The case for a motor carrier safety plan

Jaclyne Reive

A trucking company is responsible for a number of things connected to operating commercial motor vehicles: driver conduct, vehicle mechanical safety condition, load security and the shipment of goods, and recordkeeping, among other things. One way to manage these obligations is by ensuring the company has a carrier safety plan. In some Canadian jurisdictions these written plans are mandatory, while in others they are strongly recommended.

warning sign
(Illustration: istock)

What a safety plan includes

A written safety program or plan outlines the safety practices and expectations for all employees within a motor carrier’s organization. The plan should be customized to meet operational needs and all the safety issues that the company has to address. Generally, the plan should at least address the following key points:

  • Speed limits, seatbelt use, drug and alcohol use, defensive driving, fatigue management, load security, and fueling
  • Proper records and recording of information, including bills of lading, manifests, dangerous-goods documents, time records, drivers’ daily logs, daily inspection reports, and weigh slips
  • Policies indicating that drivers are expected to comply with the law, as well as policy and procedures related to driver training, responsibilities, conduct and discipline
  • Instructions for using issued safety equipment, including flags and flares, fire extinguishers, goggles, and hard hats
  • Training for employees about safety laws and their application
  • An ongoing program for evaluating employees’ driving skills
  • Retention of complete records for each driver
  • Policies for ensuring that drivers are properly qualified for the type of vehicle that they operate

It is also important for the motor carrier to regularly monitor its safety fitness certificate (SFC) abstract/carrier profile on file with the applicable transportation regulatory authority. This review should involve and identify any new collisions or other violations so those issues can be addressed as set out in the safety plan and avoided in future. Ideally, a carrier should have a person dedicated to safety operations who would handle this. The reviews could be conducted on a quarterly basis, or more often for a motor carrier that has a safety rating at risk of being downgraded.

Why have a plan

Having a carrier safety plan could help avoid regulatory infractions and circumstances that would result in a downgraded safety rating over time. Customer contracts will also often allow a customer to suspend services or even terminate an agreement if a carrier’s safety rating is downgraded. It is also unlikely that a new customer would want to work with a motor carrier that has a safety rating which is less than “satisfactory”.

Not having a plan could also result in civil liability if it is argued in court that the company has failed to meet the standard of care.

Motor carriers should also be aware that carrier directors and officers will remain associated with a poor safety rating because they are connected to the carrier’s safety profile. Regulators may assume these people demonstrated in the past that they were unable to run a carrier’s operations in a safe manner. This could impact other motor carriers that these people are associated with in the future.

Carriers who do not have a plan in place or are not sure if their existing documents cover the scope these issues should consider revising or implementing a plan. This may help lower the number of regulatory infractions that occur — and maintain a satisfactory safety rating.

Jaclyne Reive

Jaclyne Reive is a lawyer in Miller Thomson’s Transportation & Logistics Group. She can be reached at jreive@millerthomson.com. This article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute a solicitor-client relationship or legal advice.

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