SEA score sinks drayman

Leave safety issues to FMCSA where they belong

Q   We are a small drayman that must depend upon the steamship lines to interchange containers and chassis for delivery of our customer’s freight as well as shipments they route. We have one SEA score above 75 and recently have been blackballed by two major steamship lines. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration states we are unrated and has not fined us or subjected us to a compliance review. What can be done?

A   This question shows the extent of paranoia that is rampant among the shipping and leasing community. Under federal regulation, FMCSA – and only FMCSA – is charged with determining what carriers are fit, willing and able to provide service. You are licensed, authorized and insured, and no shipper or equipment provider should have to second-guess the agency’s determination.

Unfortunately to date, FMCSA has been intransigent in publishing for all to see the SafeStat scores of motor carriers, which are not intended to be used to determine who is fit to operate. On the website, FMCSA warns viewers not to use the data for unintended purposes, but it posts the data anyway.

Because of some bad case law in which plaintiff’s bar argued the broker or equipment lessor somehow was negligent or assumed carrier duties by contract, many brokers and leasing companies believe they must second-guess FMCSA’s determination. Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 and the proposed “progressive intervention” that FMCSA plans only will exacerbate the problem as carrier status changes from month to month. Third parties already are republishing it widely.

SafeStat scores weren’t created to second-guess agency.

Maybe the steamship line’s action of which you complain will be the case that turns the tide. Both you and the steamship line are participants in the Uniform Intermodal Interchange Agreement that establishes nationwide standards pursuant to which every signatory steamship line or railroad and equipment service provider can interchange intermodal equipment with the thousands of properly licensed, authorized and insured motor carriers that serve them. It is inimical to the whole purposes of the UIIA and the goals of the National Transportation Policy – which include encouraging fair competition and promoting intermodal transportation – for participants in this agreement to suggest that other qualified parties who are UIIA members in good standing somehow are unfit to use because of safety concerns that have not led FMCSA to conduct a compliance review.

At least one-fourth of the more than 600,000 carriers that FMCSA permits to operate have at least one or more SEA score over 75, but there likely is no government official who would testify the agency is negligent in allowing those 150,000 carriers to operate. Hysteria over the plaintiff’s bar’s misuse of SafeStat should not masquerade as a “matter of due diligence” imposed on the shipping public.

— Henry Seaton is a transportation lawyer who represents carriers. n


* Goodwin’s Trucking Co. was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Winston Salem, N.C., for making false statements to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regarding drivers’ hours of service. While on probation and pursuant to a plea agreement, electronic onboard recording devices must be installed in all company trucks, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General.

* Four Mississippi state troopers were indicted in U.S. District Court in Jackson on multiple counts related to allegations they helped create false test scores for commercial driver’s licenses and operational enhancements such as hazardous materials and passenger endorsements, DOT-OIG said.

* The U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico granted Trailer Bridge’s motion to be dismissed with prejudice from a lawsuit seeking class-action status related to alleged anticompetitive activity in Puerto Rico marine trade.

* Gray Manufacturing says it resolved its patent infringement lawsuit against Maha KG and Maha USA after Maha admitted the validity and enforceability of three Gray patents related to wireless lifting devices and agreed not to infringe on the patents in the future.

* Clean Harbors Environmental Services – a Norwell, Mass.-based heavy-duty fleet that provides environmental and emergency response services – settled with the California Air Resources Board for $55,500 for failing to inspect its trucks in compliance with smoke emissions standards.