Duncan champions fix in highway bill for small-business truckers

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | 10/30/2015

One word can make all of the difference in a law. And, that’s exactly why Rep. John J. Duncan, R-Tenn., is seeking to fix a provision in the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Reform Act that is expected to go to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday for debate.

In the proposed highway bill, Section 5224 seeks to protect shippers, receivers and brokers from using motor carriers that do not have a poor safety rating. The language prevents litigation against entities hiring motor carriers with “satisfactory” safety fitness determinations if that motor carrier happens to be involved in a crash while hauling the client’s freight.

The problem with the language written as-is, the vast majority of trucking companies, upward of 96 percent remain “unrated” by the FMCSA.

Government affairs staff at the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association spotted the problem with the well-intended language straight away after the bill was released last week and went to work finding lawmakers willing to propose amendments making the change.

Under the current system, the only way to receive a safety fitness determination is to undergo a compliance review by the agency. Given limited agency resources to go on site and conduct those reviews, small-business truckers remain unrated.

Duncan will submit an amendment that would change the language and protect safely operating small-business truckers from getting shut out of the business.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer sent a letter to Duncan, along with the leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, supporting Duncan’s efforts.

“Unfortunately, nearly half a million carriers operating on the road today do not meet that qualification as they are ‘unrated’ by the agency, despite having an adequate safety record. Under the current system, as recognized time and again by FMCSA, it is extremely difficult for small businesses to obtain a satisfactory rating,” Spencer wrote. “The language, as written, would create an incentive not to use small carriers – approximately 96 percent of the industry, putting hundreds of thousands of truck drivers out of business due to no fault of their own.”

OOIDA supports Duncan’s effort to make a change to Section 5224 and add the word “unrated” to the language. That would allow the hiring of motor carriers that have “satisfactory” ratings or are “unrated.” Effectively, that would shut out “unsatisfactory” rated motor carriers from hauling freight.

“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,” Spencer wrote.
“Your amendment will rightly change the legislation to reflect the reality of today’s trucking industry. On behalf of OOIDA and our nearly 150,000 members, I want to say thank you for attempting to make this change.”

The clause is to only be effective during a related mandatory top-to-bottom review and possible reform of the Compliance, Safety, Accountability safety measurement system. Once that review is done and either CSA or whatever fix determined by the review is in place, the litigation prohibition would be lifted.

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