Congress Stands Up for Victims of Truck Crashes

Written by Atlee Hall

On June 18, 2020, Congress passed an Amendment to the INVEST Act by a vote of 37-27 that will help families devastated in truck crashes and help make America’s roadways and the trucking industry safer.

The full bill (The INVEST Act – otherwise being referred to as the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act) will be brought up for a floor vote as early as July 1. The Senate has a different version of a Surface Transportation Reauthorization that has already passed committee. It has not yet been scheduled for a full Senate vote.

When a person suffers life threatening injuries due to the negligence of motor carriers, families struggle with the costs of long-term care and the loss of income when a person can no longer work, threatening the families with lifelong economic instability. For families that undergo tragedy, it often comes as a surprise that despite a Congressional mandate in the 1980s, minimum insurance requirements for interstate truckers have remained unchanged. This amendment approved by Congress remedies this wrong by increasing commercial motor carrier insurance minimums to reflect current increases in inflation.

Background: The Motor Carrier Act of 1980

Congress has long recognized the connection between the issue of financial responsibility and the fitness of carriers operating in interstate commerce. The Motor Carrier Act of 1980 specifically set out to ensure public safety by requiring insurance minimums to be updated regularly. While the minimum insurance level in 1980 for general freight carriers was $750,000 per accident, the intent of Congress was to increase the minimums regularly[1], on pace with inflation. This increase has never occurred.

In 2014, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released a report to Congress that examined the adequacy of the current financial responsibility requirements for motor carriers. The conclusion was clear: today, the costs of injuries and fatalities arising from crashes far exceed the minimum insurance levels interstate operators are required to carry. Moreover, the report found that in real terms, insurance premiums have actually decreased for the same level of coverage since the 1980s. As a result, injured Americans are often not appropriately compensated for life-altering injuries.

The Amendment helps provide the following protections to victims of heavy truck crashes:

  • Increase the statutory insurance minimum for general commercial motor carriers. The amendment would increase the insurance minimum required for general commercial motor carriers from the current limit of $750,000 per accident to $2,000,000 per accident, to reflect increases in inflation.[2]
  • Require adjustments for inflation every five years. In the amendment, the Department of Transportation is required, in consultation with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to adjust the minimum insurance limit for inflation every five years so that it will not take over 40 years to update the limit in the future.
  • Ensure that insurance levels adequately cover crashes. The amendment is a start, but, there is  a long way to go in making sure that crash victims are no longer left without the financial resources to pay medical bills or restore the quality of life enjoyed before the trucking crash. It would also help alleviate the burden of health care costs on taxpayers as it would ensure that Medicare and Medicaid are not shouldering millions of dollars of medical care each year due to inadequate insurance.
  • Create a real financial incentive to enforce safety. The amendment establishes an increased minimum level of insurance so that free market forces would appropriately incentivize insurance companies and motor carriers to enforce safety.

Our roadways, communities and families deserve this safety protection and security. Its time for the full Congress and Senate to do the right thing, make up for 40 years of lost time, account for inflation and increase the minimum insurance for commercial motor carriers from $750,000.00 to $2,000,000.00 to help protect American citizens and tax payers from footing the bill when trucking companies violate safety rules that cause devastating consequences. It is time for accountability and responsibility.

[1] H.R. Rep. No. 96-1069 at 43.

[2] The value of $750,000 was adjusted for changes in prices based upon the Consumer Price Index as provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS),