A recent commentary by the CEO of the nation's largest trucking broker, C.H. Robinson, gave a misleading view of trucking regulations in the United States ("Federal shirking endangers transportation," Sept. 30). The commentary warned that recent developments in the industry could lead to "chaos" in supply chains, higher costs for consumers and unsafe highways.

Unfortunately, we already have all those problems. Supply chains are disrupted, costs are rising and trucking safety has taken a back seat. The current system allows unsafe motor carriers and truck drivers to "legally" endanger the public. That's because the brokers that assign shipments to carriers typically do little to confirm that those carriers have safe track records, adequate insurance and competent drivers.

This "wild West" approach, where virtually anyone with a DOT registration and a commercial driver's license can be hired, has enormous social and financial costs. In 2020, crashes of large trucks killed 4,965 people. Given the size of the trucks, more than 70% of those killed were people just going about their daily business in their car, pickup, or SUV.

One tragic example occurred locally in 2019. Andrew Russ, a 33-year-old engineer, husband and father of two, was killed during his morning commute in Woodbury. Russ was merging onto I-694 when he was rear-ended by a loaded tractor-trailer. The truck driver later admitted he was running very late for a delivery and driving too fast.

It didn't have to be this way. The driver was late because the broker had advertised the load with an impossible delivery schedule, and the trucking company accepted it. The schedule could not be met because the pickup location was hundreds of miles from the point of delivery, and not enough hours were allowed to cover that distance. The driver either had to drive for more hours than allowed under federal regulations, or drive at speeds well over the speed limit in order to deliver the load on time.

According to the lawsuit brought by the deceased's wife and two surviving children, the driver was also under tremendous pressure because his employer could dock his pay or fire him for late delivery.

The broker and motor carrier involved in this death met the minimum federal requirements to operate, but the lawsuit contends they both put profits ahead of safety. The broker made only a minimal inquiry into the safety of the trucking company — an inquiry that cost the broker almost nothing.

Brokers make vast profits by providing services for interstate transportation. C.H. Robinson's profit last year alone was in excess of $3 billion. It is only fair that companies wielding such enormous power over the trucking industry, and profiting so handsomely from it, should help keep our roadways safe. They can do this by ensuring that the motor carriers they hire have good safety records, good driver hiring practices, and strong employment policies that encourage drivers to follow the safety rules, not break them.

Under current law, brokers can be held accountable if they hire unsafe motor carriers who injure other motorists. C.H. Robinson wants to end that, and is urging Congress to adopt HR 3042, the "Motor Carrier Safety Selection Standard Act." This bill would place the burden of evaluating motor carrier safety on the federal government, and free brokers from liability if they hire only carriers with the government's "seal of approval."

However, the trucking industry is in a much better position to determine motor carrier safety than the federal government. Also, by law, federal standards for motor carrier safety are only "minimum" standards — not the standards we need for the protection of the public.

Passing HR 3042 would certainly reduce C.H. Robinson's costs and increase its profits, but it would also make our roadways more dangerous, not less, and cause even more families to endure the agony of losing a loved one. The trucking industry can and should do better.

Michael K. Johnson and Jake R. Jagdfeld are partners with Johnson Becker, PLLC, a St. Paul law firm that represents plaintiffs with injury and death cases.