An already challenging economic environment for truckers may worsen with a proposal in Congress to increase minimum public liability insurance limits to $2 million. In mid-June, Representative Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL-04) introduced a proposal in Congress that require commercial motor vehicles to be insured against liability at a level of $2 million—266% higher than the current requirement of $750,000. This so-called Garcia Amendment was added to the pending highway reauthorization bill in the House of Representatives. That legislation is unlikely to become law this year, but the emergence of the issue means it is likely to be revisited when a new Congress reconvenes in 2021.
Unjustifiably assigning blame to truck drivers for the majority of injuries, although it is the focus of insurers (whose goal is to collect premiums) and personal injury lawyers (whose goal is to collect large percentages of fees from jury verdicts awarded to injured parties or bereaved families), is based on false assumptions. Despite the enormous number of large trucks and vehicle miles traveled, multiple studies examining fatal crashes involving passenger cars and heavy trucks—including the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, NHTSA, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration—have concluded that drivers of automobiles are fault in more than 80% of incidents. Statistically, there is no justification for increased minimum liability coverage on trucks.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Inc. (“OOIDA”), adamantly opposes this proposal. “We cannot support legislation that will cause many of our members to lose their businesses and livelihoods,” OOIDA said. “An overnight increase in minimum financial responsibility [to 266% of the former amount] will undoubtedly devastate many small trucking businesses. The 265,000 single-truck operators working in America today will be particularly at risk.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018, truckers earned a median annual income of less than $47,000. OOIDA has been joined by a coalition of trade associations in opposition to this proposal
The potential economic impact of higher premiums would come during a hard time on small-business truckers and owner-operators. As states, counties, and cities issued stay-at-home orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, trucking industry workers were classified as essential. Truckers continue to haul the freight that stocks grocery shelves and provide personal protective equipment to healthcare workers.
In continuing to haul freight over the nation’s highways, truckers have played a large part in keeping the country and the economy from collapse, and they risk their lives to do it.
If Congress were to require each of eleven and a half million commercial vehicles in the US to be insured for $2 million in liability (more than 2½ times the current requirement), many trucking businesses and owner-operators would be faced with insurance premiums hikes they cannot afford. By far, the largest beneficiary of such a change in the law will be insurance companies and plaintiffs’ lawyers.
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