Three hours into my first ride-along with an owner-operator and already he had a crisis. Dennis Averett, leased to Intermodal Cartage, had picked up a chassis and container at the Port of Savannah, Ga. We’d moved just 150 miles to near Jeffersonville, Ga., when Averett noticed in his mirror a smoking chassis wheel. Many hours and phone calls later, the chassis’ broken wheel seal was fixed and we resumed the haul to Nashville, Tenn.
I soon learned this incident wasn’t just an inconvenience – it was the story, in a nutshell. Truckers serving the ports have had to gamble on getting a road-worthy chassis from a pool owned by intermodal equipment providers, most of them ocean carriers. The IEPs provide a repair operation to fix obvious problems as the chassis leaves the yard, but that’s hardly done the trick. In our case, Averett had a bad light and a missing lens taken care of at the port, but no one detected the bigger problem.
Back then, in 1999, the American Trucking Associations was pushing to require that IEPs verify the chassis and container meet safety standards. Comment on a rule had been extended to Aug. 30, 1999. Quite a few more delays have happened since, with the proposal developing into a “roadability” rule that took effect in December 2008, though two key deadlines are still due this year.
One takes effect June 30. It requires a driver to file an equipment condition report upon turning in a chassis, says Curtis Whalen, executive director of ATA’s Intermodal Motor Carriers Conference. A bad chassis must be removed from the pool and get fixed before it becomes some trucker’s miserable blind date. Under the new system, “the first time you see it, that stuff should be in pretty good shape,” Whalen says.
The other big date is Dec. 17, when all IEPs must have an ID on each chassis and box. “Every piece has to have an easily discernible number so you can look it up and see who’s responsible,” Whalen says. So until year-end, when those numbers and the accompanying database are in place, the system won’t be functioning at 100 percent, given an estimated 800,000 chassis are in the pool.
A third major part of the rule took effect in June 2009. That’s when IEPs had to begin filing an MCS-150C form to register with the U.S. Department of Transportation. This makes them subject for the first time to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, including audits and the like. As FMCSA’s Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 launches its intensive data-gathering and compliance efforts late this year, it will have a strong bearing on chassis condition reporting for IEPs, Whalen says.
The bottom line, he says: The new law is “good for the carrier, the driver and everybody else.” It’s certainly good for owner-operators who painstakingly keep their equipment in good condition, yet too often have been handicapped by someone else’s neglect.
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