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Uber for commercial trucks?

Written by Steve Gursten Posted August 27th, 2015

Uber for trucks

I’ve written about the complicated legal and liability issues surrounding the Uber Smartphone app, that connects passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire.

But what about Uber or similar technology for the trucking industry? And would the unique federal regulations that apply to commercial motor carriers change the legal issues and liability exposure for the companies that would use this type of technology for freight brokering and shipping of merchandise?

The issue is fascinating, and it will keep lawyers busy over the next few years as the legal issues resolve themselves.

With Uber, and similar apps like Lyft, cars are reserved by sending a text message or by using the mobile app. Using the apps, customers can track their reserved car’s location.

And if it works for people, why not freight? The technology may be coming to the commercial trucking industry. Today, I wanted to share this interesting article from Forbes on the development of app-based freight brokering: “The Disruption Uber Has Brought To The Taxi Business Is Coming To Trucking”:

“We are now at the cusp of a similar revolutionary transition in the trucking industry with Uber for truck-type apps entering the market, but this time the competition will be high and the solutions a lot more fragmented.”

Picture this: A bearings maker in San Francisco needs to urgently ship 20 boxes of bearings to an elevator manufacturer in Seattle. An “Uber”-type app for freight transportation can now connect the shipper to a truck that is scheduled to leave the shipper’s area for Seattle.

The benefits of such a shift in the industry are listed by Forbes:

  • The driver “can now get more payload to carry, gain revenues, and reduce empty miles. The shipper is happy because he/she can ship freight on an ad-hoc, on-demand basis.”
  • The app provider has created a new, revenue-producing business to “efficiently connect demand to supply,”
  • Motorists and the environment are happy due to the “reduced empty miles (hence congestion) and also emissions.”
  • Shippers are billed immediately and carriers are paid immediately with a seamless transaction from the app provider.

A recent study by Frost & Sullivan even forecasts that by 2025, $26.4 billion of all truck freight movement revenues will be enabled by mobile freight brokering, according to Forbes.

Experts are also forecasting that app-based freight brokering could also help remedy the truck driver shortage, and the lack of younger truck drivers entering the industry, both issues that we at the Roundtable have written about extensively.

In future blogs, I will review the liability issues involved for truck accident attorneys if one of these app-based freight brokering technologies is being used when a terrible wreck occurs.

Many of the troubling legal issues I’ve written about regarding Uber crashes may not apply to trucks and shared freight hauling. The main issue with Uber is the adequacy of liability bodily injury insurance limits. But trucks have minimum federally required limits of at least $750,000. While as an attorney, I know this is still woefully inadequate, it’s better than the Uber driver who kills someone and only has a personal auto policy.  Also, there are already better driver qualifications for truck drivers than for passenger cars. For example, commercial drivers must have a CDL, drive within certain hours of service and meet a list of physical requirements to drive a truck that people who drive cars do not.

The most interesting issues I see on the horizon are over what oversight is given to trucks being assigned. Presumably, the trucking companies with the worst safety ratings will be the ones most available to pick up a load.  What additional liability will be imposed when a clearly unfit company is picked, and then this company and driver causes a terrible wreck? And what protections will be put in place to prevent this if this technology is used?

Related information:

How much insurance does Uber offer when transporting a rider?

Steven Gursten Photo

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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