Debating the Duncan Amendment: Good, Bad, or Irrelevant?

LDL Voice

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

The Duncan Amendment, which seeks to establish a uniform hiring standard for truckers, is up for debate in the Senate in the coming weeks and interested parties on both sides of the issue are voicing concerns. Advocates say the amendment passed by congress last month will increase safety on U.S. roads while opponents say that the carrier safety standard is far too lax. And some believe the Duncan Amendment may not make real impacts on road transportation safety, no matter which way the Senate votes.

What is the Duncan Amendment?

Part of the re-authorization of the Federal Aviation Administration Act of 1994, the Duncan Amendment attempts to set a “reasonable and prudent” safety standard for shippers and brokers to observe when hiring U.S. carriers and truckers. Passed by the House earlier this year, the amendment is waiting for Senate approval. Key debates will focus on the amendment’s hotly contested, proposed requirements (JOC.com):

  1. The trucker must be authorized the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)
  2. The carrier must maintain the legally required minimum of $750,000 in insurance coverage
  3. The carrier must not have an unsatisfactory safety rating with the FMCSA

Arguing FOR the Duncan Amendment

The loudest voices supporting the amendment include the Transportation Intermediary Association (TIA) and many Republicans. Hailing it as the first national safety standard for hiring truck drivers and carriers, they claim the amendment would improve safety in transportation without reducing available shipping capacity because only .03 percent of carriers (or 59 total) have an unsatisfactory rating. More significantly, the amendment would prevent unrated carriers – an estimated 447,000 who are mostly small businesses and owner-operators – from being unfairly disqualified from participating in load opportunities (Trucking Info).  

Arguing AGAINST the Duncan Amendment

Opponents include the Trucker Safety Coalition and many Democrats who say the Duncan Amendment doesn’t go far enough to hold shippers and brokers accountable. They find the requirements deceptive and superficial, arguing that brokers and shippers have a greater responsibility for public safety on U.S. roads. The insurance coverage minimum of $750,000 established 35 years ago is too low to protect the public today (The Hill). Many carrier FMCSA safety ratings are also outdated, often more than ten years old, which effectively ignores key safety issues that have emerged over the most recent two years. The requirements themselves also draw criticism for overlooking data that could have a direct impact on safety, such as driver crash rates, out-of-service rates, and other driver violations. The result, opponents say, could lead to brokers and shippers hiring carriers based on cost alone without knowledge of hidden, unsafe driving practices (Knox News).

Questioning the Duncan Amendment

Transportation industry pros have mixed feelings about the amendment, particularly its effects on safety. Because no safety standard exists currently, the Duncan Amendment would establish minimum parameters, offering shippers and brokers at least some form of guidance when selecting truckers. But a predictive scoring system based on detailed driver histories and other relevant data is needed to truly understand and regulate transportation and carrier safety. Until then, uncertainty will continue to rule the roads.

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