Tags: Transportation

Driver retention is an ongoing concern for trucking companies, but so is attracting qualified applicants when it is well-known that there is a driver shortage.  Drivers are alone during much of the job, they are gone for days at a time, and are away from their family and friends.  One way to make the occupation more appealing is to carefully put a policy in place that allows the driver to bring along a passenger, such as his or her spouse or older child.  However, immediately some red flags should go up: What about company liability?  Can a trucking company require passengers to sign waivers?

Allowing for a passenger to ride with a driver can set a trucking company apart from others.  Some companies refuse to face the possibility of liability that may occur due to a passenger being present in a commercial motor vehicle.  The reasoning behind this fear is well-placed as being a driver has been called one of the most dangerous occupations mostly due to vehicle-related crashes.  Beyond these crashes, what if the passenger simply falls out of the truck and hurts themselves? 

If a trucking company is thinking about developing a passenger policy, several important things should be kept in mind.  First of all, federal regulations require authorization from the motor carrier for a driver to have a passenger in a vehicle.  This authorization must include the name of the passenger, the beginning and end of the transportation, and the date that the authorization ends.  The passenger should also have the capability to wear a seat belt. 

Second, trucking companies can develop their policies for passengers around the qualifications of the driver.  For example, this privilege can only be available to drivers who have been employed for one year; have a minimum of two years driving experience; a driving record with no moving violations within the past five years and no accidents during that time; and have good standing with the company.  The idea here is to not allow an inexperienced driver or one that poses a liability to be able to carry a passenger. 

So, what about the passenger?  Many companies limit the age of the person who is allowed to be a passenger, stating the increase in danger and distractions when a child is present.  Some others may be concerned if a passenger is handicapped in one way or another, stating the risk is too high.  Companies should never ignore that there are discrimination statutes out there at the state and federal level.  Because of these statutes and other laws, rules or limitations to a benefit of employment should be applied consistently. 

Another concern brings one legal-based phrase to mind: respondeat superior.  In English, this literally means “let the master answer.”  This legal doctrine, in its most basic terms, means that if a driver causes an accident because he or she was negligent, then the trucking company could possibly be held liable for the damage or harm.  There may be other issues to consider here (e.g. whether the driver was an independent contractor), but it should be noted that even a waiver may not erase the “master from answering.”  Any waivers put into place should be reviewed by counsel, and any concerns on whether the drivers are independent contractors should also be addressed.  Not all things can be put aside with a piece of paper. 

These are only some concerns that a trucking company may have when considering how to stand out among a competitive hiring atmosphere as well as limit its liability.  If you have any concerns about a lawsuit, call an experienced attorney at Goosmann Law Firm in Sioux Falls, Sioux City, or Omaha today.


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