Several House Republicans are proposing a national standard to protect buyers of trucking services from claims that they were negligent when selecting the carrier.

The bill by Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., says that shippers and brokers would not be liable for negligence claims at the state level if they made sure that the carrier is registered at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, has the required insurance and does not have an unsatisfactory safety rating.

Duncan is the vice chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and actively engaged in drafting that committee’s highway bill. He is joined on this bill, H.R. 4727, by Reps. Rodney Davis of Illinois and Erik Paulsen of Minnesota.

Robert Voltmann, president and CEO of the Transportation Intermediaries Association, said TIA helped draft the language and hopes to see it become part of the next highway bill.

He said the problem is that states are setting their own standards for liability when there should be a national interstate standard.

“Let’s say you are a shipper or broker in California,” he said. “You hire a motor carrier based in Ohio to move a load from Texas to New Jersey. What liability criteria should you use in selecting that carrier?”

“Tell me where the accident’s going to occur and then I’ll tell you what you should have done. There is no federal standard. It’s up to each state and state judge making those decisions. That’s not interstate commerce.”

Voltmann said it is FMCSA’s job to say whether or not a carrier is fit, in terms of safety, to do business.

The agency does make safety fitness determinations based on a compliance review, but it does not have the resources to perform compliance reviews on all carriers so many are not rated.

The CSA enforcement system, which measures carrier safety with data from roadside inspections and other sources besides compliance reviews, is intended to broaden the agency’s ability to rate carrier fitness. But FMCSA has not yet completed the rule that will link CSA data with safety fitness determinations. The initial proposal for that rule is scheduled to be published in December.

Voltmann is optimistic that this proposal will clarify the issue.

He said Rep. Duncan recognizes that transportation purchasers are at a disadvantage.

“Without a national standard, you don’t know until an accident has occurred and a lawsuit has been settled what the standard of care is in that district,” he said.

“We want the agency to tell us who is unsafe and we’ll stop using them,” he said. “And we want a national standard of care in selecting motor carriers.”

T&I Committee is supposed to report out a bill by this summer, before the current highway program expires at the end of September. But Capitol Hill insiders believe passage is not likely before the November mid-term elections, due to conflicts over how to pay for the measure.

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