Although owner-operators who are leased must comply with certain company policies in order to remain with a motor carrier, they should remember they are still in charge of how they want to operate their businesses. Sometimes it boils down to whether the company’s policies best serve the needs of the owner-operator or whether it’s time to move on. The questions below serve to illustrate this point.
Question: As an owner-operator, I’m on the road, so I don’t get to spend much time with my kids. I’d like to be able to take them with me on certain trips, but so far, the company I’m leased to says kids under the age of 14 are not allowed. If I was a company driver, I might be able to see their point, but I own my truck. Can the company force me to comply with their rules?
Answer: The company can require you to comply with their policy regarding passengers while you are under contract with them. Remember, you are operating your truck under their authority and they are liable for accidents that injure passengers you transport.
The federal ruling is located in the FMCSRs, Subpart G - Prohibited Practices, Section 392.60 Unauthorized persons not to be transported. (a) Unless specifically authorized in writing to do so by the motor carrier under whose authority the commercial motor vehicle is being operated, no driver shall transport any person or permit any person to be transported on any commercial motor vehicle other than a bus. When such authorization is issued, it shall state the name of the person to be transported, the points where the transportation is to begin and end, and the date such authority expires.
The company’s age-restriction policy is probably based on requirements of their insurance provider. It might be possible to persuade the company to make an exception to this rule if you agree to maintain your own passenger accident insurance coverage. You should get information on this coverage from OOIDA’s truck insurance department and then use it to convince your company to waive their passenger restrictions.
While it is true your motor carrier can require you to comply with their rules, you are still ultimately the one who makes the decision. There are several companies who have more lenient passenger policies brought about because drivers have made it plain they want this option available to them. Since this is obviously important to you, it may be time to search for a company that is more in tune with your needs.
Question: I noticed back when fuel prices were higher, the company deducted a percentage of any fuel surcharges the load paid. I’ve been meaning to ask about this because I pay for my own fuel and I think they are out of line. Can they legally do that? I’m not happy with this company anymore. Can I break my lease because of this?
Answer: I agree that you, as the cost-bearer, should receive 100 percent of any fuel surcharges. While DOT regulations do not specifically address the issue of requiring a 100 percent pass-through of fuel surcharges, the fact is this carrier may very well be guilty of fraud in making a charge to the shipper that is not specifically used for the purpose stated in justification of the charge. Since you’re the one who’s paying for the fuel, you should insist 100 percent of any fuel surcharges be passed through to you.
Meanwhile, OOIDA is lobbying before Congress for legislation that would require carriers and brokers/freight forwarders to implement fuel surcharges whenever diesel fuel prices rise above a specified level. This legislation also would require the surcharge be passed through at 100 percent to the cost-bearer. Keep an eye on our web site at www.ooida.com and www.landlinemag.com for any developments on this legislation. Your help is needed to make it happen. Both of your senators should be asked to sponsor S1914, and your elected representative in the House should be asked to sponsor HR2161. Both bills are titled the “Motor Carrier Fuel Cost Equity Act.” For more information, see “Washington Insider” on page 14.
Your lease should specify terms for terminating your contract with your motor carrier. Normally, most companies provide that either party can break the lease within a specified number of days provided written notice is given. Some leases contain a non-binding arbitration clause to allow time for disputes to be resolved to avoid termination. You should be sure to adhere to the terms of the lease and give the required written notice in order to avoid any resulting problems. Many companies will not require you to remain for the entire specified time period after you’ve given notice, but at least you’ll have a written record to show you’ve acted in good faith by giving proper notice.