Owner-operators: Who’s identified as the carrier during roadside inspections and crashes under CSA?
Posted December 31, 2010
Since every roadside inspection impacts a motor carrier’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) BASIC scores, it is important to define the relationship you have with owner-operators to know when their actions reflect negatively (or positively) on your motor carrier.
The question that determines who gets credit for a specific roadside inspection or crash is: “Who is the motor carrier?” The answer to this question also determines who is responsible for the owner-operator’s DOT safety compliance in general.
The answer, however, is not so simple. You will need to define your situation.
For-hire (independent) carrier
When an owner-operator is using his/her own USDOT number and MC number (authority), he/she is acting as a for-hire carrier (independent). A carrier that utilizes an owner-operator in this capacity is either the shipper or broker. All events on the road will be attributed to the owner-operator and his/her USDOT number.
The shipper or broker will have no recordkeeping responsibilities under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) in this kind of agreement. Responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the owner-operator, who is defined as the motor carrier.
The owner-operator would have to maintain his/her DQ file and retain hours-of-service records, driver daily vehicle inspection reports, vehicle maintenance records, and the annual inspection report while in your service.
If the owner-operator is operating a commercial motor vehicle as defined in §382.107, he/she is subject to the DOT drug and alcohol testing requirements. As a single driver, he/she would have to be placed in a consortium.
The advantage to having an arrangement like this with an owner-operator is that he/she is able to operate a vehicle sooner than other options — without the complications of qualifying a driver beforehand or the storage of records afterwards. On the other hand, such an agreement keeps safety compliance out of your hands. Will your goods make it safely to the destination? Even though it’s the carrier’s insurance claim, it could be your company’s reputation.
Owner-operator as lessor
Another option with owner-operators is to have an agreement to contract/lease them onto your motor carrier (e.g., works under your operating authority). They will provide transportation services using their own equipment, remaining independent contractors, meaning they are not considered employees of the company for benefit and pay purposes. However, they are included in the definition of “employee” when it comes to compliance with the FMCSRs. This definition of “employee” is located in §390.5.
Owner-operators who own their own equipment are leased onto a motor carrier through the use of a lease agreement, governed by the FMCSRs in Part 376. Owner-operators who are in the process of buying their equipment from the carrier enter into a contract called a “lease-purchase” agreement.
Essentially, owner-operators will be included in any regulations having to do with a driver of a commercial motor vehicle or as an employee as defined in §390.5 and §382.107. Based on this business relationship, motor carriers are ultimately responsible for the actions of the owner-operators that are leased onto the motor carrier. The motor carrier must ensure that all regulations are adhered to by all drivers, not just company drivers.
They are also responsible for the condition and maintenance of the truck while under their control based on the FMCSRs.
When an owner-operator is leased, roadside inspections and accidents will be linked to your USDOT number and included in Safety Measurement System (SMS) scores. This is why it is important once a contractual relationship has ended that you reclaim the temporary markings that display your USDOT number and your base plate. It also limits accessibility of the driver for security purposes if he or she would misrepresent him/herself as a part of your organization at a shipper or receiver.
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