I was at a bridal shower recently where we played a game called “How well does the bride know the groom”? It was a fun and entertaining game that required the bride to answer questions regarding her soon to-be husband –questions she should know. “What color eyes does he have?” “What was the name of his first dog?” “Where did he grow up?” These were just a few of the questions that were asked. As the game progressed the questions got harder and everyone got a good laugh when she didn’t know the answer. This simple question/answer game is one that should be played daily in the transportation industry.
Each day dispatchers receive loads from their customers and find carriers to pick up and deliver the precious cargo. If a dispatcher is lucky, they will have a relationship built with a carrier that will do the load. If that long-time carrier is unavailable, the dispatcher must dive head first into the world of unknown carriers. The game begins — how well does the dispatcher know the carrier?
Developing strict carrier qualification guidelines is imperative in today’s world. Dispatchers must know as much as possible about new carriers before putting them on a load. If this is not done, dispatchers open their door to cargo theft, identity theft, hostage load situations and several other less than ideal situations. How well does the dispatcher know the carrier?
The first step in qualifying any new carrier is to check with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) Licensing & Insurance site. On this site a carrier’s authority can be verified as active. This site will also allow you to look at the authority history. Has the authority been revoked? Has it been revoked and reinstated several months or years later? Is the authority revoked on a monthly basis? Answering these questions will give the dispatcher knowledge on how well this carrier handles their business. An authority that has been revoked several times and/or revoked and reinstated months or years later is a red flag that the carrier is not a well-run company.
The FMCSA’s Licensing & Insurance site will also provide insurance information and history. If a carrier has insurance, the insurance company’s information will be listed. The carrier’s insurance history is also provided. Does the carrier have insurance that has been cancelled multiple times? Is it cancelled and reinstated monthly? A stable company that pays their bills is a sign of a well-established company and the insurance won’t be cancelled monthly. With this stated, if a carrier is on a “30 Day Revocation Pending” status, this could be due to their insurance coverage nearing expiration or cancelation. Clarify with the carrier why they are pending.
Once a carrier’s authority and insurance have been verified, check the FMCSA Safety Measurement
System (“SMS”) for the current Safety Rating (Satisfactory, Conditional or Unsatisfactory), which is reflective of an in-house audit. We have all heard the horror stories of carriers with Unsatisfactory and Conditional Safety Ratings. Carriers with these ratings have been involved in numerous high profile lawsuits for accidents that involved severe injuries and death. Carriers with these ratings have them for a reason — an audit was done and it was determined they operated in an unsafe manner.
Although there is disagreement as to whether it is necessary, many also check the carrier’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (“CSA”) scores, which are reflective of roadside inspections. Even though a carrier may have a “Satisfactory” Safety Rating, both the Safety Rating and the CSA scores can be important and give information as to the type of carrier you will be dealing with.
Roadside inspections result in citations that fall into one of seven categories with a designated threshold: Unsafe Driving (65%), Hours of Service (65%), Driver Fitness (80%), Controlled Substance/Alcohol (80%), Vehicle Maintenance (80%) and Crash Indicator (65%). Carriers that have scores over the recommended threshold should be used with caution.
If you are considering using a carrier that is over, click on the category and see the dates that the citations were issued and the reason. This can be beneficial to the dispatcher when selecting a carrier. Does the carrier regularly get citied for hours of service (“HOS”) violations? Does the carrier regularly get citied for faulty equipment? Is the carrier using drivers without a commercial driver’s license (“CDL”)? How many times has the carrier been put out of service? The last thing any dispatcher wants is to have their carrier put out of service on an important load or to have a breakdown that could cause delay in delivery.
Research the carrier thoroughly through this website. A lot can be learned about a carrier by their roadside inspection records.
There are several websites available that provide assistance in the carrier selection process. Carrier 411 and Carrier Watch are both excellent pay-per-month websites that provide information in an easy to read and understandable format with links to the federal websites. Brokers can also go to the Transportation Intermediaries Association (“TIA”) website for additional research.
In addition to the basic information provided on the federal websites, Carrier 411/Carrier Watch also provide Freight Guard and Watch Dog reports. These reports are submitted by brokers who have used a carrier and had a negative experience. The carrier is given the opportunity to dispute the complaint and both the complaint and dispute are displayed for the public to see. This is a valuable service that could prevent another broker from also having a bad experience.
Do you want to risk your load being held hostage? Do you want to risk finding out at the last minute the carrier never picked up your load? History has a tendency to repeat itself if action is not taken to correct the behavior. Be aware of your carrier’s history.
A final important step in carrier qualification is references. Ask the carrier to give a minimum of three references. When checking references, ask questions that are important to you. Does the carrier pick up and deliver on time? Has the carrier ever had a conflict with you, the shipper, or dispatcher? How long have you used the carrier? Would you continue to use the carrier? Surprisingly, carriers have a different opinion of themselves than their references – if a carrier is bad, you will be told.
By following the above simple steps, researching a carrier, and using one that is well qualified, many problems during transport can be avoided (or at least minimized). Remember to ask: “How well does the dispatcher know the carrier?”
Nadia Martin, CCP
Claims/Carrier Compliance Manager
Blakeman Transportation, Inc.