Intermodal Truck Equipment Safety: Legislation in the 108th Congress

Publication Date: May 2004

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: Transportation



As part of its proposed reauthorization of highway and transit programs, the House has passed H.R. 3550. This bill contains a provision that would require the Secretary of Transportation to establish a program intended to improve the safety of intermodal equipment (trailers and container chassis) used to haul intermodal cargo and reduce conflicts between trucking companies and companies that provide the intermodal equipment. The Senate-passed reauthorization bill (S. 1072) does not contain a similar provision.

Current arrangements for the exchange of intermodal equipment have raised three public policy issues. The first issue is the condition of intermodal equipment that travels public highways and the impact of equipment condition on safety. Data collected by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration suggests that trucking companies hauling intermodal equipment receive out-of-service notices at highway safety inspections more frequently than trucking companies in general. Responsibility for equipment maintenance is not clearly defined between the trucking company and the provider of the equipment. The second issue is the regulation of the interchange contract to specify an efficient and fair distribution of repair costs between equipment providers and trucking companies. The third issue is consistency between federal and state safety regulation of intermodal equipment.

If enacted, Sec. 4128 of H.R. 3550 would direct the Secretary of Transportation to establish rules to require that intermodal equipment have a unique identification number that links the intermodal chassis or trailer to its provider; that equipment providers maintain a system of maintenance and repair records for intermodal equipment that they control; and that equipment providers that are found to pose an imminent hazard would be prohibited from placing equipment on a public highway. H.R. 3550 also requires that the rules establish civil penalties for intermodal equipment providers that fail to attain satisfactory compliance with applicable Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.

The provisions in H.R. 3550 would provide DOT with a clear legal and congressionally-specified basis for issuing regulations regarding intermodal equipment, including penalties for equipment providers. Passage of this legislation could have four implications for intermodal transportation. First, implementing regulations could improve compliance with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations depending on the inspection effort and penalties imposed. Second, regulation could raise the focus of equipment providers on maintenance as inspections would occur while intermodal equipment was in the possession of an equipment provider, not just the possession of motor carriers. Third, regulations may shift maintenance costs to equipment providers as they improve their maintenance record keeping and make repairs in response to inspections of equipment in their possession. Finally, Federal regulations could reduce conflict between state regulations, if states are required to enforce the regulations as a condition for receiving funding under the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program. H.R. 3550 awaits a conference committee to reconcile differences with S. 1072. This report will be updated as warranted.