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The economics of independent owner operators in today’s trucking environment

The impact of economics on trucking safety is insidious.

One thing that turns up with truckers who are witnesses in our cases is the economic squeeze on independent owner operators who try to operate safely in compliance with the rules. Of immediate concern is the fact that shippers pay fuel surcharges to brokers, but the brokers don’t pass all that fuel surcharge along to owner operators who have to pay for the fuel. That cuts the operating margin for owner operator truckers to the bone.

Then their freight prices are undercut by marginal operators who disregard maintenance, use immigrant drivers who will work for peanuts, and cheat like crazy on their driver logs. And when judges who don’t understand trucking issues rule that companies will to ignore the rules can hire trucks and drivers without any semblance of compliance with the FMSCR lease requirements, the door is opened for companies to employ fly-by-night truckers in complete defiance of all safety and financial responsibility rules.

Bad drives out good, and those who are willing to undercut rates by ignoring safety rules can drive out truckers who try to follow the safety regulations.

I hope that the Obama Administration will protect the safety of the traveling public by implementing two measures:

– Require that fuel surcharges be passed on to the operators who actually pay for the fuel.

– Clarify the rules so that when a truck lease is required under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, it will be inferred by law even the parties ignored the law and had neither a written nor oral lease.

Ken Shigley is an Atlanta, Georgia, trial attorney. He has been designated a “Super Lawyer” (Atlanta Magazine), one of the “Legal Elite” (Georgia Trend), and rated “AV Preeminent” by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directory. He is author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation & Practice (West, 2010), a Certified Civil Trial Attorney of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, and currently president-elect of the 42,000 member State Bar of Georgia. He has extensive experience in litigation and trial of cases involving serious personal injury, wrongful death, trucking accidents, automobile accidents, products liability, premises liability, and insurance. Mr. Shigley is a graduate of Furman University and Emory University Law School. This blog post is subject to our ethical disclaimer.