April 8, 2013 8:00 AM, EDT

Editorial: Motor Carrier Challenges

This Editorial appears in the April 8 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

This week’s Transport Topics illustrates some non-freight challenges that the trucking industry currently faces: scammers and juries that want to send “messages” to truckers by whacking their wallets.

Fleets are the latest victims of a “phishing” scheme, whereby crooks have gotten their hands on expense checks carriers sent to drivers at truck stops to cover fuel purchases and on-the-road emergencies.

Federal officials in Ohio have charged 28 people with stealing some $1.7 million, getting drivers to inadvertently provide passwords that allowed the schemers to obtain the checks.

The crooks allegedly used the passwords to get truck stops to give them the checks that fleets have arranged for their drivers. They then, according to the indictment, transferred the funds to banks and individuals in Eastern Europe to hide the source of the money, before transferring it back to the suspects.

One person involved in the case told us the investigation began to bear fruit when officials caught two individuals cashing purloined checks.

An executive of a financial services company told us the suspects managed to get malware installed on drivers’ computers by including it in e-mails the drivers opened. This software allowed the suspects to record the keystrokes the drivers made when communicating with their fleets.

Surely, now there will be changes forthcoming to the processes fleets use to provide this assistance to their drivers.

Also this week, we report on $58.5 million in damages that a jury in New Mexico awarded to the family of a person killed in a crash with a trucker in 2010.

The victim’s pickup truck crashed into a tanker after the truck driver allegedly turned in front of him.

The jury foreman in the case, in announcing the verdict, said of the jurors: “Our hope is that our judgment will clearly communicate that we expect a much higher standard of safety from the trucking industry.”

The award: $11.5 million in compensatory damages and $47 million in punitive damages.

If the truck driver, and the trucking company, were the cause of the crash, there is no argument that some compensation was due. But the size of the award — which is apparently the largest award ever in a truck-crash case — seems out of all proportion to the incident.

This award dwarfs even the $23.2 million that was levied against C.H. Robinson Worldwide after a 2004 crash by a fleet that Robinson had brokered to a small carrier, and it raises additional concern that truckers are becoming inviting targets in civil cases resulting from crashes.