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Campaigns Target Unsafe Container Chassis

WINDSOR, Ont. - While Teamsters union officials in the United States have raised alarms over the safety of truck chassis that haul seagoing containers, trucking officials in Canada say the issue has not really posed threats here and that regulator...


WINDSOR, Ont. – While Teamsters union officials in the United States have raised alarms over the safety of truck chassis that haul seagoing containers, trucking officials in Canada say the issue has not really posed threats here and that regulators can easily handle any problems that arise.

“It just hasn’t become an issue” in Canada, Wayne Gibson, freight director for Teamsters Canada in London said, adding the chassis are no more hazardous “than any other” trailers.

“Nobody I know of has ever come out and made an issue of it at least from the Teamsters’ perspective” and government regulators give them the same level of attention as any other trailers. He added any “concern” would obviously be if defective U.S. chassis cross into this country.

The U.S.-based union held a news conference recently in Detroit to draw attention to safety issues peculiar to container chassis, hauled on roadways in-between ports after they are taken off or loaded on to seagoing ships. The union wants Washington to pass legislation that would require chassis to have a record of inspections and repair history and make it unlawful to assign unsafe chassis to drivers.

“The current practice at container yards is to forgo preventative maintenance and wait until the brakes or wheel bearings fail,” the union said in a press release, pointing to “a rash of deadly but preventable accidents” in which motorists have died.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-based Intermodal Association of North America, which represents owners of overseas and domestic containers – including Canadian companies like Canadian Pacific Railroad – has also launched a campaign calling for more preventive maintenance of container chassis.

Tom Malloy, vice-president of member services, said his association’s goal is to develop standard policies for owners about preventive maintenance and to have “more eyes and ears” inspecting equipment “every time it is out on the street or interchanged back to a terminal or port facility.”

The union campaign comes after major accidents in the U.S. involving chassis, such as a death of a New Jersey man – and subsequent $23.5 million award to his family – killed because of brake failure.

And more than a dozen people have been killed in accidents in Texas, California and Illinois because of chassis equipment failures.

Steamship companies own the bulk of containers and chassis, followed by leasing pools and railroads.

Ontario Trucking Association vice-president Barry Montague said any problem is really one of absentee ownership. He said the chassis are parked at railheads – hundreds or even thousands of kilometres from where the companies that own them are located – yet responsibility for upkeep falls on the drivers.

He said “commercial pressure” can be brought on drivers to take out chassis even if in questionable condition.

Emna Dhahak, spokesperson for Ontario’s transportation ministry, said there were “no indications” such chassis are less safe than other trailers, and are subject to annual safety inspections, daily vehicle inspections and impoundment for critical defects “just like any other” trailer.

Meanwhile the U.S. Department of Transportation has announced upcoming legislation regarding container chassis safety inspections, but how or whether carriers or chassis owners will be held responsible for safety violations remains in question.

“There is no rule yet, only a general DOT policy. The devils and angels will be in the details and ATA will follow them very closely,” said Bill Wanamaker, director of Intermodal and Government Traffic Operations for the ATA.


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