Trucking groups and freight brokers are calling on Congress to correct legislation that precludes the vast majority of authorized carriers from consideration under hiring standard protections proposed in the highway bill that’s headed to the House floor.
At issue is a section of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 (STRRA) that would protect brokers, shippers, and receivers from liability claims if they use carriers that have a “Satisfactory” safety rating from the DOT.
Except, as industry advocates recognized after the language in Sec. 5224 was included in the massive bill, a comparatively very few of the active carriers in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s database actually have been issued any rating at all, “despite having an adequate safety record,” explains Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA).
Spencer and OOIDA have sent a letter that details the problem from the perspective of small-business truckers to Rep. John Duncan, who has proposed an amendment to correct the provision, and to the leadership of the House Transportation committee.
“Under the current system, as recognized time and again by FMCSA, it is extremely difficult for small businesses to obtain a satisfactory rating,” OOIDA says. “The language, as written, would create an incentive not to use small carriers—approximately 96% of the industry, putting hundreds of thousands of truck drivers out of business due to no fault of their own.”
Duncan’s correction would extend the protections to hiring safe but unrated carriers.
“If a carrier is found to be a hazard, or does not meet the safety fitness standard, then they should not be on those roads,” OOIDA writes. “While the initial intent of the language in STRRA may have been to promote safety, the impact of the current legislative language will be much broader and will not create a safer working environment for the nation's truck drivers. Your amendment will rightly change the legislation to reflect the reality of today’s trucking industry.”
Similarly, the Transportation Intermediaries Assn. (TIA), a trade group representing brokers, has called on its membership to contact their representatives in support of the correction.
“The Duncan amendment clarifies that motor carriers who have not been prioritized for a compliance review by FMCSA due to their safe operations are equal in safety status to satisfactory rated carriers,” TIA says. “This amendment is necessary to ensure that 447,665 unrated carriers, who are mostly small family-owned businesses, are not penalized by a flawed federal safety rating system.”
The American Trucking Assns. (ATA), likewise, supports the language based on the large number of unrated carriers, spokesman Sean McNally said.
The “Interim Hiring Standard” section includes a sunset clause that makes the protections effective only while FMCSA's carrier scoring and ratings are being reviewed and reformed, as called for in other sections of the authorization.
Duncan’s amendment was to be among hundreds in line to be included in the highway bill. Those attachments were to be reviewed by the House Rules committee before being brought to the floor for consideration this week with STTRA.