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Trucking app promises progress, but raises safety questions

Technology has the capacity to transform the trucking industry and improve truck drivers’ way of life. Of course, that technology comes with questions about highway safety and to what extent tech companies can be held liable as their products become increasingly central to our lives.

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The trucking industry is a fast-paced, competitive environment worth hundreds of billions of dollars. This market, combined with the overall unavailability of a direct and easy way for truckers to arrange the loads they haul, leaves a gap for the ever-growing technological advancement of our modern age to creep in. In 2013, Drew McElroy and Jonathan Salama took advantage of this gap to create the app “Transfix.” This app aims to make it easier for independent truckers to schedule loads, thereby decreasing the amount of time a truck may sit empty, losing money. Typically, independent truck drivers rely on freight brokers to schedule the loads they haul. However, these trips are often only one way, which means drivers have an empty truck on their return trip, and an empty truck means lost money.
But can apps like Transfix potentially harm highway safety and increase the risk for accidents on the road? Transfix is already a multimillion-dollar company, but several questions must be asked to ensure road safety will not be compromised as the app continues to gain users. For example, can truckers using the app take advantage of it and schedule more hours or loads than they are legally allowed to drive? According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA), truckers are not allowed to exceed eleven hours of driving, following ten consecutive hours off-duty. Additionally, long haul truck drivers may not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in a period of 7/8 consecutive days, and cannot drive more than eleven hours during a fourteen hour shift.
One of the biggest preventable issues that truckers face is fatigue. These regulations were put into place by the Department of Transportation to ensure a safe driving experience for truckers and the other drivers with whom they share the road. However, truckers also have deadlines to follow, and are expected to get the shipments they carry to their destinations as quickly as possible. Furthermore, any trip made with an empty truck results in lost money for the driver, which is a typical occurrence for many truck drivers—they have a load scheduled to a certain location, but nothing scheduled for the return trip. While Transfix attempts to remedy this situation, the app also leaves room for truckers to schedule more loads with close deadlines, forcing them to get back on the road, fatigued and in a rush.
Another potential question regarding the safety implications of apps like Transfix is credibility and liability. For truckers to legally operate their vehicle, they need lots of documentation, such as a Commercial Driver’s License, Federal Department of Transportation number, and a Motor Carrier Authority number. Prior to allowing drivers to sign up for and use the app, does Transfix check for the proper credentials and documentation? These documents are essential to be a properly licensed trucker, and a driver who does not have all the right documentation could potentially put other drivers at risk. Further, it is important for Transfix to check the driving records of each trucker who signs up for the app. A trucker with a poor driving record could possibly cause serious harm to the company, themselves, or other drivers on the road.
Insurance is also an important aspect for apps like Transfix. In case of accidents or injuries, would the truckers using the app be liable or could liability extend to the app itself? While truckers may be using their independently owned trucks to make these drives, it is the app that sets them up with the deliveries and the routes they will take. Does Transfix require drivers who sign up to have their own insurance prior to joining, thus protecting the company from any liability? These questions are crucial to determining whether the app is a tool of progress or one that can have a negative threat on road safety.
Apps like Transfix have the opportunity to really drive the trucking industry forward. Through this app truckers can find consistent work, a steady paycheck, and an easy way to schedule loads and routes. Additionally, Transfix is closing the gap between the amount of money freight brokers and truckers make. However, more frequent hauls and easier scheduling cannot come at the cost of road and driver safety. By following Department of Transportation regulations and requiring proof of insurance, a good driving record, and a Commercial Driver’s License, Transfix can continue to improve the trucking industry while maintaining road and driver safety.

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