A few weeks ago, RFX joined other members of the Transportation Intermediaries Association in Washington DC as we lobbied for two bills: HR 1120 in the House of Representatives and S 1454 in the Senate. The two bills are similar but not completely identical. The main goal of each bill is to create a national hiring standard for motor carriers. Under the proposed rule, any entity that hires a motor carrier (shipper, receiver, freight forwarder or broker) must first ensure that:
Why does this matter?
1. Currently, industry stakeholders (shippers, receivers, freight forwarders and brokers) are forced to create their own standards for what constitutes a “safe” carrier and what constitutes an “unsafe” carrier, and are forced to self-police a database of tens of thousands of motor carriers on a daily basis. At RFX, we had to write our own computer algorithm to monitor our carrier database every day. We believe that these responsibilities take away from our core business of arranging transportation for shippers and motor carriers.
2. As an entity hiring motor carriers, RFX and other companies like ours are often asked to second-guess our own hiring standards by our customers as well as our independent sales and operations staff. RFX never waivers from the safety standards we set. However, the biggest argument against our standards is that we are too strict on motor carriers and “who are we to enforce such a standard? We aren’t FMCSA.” This is often a point of contention and our independent sales offices have other options for brokerage firms who have lower safety standards and can take their business elsewhere. We do our best to educate these offices by explaining that we have to be able to defend every single carrier selection in a court of law, and our carrier selection process reflects that. We also ask our sales offices to consider the weight of the risks – Is a particular questionable carrier worth the risk? Once they understand the weight of that decision, they tend to agree with our standards, but it is certainly a difficult decision, and it is a decision that we must make several times each week.
3. The federal government currently has the capacity to maintain a safety standard right now, yet they choose not to. The FMCSA is the government agency tasked by Congress to ensure that motor carriers are operating safely on our highways. They do this by maintaining a public database and a scoring system called CSA BASICs. Data is collected through DOT roadside inspections, moving violations, crash history data and in-house audits conducted by the Agency. This data is packaged neatly on the FMCSA website for all to see, yet no standards are enforced by the Agency. The data is simply made public and private companies are asked to use this data to come up with their own determination for what constitutes a safe carrier. Under HR 1120 and S 1454, FMCSA would be forced to use their own data to create the national hiring standard that all companies would follow.
4. One of the biggest challenges our industry faces is a driver shortage. Truck drivers are retiring from the industry and there aren’t many new, young drivers entering the job market to replace them. This is due to many factors, but one of biggest deterrents for being a truck driver is overregulation. CSA data follows a driver from company-to-company, and affects the scores of the company looking to hire that driver, which leads to a hesitancy by motor carriers to recruit new drivers and expand fleets. To put this into some perspective, a driver can get a violation for forgetting to sign his logbook. A driver can get a violation if they are parked at a truck stop and someone crashes their car into the back of their truck. It is this data that makes up the CSA program and is used in hiring practices.
5. Much like industry stakeholders are asked to use the CSA data to enforce their own safety standards, trial attorneys love to use this data against industry stakeholders in the courts. The vast majority of motor carriers have fewer than 20 trucks. Most are small businesses with limited capital and depend on transportation intermediaries to find them loads. Freight brokers exist to not only serve shippers, but to also serve these small trucking companies and free up capacity in the marketplace. But because these motor carriers have limited capital, a trial attorney’s strategy is often to trace the supply chain up to brokers and shippers who have deeper pockets simply by using the public CSA data and independent carrier hiring practices in their law suits.
Despite the challenges faced by brokers, shippers and freight forwarders in the courts, this issue is not about tort reform. This is a problem that affects small family businesses. A hesitancy to hire motor carriers out of fear of a negligent hiring or vicarious liability suit keeps truck drivers out of work. It also affects interstate commerce when product is left sitting in a warehouse unable to go to market because of a national truck capacity crunch. Most importantly it is a safety issue. Currently there is no standard in place that follows this three prong system for qualifying safe carriers.
The Airline Analogy – When someone books a flight, it is not their responsibility to make sure that the pilot of the plane met a minimum rest period requirement the night before. It is not their responsibility to check the maintenance records of the plane before flying. These are not the responsibilities of the traveling public because it is generally accepted that the FAA maintains and enforces these safety standards. FAA is a government agency tasked with the responsibility of making sure that airlines are safe to operate. With these two bills, HR 1120 & S 1454, we are asking for the same standard of care from FMCSA, the government agency that oversees our industry.
What can be done? Visit the TIA Advocacy website. Write your congressman. Explain to them the impact of your business on their district and their state. Explain how this bill affects you and others in this industry. Ask for their support for HR 1120 or S 1454.