All Together Now

| August 01, 2005

“My company orders trucks without passenger seats and installs a metal bracket with a fax machine where the seat should go,” says Joshua Sheehy of Loudon, N.H. He drives locally for R+L Carriers, a national less-than-truckload carrier. “When they need to do a new-hire road test, they take a driver’s seat out of another tractor and bolt it to the floor in place of the fax machine.”

The reason companies enforce no-rider policies is liability, says Connie Alexander, who owns Alexander Insurance Services, Ltd., an independent agency that represents several trucking industry insurance companies.

“While many trucking companies offer a rider policy as a means of being good to their drivers, they take on a big responsibility,” Alexander says. “I believe that there is no way to eliminate passengers entirely. Someone is going to take a spouse, child, etc. It cannot be absolutely enforced. But we must be aware of the potential risks, which could be catastrophic.”

Trucks are typically covered with $1 million of liability insurance, she says, but if you had an accident with passengers on board, your liability could easily exceed that.

“Passengers can increase your exposure double, triple or more. It all depends,” Alexander says. “I would think your family members and friends have an incalculable value to you personally.”

Alexander had a client in Milwaukee who took his sons, ages 6 and 10, on the road with him. He crested a hill and crashed into a farmer’s tractor that was moving slowly on the road in front of him. His 10-year-old son was killed in the collision, and both the farmer and the trucker’s ex-wife sued him.

Even company drivers can be held liable in civil court if the court and the circumstances are right. “Juries are very sympathetic to injured parties,” Alexander says. “It’s the only way we know how to make them whole. We try to ease the pain by giving them money.”

Even if the passengers sign a permission form waiving their rights to sue, it can be thrown out in court, she says.

“When you bring your spouse with you, if she has minor children and has signed a waiver, you can’t sign away her rights,” Alexander says. “The waiver does you absolutely no good. Those children still have to be provided for. Our courts are so liberal and so lenient and so anti-trucking that these things happen. There are a lot of drivers out there who think, ‘This can’t happen to me.’ You can’t guarantee someone else won’t do something stupid. You can’t factor in for the other guy.”

But companies that allow passengers to ride along say the risks are balanced by the rewards. Being able to bring their families or friends along for the trip can make drivers more satisfied in their jobs and might even help them be more alert behind the wheel, says CFI’s Schmidt.

“It helps if you’re driving in the middle of the night, and you have someone else to visit with,” Schmidt says. “From my perspective, yes, there’s a little bit of additional exposure any time you have an additional person in the truck, but there’s also additional benefit. As long as we don’t think there’s an increased hazard, we do our best to accommodate our drivers.”

Alexander recommends truckers really think before bringing along passengers, even if the company allows it.

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