Uniformity Benefits All Parties
By Henry E. Seaton

October 2002
Reprinted from etrucker.com

Q I read your article concerning the Standard Truckload Bill of Lading. As a carrier, our bill of lading has rules outlined on the back, but I am concerned when we do a broker load. Most broker contracts state that their terms and conditions shall govern, and not the carrier’s bill of lading. Do you have any suggestions on dealing with brokers?

A Correctly seen, the broker and shipper — as well as the carrier — are protected by using the Standard Truckload Bill of Lading or the Uniform Bill of Lading published by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association. The terms and conditions of both bills generally track the regulatory provisions applicable to rail moves and incorporate general rules of commerce traditionally accepted as industry standards by sophisticated shippers.

A broker and shipper’s legitimate concern is not that the carrier would use a standard or uniform bill, but that the carrier would attempt to impose terms and conditions of a bill of lading that were substandard or biased in some material respect. All too frequently, abbreviated broker contracts waive the terms and conditions of the carrier bill of lading, but leave unaddressed the basic issues of transportation law that a standard or uniform bill covers. It is this void which the Standard Truckload Bill of Lading seeks to fill.

Whether initiated by the broker or the shipper in their initial draft of the contract, or included by the carrier as an amendment before the contract is signed, the STBOL should be incorporated by reference to insure that customary and accepted standards apply. Neither the broker nor the carrier can rely upon the terms and conditions of the dock receipt prepared by the consignor and given to the driver at time of pickup. (Your driver is no lawyer and cannot read the document for hidden provisions. And the broker sure does not want to be bound by a document it has never seen.)

In this context, it is important that the shipping community understand the importance of standard bill of lading terms and conditions. The STBOL meets the shipper’s need for uniformity and bar codes in that the front page replicates the Voluntary Interindustry Commerce Standards (VICS) bill of lading endorsed by shipper groups. The back side is simply a rendition of the traditionally accepted industry terms and conditions to which no sophisticated shipper or broker should have any principal objection.

In fact, since my earlier column in June, the STBOL has been endorsed in principle by Delta Nu Alpha, a transportation fraternity composed of shippers and brokers, as well as carrier representatives. The STBOL can now be found on their website at www.deltanualpha.org. In addition, the STBOL is being used by a number of brokers as well as scores of truckload carriers including two of the largest.

In sum, adoption of the Standard Truckload Bill of Lading by reference in shipper and broker contracts is not a controversial issue. Uniformity is needed in the issues it covers. Since truckload carriers cannot use the uniform bill without bureau participation, broader industry acceptance of the STBOL is an even-handed way to ratify rules of commerce that the industry long ago accepted. Once the shipping and broker community understands this, it should be easy to overcome a hesitation to include the STBOL in contracts.

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