An executive at the Alexandria, Va.-based Transportation Intermediaries Association (TIA) made his case for the passing of the “Motor Carrier Safety Selection Act,” which was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in early May.
As previously reported by LM, this legislation, which was introduced by Representatives Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Seth Moulton (D-MA) focuses on augmenting road safety through a requirement by the Department of Transportation (DOT) to enact a Safety Fitness Determination test for motor carriers, coupled with requiring manufacturers and shippers to make certain that trucking companies are licensed, registered, and insured.
This legislation stems from how each year more than 100,000 truck crashes end up resulting in injury and more than 4,000 end up resulting in fatalities, according to the offices of Gallagher and Moulton. And they added that there are now more than 3,000,000 shippers and 20,000 third-party logistics (3PL) that are using carriers lacking consistent safety requirements geared towards protecting drivers and preventing accidents.
Chris Burroughs, TIA vice president of government affairs, said at the SMC3 virtual Connections conference this week that passing the Motor Carrier Safety Selection Standard would clear up a lot of the confusion that exists out there in the motor carrier population, given that the FMCSA safety rating process is still done by a physical audit.
“Even before covid, with limited resources, they were not doing a lot of these in a given year,” said Burroughs. “It creates a situation where 90% of trucking companies out there are ‘unrated.’
That means it creates a lot of confusion and conflicting information at FMCSA and TIA’s 1600 member companies and the rest of the licensed property brokers and shippers out there.
When you select that carrier, you don’t have a lot of assurances as to if it is going to be a safe carrier and what the repercussions could be were something to go bad like a truck crash of whatever the case may be.”
And this is exactly where this legislation can make a difference, according to Burroughs, in that it puts some needed due diligence, or a federal standard, in place, saying that prior to giving a load to a carrier, it is ensured that it is properly registered, has the minimum insurance requirements, has not been placed out of service at the carrier level, is not tort-reformed, nor does it “get you out of jail free,” and also does not absolve any negligence selection liability or vicarious liability that may be out there, while also placing more clarity on the selection process, too.
“This is a bipartisan, commonsense, reasonable solution to a huge problem that exists out there,” said Burroughs. “Not only would it create this federal standard, it would actually be in place for an interim period but would also call on FMCSA to resurrect a new safety and fitness determination rulemaking, changing the current system of physical audits shifting to a more data related or virtual audits. It’s 2021, we need to get away from physical audits. FMCSA will never have enough resources to do this.”
Randy Mullet, principal of Mullett Strategies, said at the SMC3 event said that the Motor Carrier Safety Selection Act is an important bill for all shippers, carriers, and freight transport brokers.
“There is an awful lot of downside every time something bad happens when someone is hauling one of your loads,” he said. “We don’t have the ability as an industry to vet individuals to meet the standards that are being thrown out there in these wild court cases. While it is really important, it is really a small piece of the overall infrastructure package that is trying to be moved.”
Legislative update: Concurrent with the SMC conference, Burroughs said that the House of Representatives Committee on Rules was meeting to go through roughly 200 amendments filed by members of Congress, related to the INVEST in America Act (Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America), to be possibly considered on the House floor. And he added that this amendment has received strong opposition from the Trial Bar, which he said is a very powerful force in Washington.
A Tweet posted by Burroughs earlier today indicated that the legislation did not get to that point through the rules committee, this week, though, stating it is “disappointing that @HouseDemocrats continue to choose trial lawyers over safety [with] the Motor Carrier Safety Selection Standard. The status quo promotes unsafe highways by having not federal standard in place and 90% of carriers being unrated. Trial bar on wrong side of safety on this issue. The system is broken and the MCSSS is a bipartisan common-sense solution to improve safety and promote that only the safest motor carriers should be selected.”
Burroughs told LM that, as for next steps, TIA is contemplating its next moves in regards to this bill.
“For the House, this is obviously it,” he said. “There is a Senate bill, too, but realistically in a 50-50 Senate, probably not. It is a commonsense solution, but unfortunately there are other industry stakeholders out there on the wrong side of safety in this argument and have a lot of sway with the parties in power in Congress. We are not giving up. The fight continues, and we have a great coalition of Republicans and Democrats that support this. Freight brokerages and trucking companies have become targets for this, and truck accidents are certainly rising in popularity for trial attorneys.”