Raising insurance rates a lousy way to say thank you

August-September 2020

Mark Schremmer

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As the COVID-19 pandemic marched through the spring and into the summer, you almost couldn’t go a day without hearing lawmakers urge the general public to thank a truck driver for all of the sacrifices they make.

During this stretch, truckers were often referred to as first responders and heroes.

Oh, how quickly some people forget.

In June, many of those lawmakers who spent months singing the praises of truck drivers voted for an amendment that could force many of those same truckers out of business.

An amendment to the highway bill proposed by Rep. Chuy Garcia, D-Ill., calls for the mandatory minimum insurance requirement on motor carriers to be increased from $750,000 to $2 million. As truckers risk their health to deliver essential goods across the country and struggle to stay in business amid historically low freight rates, some lawmakers apparently think the best way to show their appreciation for truckers is to increase their minimum insurance requirement by 167%.

Talk about poor timing. But to make matters worse, there appears to be no justification for this legislation even when the trucking economy is booming.

You see, there is absolutely no evidence that increasing the minimum insurance requirement would do anything to boost safety.

There also hasn’t been an abundance of crashes requiring that kind of payout. According to a report from the John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, the current $750,000 minimum covers damage in all but 0.06% of crashes. Additionally, many motor carriers exceed the minimum, carrying $1 million or more in insurance coverage.

So why now? Even better, why at all?

The optimist would say that the intentions are good and that it’s all about helping the family members of a person who was killed in a truck crash. Of course, who doesn’t want to make sure that a crash victim’s spouse and children are justly compensated?

However, the scarcity of cases of this magnitude questions the need for an increase, especially one that more than doubles the minimum requirement. And if this really is about safety and taking care of a crash victim’s family, then why would you push for legislation so costly to owner-operators that it’s likely to drive many of the industry’s safest truckers out of business?

Seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it?

And this is where the skeptic starts to wonder if the intentions of this legislation aren’t exactly altruistic.

It turns out the push for an increase to the minimum insurance requirement isn’t new. Garcia and Rep. Matthew Cartwright, D-Pa., introduced a bill last year to hike the minimum all the way up to $4.92 million. In 2013, Cartwright introduced a similar bill to raise the minimum to $4.2 million.

Back in 2013, Land Line Managing Editor Jami Jones wrote how the legislation could benefit Cartwright directly. The article cited Cartwright’s bio on Justice.org at the time.

“Matthew A. Cartwright concentrates his practice in interstate trucking, professional negligence, and business litigation … As a lawyer representing plaintiffs, Mr. Cartwright has more reported cases than any other practicing lawyer in northeastern Pennsylvania. Mr. Cartwright is a partner at Munley, Munley & Cartwright P.C., in Plains, Pa., and is married to and practices with Marion Munley.”

OOIDA and dozens of other organizations, including the American Dairy Coalition and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, contend that trial lawyers are the ones pushing for the measure.

“(The proposal) is nothing more than an opportunity for its most ardent supporters – trial lawyers – to receive higher payouts from settlements at the expense of American businesses,” the coalition wrote to lawmakers on June 29.

Despite the opposition, the insurance hike remained in the $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill as of press time.

The good news is that the partisan legislation appears to have no chance of gaining any traction in the Republican-led Senate.

However, that doesn’t mean truckers should put their guard down. A bill to increase the minimum insurance has been proposed before, and it will be proposed again.

Let your lawmakers know that this isn’t much of a way to say thank you. LL

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.