Brokers Press for Bill to Set Fleet Standard

By Rip Watson, Senior Reporter

This story appears in the April 21 print edition of Transport Topics.

TUCSON, Ariz. — Legislation aimed at creating a national standard for determining how carriers are qualified and addressing inconsistent handling of liability cases is expected to be introduced in Congress later this month, Transportation Intermediaries Association President Robert Voltmann said.

Speaking at the TIA meeting here, Voltmann said the bill is designed to simplify brokers’ procedures for qualifying carriers they use by stating that a carrier is qualified if it’s licensed, insured and does not have an unsatisfactory safety rating.

“There is no predictability and no national standard for motor carrier hiring,” Voltmann said in an interview with Transport Topics. “We are trying to create a national standard that would lead to a federal precedent.”

He declined to identify the bipartisan bill’s sponsors prior to its introduction in Congress.

Carrier-qualification issues have surfaced since the federal Compliance, Safety, Accountability program launched. That program created a safety scoring system based on crashes, logbook infractions and other criteria. However, the agency also has a carrier rating system of “satisfactory,” “conditional” and “unsatisfactory.” In addition, some carriers aren’t rated.

“We want CSA to work, so that the agency can tell us who the unsafe carriers are,” he said. “Our legislation takes the uncertainty out of the equation. It is not a ‘get out of jail free card.’ ”

Voltmann also said the legislation would not block suits from being filed when drivers are negligent, and that liability in such cases would not be capped.

Carrier selection also exposes brokers, as well as shippers and carriers, to what Voltmann termed “liability roulette.” That happens, he said, as a result of uncertainty over carrier selection.

As an example, he said a broker could book a load in one state and use a carrier in another one to move freight through two or more other states. That opens the door for attorneys to seek out a friendly court in any one of those places to plead their case, he said.

Darin Day, general manager of, which advises clients on carrier selection, told TT the legislation would create “a level playing field” so brokers and shippers can focus on business.

“CSA doesn’t do a good job helping a [broker or carrier] to decide whether or not to use a carrier,” Day said.

He added that the legislation will put the onus on drivers, as it eliminates confusion over criteria used to determine safety.

“This legislation puts CSA where it should be,” Day said, helping law enforcement to effectively use resources to target suspect fleets and drivers.

The federal legislation is being floated at a time when brokers and carriers are facing suits arising from questions about their carrier-selection process.

One estimate is that $60 million worth of judgments have been entered in such cases. A single case involving a broker and carrier involved in a fatal accident recently generated a $23.7 million jury verdict.

“If the agency says this carrier is qualified to use, what state judge has the right to say they are not safe?” Voltmann asked.

CSA has created another liability complication, speakers said.

One of those who noted that situation was Indianapolis-based attorney Nathaniel Saylor, who spoke about negligent selection issues in which brokers are sued because of carrier choice.

Saylor explained that CSA data, even though flawed, can expose brokers to lawsuits if they use the information to pick carriers. On the other hand, he said, brokers who don’t consult CSA sources can be sued by attorneys who contend the broker should have consulted the data.

Voltmann also said he expected to receive support for the legislation from other trucking groups.

“Currently, ATA has no position on this legislation,” American Trucking Associations spokesman Sean McNally said. “ATA plans to engage its members on this proposal during its upcoming Leadership meeting” next month.

ATA has urged the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to remove all CSA scores from public view until they are demonstrated to show a strong correlation with crash risk.

Among the backers are the National Association of Manufacturers and United Fresh, a food shippers group.

Steve Bryan, CEO of Vigillo, which offers CSA compliance services, illustrated the concerns about the program.

He noted during the conference that a majority of violations entered into the scoring system come from a handful of states. He also said there are inconsistencies in data entry among states.

Another flaw he cited was limited participant awareness, noting that just 42% of drivers and 67% of enforcement personnel showed adequate knowledge of the program when tested.