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Produce trucking: finding solutions

Here’s some of the questions that OOIDA members sent me this past month. I hope the answers are useful to everyone.

QuestionI recently got insurance quotes for bobtail liability, unladen liability and non-trucking liability, but now I’m confused. When I asked my dispatcher which one of the three that I should get, he said they were all the same so it wouldn’t matter. If this is true, how come the names and rates are all different? –R.C.

Answer: It sounds like your dispatcher is the one who is confused, R.C. The fact is these are all different liability coverages with varying amounts of protection. You should take a look at the wording of your lease agreement to see which coverage you are required to maintain; otherwise you could end up in a jam if you’re involved in an accident.

Since non-trucking liability offers the least amount of protection, we’ll define it first. This coverage is designed to protect leased owner-operators against liability claims that occur when you’re operating the truck for your own personal use and convenience and where such operation is of no economic benefit to anyone. An example of this would be taking the kids for a ride in the big truck on a Sunday afternoon. 

This coverage is not applicable in instances where you are operating under the direction of your motor carrier. In addition, coverage is excluded until you have first returned to your principal garage location. Remember also, that having maintenance or repair work performed on the truck or traveling to or from locations for such work is considered a business use, and therefore not covered under non-trucking liability.

Bobtail liability costs a little more than non-trucking liability, but offers broader coverage. Bobtail insurance provides liability protection while you are operating your truck without a trailer attached, and whether you are under dispatch or not. A good example of instances where this coverage would be applicable is when you are bobtailing to and from the terminal or between loads. Remember, coverage is excluded if you are pulling a trailer, hence the term “bobtail.”

Unladen liability is a relatively new type of coverage that has gained in popularity because of the additional flexibility in protection that it provides. Unladen protection covers the truck while it is being operated with an attached trailer that does not contain cargo, or without any trailer at all, whether under dispatch or not. In other words, you are covered under this policy while bobtailing or deadheading to or from the terminal or between loads. It’s a little more expensive than the other two liability coverages because it is broader protection.

It is important to note that it is legally the responsibility of the authorized motor carrier to provide liability protection for the public pursuant to FHWA regulations, so the owner-operator should not have to maintain his own liability insurance. However, because, typically, motor carriers like to reduce their degree of liability burden by requiring their leased owner-operators to hold them harmless in certain situations, they include these clauses within their lease agreements.

The wording within the lease agreements vary. Some motor carriers require their owner-operators to hold them harmless in all non-trucking situations, while others specify only while bobtailing, and still others say while bobtailing and/or deadheading. You can see that the specific wording within the lease agreement requires varying degrees of protection, therefore, an owner-operator should not assume more of the motor carrier’s liability burden than the contract obligates him to assume.

Question: I spend a lot of time waiting for my company to call with a dispatch. In a sense, I am really “on-call” in case I am needed at work for a load delivery. How am I supposed to record this time in my logbook? –Gene D.

Answer: After you have complied with the regulatory requirement of a mandatory rest period, you may spend time on stand-by and log it as off-duty time. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) does not believe that waiting for a work-related phone call impairs your ability to use this time for rest, even if your employer requires you to be available to receive a call.

Question: I’m looking to lease on with a new motor carrier and I want to find out about their safety record before I sign on. I’d also like to know how this company has treated its leased owner-operators in the past. Where do I find this information? –Ricky P.

Answer: If you have Internet access, you can check out this location on the web for information on a carrier’s safety record: http://ai.volpe.dot.gov/SafeStat/SafeStatMain.asp?PageN=results. However, not all carriers have been assigned a rating yet, so you shouldn’t look at the lack of one as either a positive or negative sign. If you don’t have access to the Internet, you can write to FMCSA Data Dissemination Program, PO Box 3248, Merrifield, VA 22116-3248 to order a motor carrier safety profile.

OOIDA’s Business Services department maintains a motor carrier rating system that may be useful to you as you gather information about a particular lease company. This is a report on motor carrier behavior, policy and procedures with information provided through surveys completed by owner-operators who relate their experiences with a particular company. The rating system also includes a self-rating from the motor carrier so OOIDA members can compare it to the requested report.

If you have questions that you’d like answered, please e-mail them to dryun@ooida.com. Although we won’t be able to publish all questions in Land Line, you will receive a response.

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