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DOT to begin chassis inspections

Intermodal chassis owners — not truckers — will stand to incur fines if the chassis are unsafe under a new FMCSA program — in essence making the chassis owners responsible.

The announcement appears to reverse a policy released by the FMCSA just weeks before.

Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta said Jan. 26 that the U.S. Department of Transportation would launch a safety inspection program for intermodal container chassis.

The program will be modeled on the current compliance review system for trucks. Chassis providers will be required to obtain a U.S. DOT number and display it on their chassis so that data can be captured. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will apply the same penalty structure and enforcement actions for equipment, including issuing out-of-service orders and revoking U.S. DOT numbers when needed.

Cargo containers being hauled by rail and shipping companies are regularly transferred to trucks before final delivery. The program will provide added oversight to help ensure that the trailer beds used by truckers to haul cargo containers are safe, the agency said.

Currently, most chassis are not owned by trucking companies and are not included as part of the existing compliance review process for truck operators. Within the coming weeks, DOT said it would outline specific details and a timeline for a notice of proposed rulemaking on the issue.

Several weeks ago, FMCSA declined to issue a rule on intermodal chassis maintenance. In a Dec. 31 decision, the agency said that while the trucking industry thought the matter was a safety issue, there were “no data available to support this assertion.”

However, in a Jan. 26 statement, Secretary Mineta said, “Every day, millions of dollars worth of cargo are transferred from ships and rail to trailer beds and hauled away by trucks. It is essential that we have a full and complete safety program focused on the trailer beds used to haul cargo containers.”

OOIDA, Teamsters react
“This is one of those decisions that I would characterize as ‘better late than never,’” Jim Johnston, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said. “DOT’s previous position that there was no evidence of a correlation between equipment condition and highway safety was ridiculous. If true, it would certainly call into question their entire program of conducting truck inspections and the huge amount of funding that they have allocated to this effort over the years.

“While I’m not certain what caused this reversal of position, I am very pleased that it occurred,” he said. “This is a program we at OOIDA have been pushing to accomplish for over a decade.

“It is a gross injustice that truckers have been penalized for the inadequate or totally absent maintenance practices of the owners of container chassis. Hopefully, this initiative will lead to an end to that injustice and place the cost and liability where it belongs.”

Meanwhile, International Brotherhood of Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa hailed the announcement Jan. 26, saying, “A rigorous DOT inspection program is a giant step toward safer highways. Finally, the steamship lines and railroads who own the chassis will be held responsible for poorly maintained equipment.”

The Teamsters said the program should include:

  • Regular inspection of internal brake and wheel components, which is not the current practice at any maritime port in America;
  • Putting unsafe chassis out of service and having them quarantined so they are not mistakenly dispatched to truck drivers;
  • Having the DOT remain involved and to periodically enter the ports and rail terminals to monitor the inspection process;
  • On-site inspection of maintenance facilities, and
  • A method for motor carriers and truck drivers to appeal citations that threaten their livelihood when they are cited due to lax maintenance by chassis owners and providers.

—by Dick Larsen, senior editor

Dick Larsen can be reached at dick_larsen@landlinemag.com.

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