This story will give you five million reasons to be 100% certain you are compliant with U.S. law. There was a Canadian driver who broke down in Michigan on the side of the road waiting for a tow. He was on a bend of the road but his flashers were on and cones were properly set up. The driver had been with the company for ten years and had a spotless record - everyone reading this article would hire him today. A pickup truck with four passengers rear ends the broken down truck, killing two and badly injuring the other two. How could the driver of the pickup truck possibly sue and win? That driver didn’t have an annual review on file and thus was disqualified. It didn’t matter that he did nothing wrong; he shouldn’t have been there in the first place and thus the company was required to shell out $5 million. This is America.
As a trucking company running in the US, you’re guilty until proven innocent.
The U.S. is trigger happy on lawsuits and plaintiff attorneys are building a scary amount of precedence with nuclear verdict settlements. Attorneys have honed their skill in villainizing the big, mean, indifferent trucking companies to juries in order to extract maximum damages in their cases. While it often isn’t fair or entirely accurate, the absence of up-to-date records used to prove negligence in a US courtroom. No matter how spotless that driver’s record from above was, that company still lost the case. The fact of the matter is that in US regulations, if it’s not documented, it didn’t happen.
We’re also seeing that more frequent simple violations are adding up for Canadian companies. One example was a driver who scraped a pole in a parking lot next to a police officer. The police asked for his med card, which proves he is medically fit to drive. But this driver doesn’t carry it on him in Canada so he doesn’t have it. That was a thousand dollar mistake.
Since 80% of trucking companies in Ontario cross the border and 70% of all Canadian fleets do, Canadian insurers are pushing companies to maintain DQ files as protection against the US courtroom. They know that better record maintenance will lead to better protection against legal action, especially in areas like training that offer solid evidence that the driver is well prepared to do their job. If you require such a file for every driver, every driver will have that same protection and preparation, which is a win-win. Plus, Canada authorities tend to reflect very positively on maintained, thorough training records as it is.
Canada’s National Safety Code offers general guidelines for fleets to abide by, but the kinds of audits and scrutiny common in the US rarely occur in Canada. CCMSA encourages best practices but does not require the same stringent recordkeeping requirements as the FMCSA does in the US. Annual reviews and valid licenses tend to be the major concerns, while individual provinces have unequal and varying laws between each other, you need to manage to the lowest common denominator for your lanes. While every company is different, the general best practice from our consultant friends up north is to maintain a driver qualification file per FMCSR 391 and your Canadian basis will most likely be covered.
The good news is compliance management can be automated while enforcing best practices. Canadian companies continue to kill thousands of trees while manually managing compliance which is slow, clumsy, and ripe for human error. But if Canadian fleets take their cue from their US counterparts, who have rapidly converted to digital and automated systems to handle these duties over the past few years, onboarding and record maintenance can become far more efficient and possible for the time-crunched manager. Most importantly, you can lay your head on your pillow at night knowing that you have the best defense ready to go at moments notice: Documentation.
In the US courtroom, if it’s not documented, it didn’t happen. Your job is to provide ample documentation to scare away the plaintiff attorney. They only get paid if they win so show them you’re a tough match and encourage them to take on another poor soul. They’re licking their chops hoping you don’t know US protocol.
Breathe easy - we’ve automated and documented everything for you in A-Suite and you don’t have to worry about a pricey consultant to double check your work.