FMCSA declines to rule on chassis ownership issue

| 1/7/2004

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said it would not write regulations on who is responsible for inspecting, repairing and maintaining intermodal container chassis and trailers.

In a Dec. 31 Federal Register notice, the agency said, “FMCSA believes there is insufficient data concerning the relationship between the mechanical condition of intermodal container chassis and trailers, and commercial motor vehicle accidents to quantify the extent to which the condition of the (chassis or trailers) contributed, in whole or in part, to accidents.”

FMCSA also declined to take part in a negotiated settlement between motor carriers, terminal operators and equipment providers. The agency concluded that most information presented to it at public meetings on the possible dangers of the equipment “was anecdotal.”

However, the FMCSA noted comments from owner-operators that walk-around inspections don’t typically reveal all the defects that a federal or state inspection might find.

Nonetheless, FMCSA noted a lack of consensus on its legal authority relating to equipment providers such as terminal operators, rail carriers and ocean carriers – “many believe FMCSA lacks statutory authority to regulate non-motor carrier entities,” the agency said in its comments.

Bills on the Hill

Meanwhile, the issue isn’t dead -- bills introduced recently in the U.S. House and Senate place the responsibility of chassis inspection and repair on equipment owners and not truck drivers or carriers.

U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-CO, introduced S. 1776 Oct. 23. The bill would require owners of chassis interchanged with truckers at ports and rail terminals to be held responsible for maintaining them to federal safety requirements.

Campbell holds a commercial driver's license. He described his bill as the companion bill to HR 2863, introduced by Rep. Henry Brown, R-SC. Campbell’s bill was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

“Every day, literally hundreds of unsafe intermodal chassis carrying containers leave U.S. ports and travel on our public roads and highways, endangering not only the drivers of these vehicles but also the general public, which shares the road with them …

“This legislation places responsibility for equipment safety and compliance with federal and state regulations squarely where it belongs – with those who own or control the equipment,” Campbell said.

Under current law, the brunt of responsibility for equipment safety and compliance is placed on port drivers. The trucking companies and commercial drivers that service the ports do not own chassis, but are obligated by terminal operators to use the chassis provided to transport intermodal containers to and from the ports.

“This bill would require equipment controllers to inspect and repair intermodal equipment to meet all safety regulations prior to offering it for interchange, and to certify and document that such inspections have been performed,” Campbell said. “In addition, it gives the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration the authority to enter a port facility to review the inspection process and assure compliance.”

This bill also requires that citations issued for violations related to the defective condition of an intermodal chassis that is not owned by that motor carrier or driver will not affect the motor carrier's overall safety rating or the motor carrier's driving record.

Brown’s bill was referred to the House Subcommittee on Highways, Transit and Pipelines.

--by Dick Larsen, senior editor

Dick Larsen can be reached at