Seeking new standards for highway safety

11 September 2023

In late July, the U.S. Senate proposed a legislative measure geared towards advancing the safety of highways, with the aim of establishing federal standards that would determine a carrier’s level of competence. Republican Sens. Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Mike Crapo of Idaho, sponsors of the Motor Carrier Safety Selection Standard Act, said their effort would require the USDOT to establish a so-called safety fitness determination. The measure would seek to set new standards for ensuring trucking companies are licensed, registered and insured.

Fischer, a member of the Commerce Committee on freight policy, asserted that the enactment of the legislation would represent a prudent step towards enhancing highway safety and eliminating the perplexity that surrounds motor carrier selection standards. By introducing a solitary, uncomplicated federal rule, she noted, the measure would not only fortify America’s supply chain, but also confer much-needed clarity upon the transportation sector.

Crapo added, “The entire nation benefits when our interstates and highways are made safer. The Motor Carrier Safety Selection Standard Act directs the Department of Transportation to establish new safety standards for motor carriers, and sets interim requirements to help ensure shippers and manufacturers hire safe, reliable drivers.”

Currently, third-party logistics providers (3PLs) lack a reliable national standard to determine the safety of a truck carrier. The proposed law provides clarity to shippers and 3PLs by establishing a national motor carrier hiring standard. The standard requires motor carriers to be registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), meet at least the minimum insurance requirement and not have an unsatisfactory safety rating. If this standard is followed, a 3PL would be considered to have selected a carrier in “a reasonable and prudent manner.”

Data driven

The legislation has already been endorsed by various stakeholders. “When manufacturers select trucking companies to ship their products, they are left without any standard to ensure those trucks are safe or fit to be on the road,” said co-sponsor Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) in a statement. “The lack of a data-driven method to help manufacturers pick the best carriers has led to hundreds of thousands of accidents on roads and highways.”

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), also a co-sponsor, echoed Gallagher, “Our bill orders the government to set new safety standards and, until those exist, creates a three-check system for motor carriers so that everyone who hires them knows whether they’re choosing safe drivers or companies with a reputation for cutting corners and causing accidents.”

Similar legislation was introduced in February in the House of Representatives by Gallagher. The House version, H.R. 915, also called the Motor Carrier Safety Selection Standard Act, establishes a standard of care for the selection of brokers and other entities that contract with motor carriers. Like the Senate bill, the House bill would require brokers to verify that a motor carrier is properly registered with the FMCSA, has obtained the minimum required insurance coverage and is not determined unfit to safely operate commercial motor vehicles, or otherwise ordered to discontinue operations by the FMCSA or a state.

It also calls for the USDOT to prescribe a process for revoking the registration of an owner or operator determined unfit to safely operate a commercial motor vehicle.

Support notwithstanding, one potential complication exists where the FMCSA has been working on developing new safety fitness procedures of its own for some time that would be more data-driven.

The agency is currently in the “pre-rule” stage of the federal rulemaking process, seeking information on how it might use data and resources more effectively to identify unfit motor carriers and to remove them from the nation’s roadways.

Ben Campbell, chief legal officer at megabroker C.H. Robinson, said, “Without a clear federal standard, the result is a confusing patchwork of standards that threaten the nation’s economy and public safety.”


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