Battle over attempts to increase trucking insurance heats u

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor

In the days leading up to the what hopes to be the final stages of hammering out a highway bill, the battle is intensifying with a group of senators pressing to greenlight an increase.

Trial attorneys have been pushing hard to increase the insurance requirement on motor carriers from the current $750,000 per truck to upward of $4 plus million per truck. The standalone legislation has not gone anywhere, thanks to truckers explaining that any increase is unnecessary.

That hasn’t stopped proponents of trying to find a way to get an increase mandated.

Currently, both the House of Representatives and the Senate have passed respective versions of a long-term highway bill. The House version has mandates included that would require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration from increasing the insurance requirement until a comprehensive study is conducted and it’s concluded that an increase is really needed. The Senate version is absent any sort of protection against an increase.

In order to get to a final version of a highway bill a conference committee made up of representatives – or conferees as they are called – from both the House and Senate will meet in the upcoming days to hammer out the differences in the bill. 

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has been a vocal opponent to any such increase and leads a coalition of more than 37 federal, state and regional organizations against proposed increases.

The coalition continues to support Sections 5501 and 5503 in the House version of the highway bill.

“Sections 5501 and 5503 of the House bill establish criteria FMCSA must meet before raising minimum insurance requirements for truck, motorcoach and school bus operators. These sections require FMCSA to conduct comprehensive and prescriptive analyses concerning the adequacy of current minimum insurance limits before proceeding to increase those limits via rulemaking. These mandates compel FMCSA to review the ramifications of raising minimum financial responsibility limits on highway safety, industry, and consumers,” a coalition letter to conferees stated. 

However, proponents aren’t backing down. A group of Democratic senators sent their own letter to congressional leaders wanting the language from the House version stripped – a move that essentially paves the way for FMCSA to increase insurance requirements without proper justification.

Laura O’Neill-Kaumo, OOIDA director of government affairs, said the letter from the senators is concerning.

“I don’t believe the letter presents the insurance situation in the full light that it deserves,” O’Neill-Kaumo said. “It’s not just an increase on trucking companies, it’s on motorcoaches and school buses as well. But that aside, the mere fact that less than 1 percent of truck-involved crashes exceed the current insurance requirements and that the average claim is $16,000, any increase simply is not warranted.”

O’Neill-Kaumo said it’s important for all truck drivers to contact the conferees (listed below) and let them know their support for keeping insurance requirements at their current levels.

“Lawmakers need to hear first-hand that small-business truckers are not only the safest on the road, rarely with any claims, and that substantial increases to the insurance requirement will critically harm their business.”

The date for the conference committee to meet has not been set. However, the current highway funding law is currently extended to Nov. 20. That leaves time very short for Congress to either pass a highway bill out of conference committee or extend the current funding law again.

Members of the conference committee are listed below. Visit the lawmaker’s website or call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

House of Representatives Conferees
Republican Conferees
Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa.
Rep. John J. Duncan, Jr., R-Tenn.
Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo.
Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich.
Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark.
Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa.
Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas
Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif.
Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis.
Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa.
Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga.
Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y.
Rep. Bruce Babin, R-Texas
Rep. Cresent Hardy, R-Nev.
Rep. Garret Graves, R-La.

Democrat (Minority) Conferees
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. 
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. 
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. 
Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas,
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.
Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash.
Rep. Michael E. Capuano, D-Mass. 
Rep. Grace F. Napolitano, D-Calif. 
Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill. 
Rep. Steve Cohen, D- Tenn.
Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J.

Senate Conferees
Republican Conferees
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska
Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas

Democrat Conferees
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

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Rule prohibiting coercion of drivers clears White House

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor

A congressionally mandated regulation to prevent coercing drivers from violating the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations is close to becoming reality.

The final rule was cleared by the White House Office of Management and Budget on Thursday, Nov. 12.

The regulation has been much anticipated by truckers, who often find themselves forced with violating regulations because of pressure from shippers, receivers, brokers, etc. 

The final rule is a possible game-changer, in that it will broaden the authority of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to be able to enforce on those who put drivers in the situation where they are forced to violate the regulations.

“When a shipper, receiver, or transportation intermediary directs a driver to complete a run within a certain time, it has assumed the role normally reserved to the driver’s employer. As such, it may commit coercion if it fails to heed a driver’s objection that the request would require him/her to break the rules,” the FMCSA stated in its proposed rulemaking in early 2014. 

“By forcing drivers to operate mechanically unsafe CMVs or drive beyond their allowed hours, coercion increases the risk of crashes,” the FMCSA stated. “Reduction of these behaviors because of this rule would generate a safety benefit. Additionally, the operation of CMVs beyond HOS limits has been shown to have negative consequences for driver health. A reduction of this practice would create an improvement in driver health.”

To date, the FMCSA’s jurisdiction is over motor carriers. The agency has never had jurisdiction over shippers, receivers, brokers and freight forwarders.

So in order for FMCSA to enforce prohibition of coercion, the agency needs jurisdiction over shippers, receivers, and transportation intermediaries. 

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has long supported protection from coercion for drivers. 

“It’s a good start to addressing the indifference of the rest of the supply chain to their role in safety,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said.

“They have benefited for too long from their practices of making drivers wait with no regard for the effect it has on drivers’ schedules, the need for rest, or compliance with safety regulations. We would, however, like to know more about how the agency plans on enforcing the regulation as we continue to review the details of the proposal.” 

FMCSA plans to publish the prohibition on coercion final rule in the upcoming days. Until then, the final details on who the regulation applies to and how it will be enforced is purely speculation.

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