafe fleets and drivers, with its scarce resources. FMCSA oversees about 530,000 registered truck drivers with only 330 inspectors, Jack Van Steenburg, the agency's chief safety officer and assistant administrator, told the TIA's annual meeting in Orlando last month. CSA and other tools have enabled FMCSA to concentrate its enforcement efforts on about 8,000 high-risk carriers responsible for about 90 percent of all reportable accidents involving a truck, Van Steenburg said.