How “Chain of Responsibility” Affects the Supply Chain

Public concern over highway safety has never been more in the spotlight than it is today. In particular, increased scrutiny came about after the June 2014 traffic accident involving the vehicle of well-known actor Tracy Morgan and a Walmart tractor-trailer.

Walmart agreed to provide generous civil settlements to the damaged parties, even though its driver was not in violation of the Hours of Service (HOS) regulation. However, while the driver was not in violation of any HOS regulations, he allegedly was extremely fatigued due to the fact he had not slept for the previous 24 hours before his shift.

The public outcry generated from this case demonstrates that the responsibility for highway safety goes well beyond mere driver compliance to HOS regulations. On December 23, 2015, the truck driver involved in this tragic accident was indicted by a New Jersey grand jury on charges of manslaughter, vehicular homicide, and aggravated assault.

The idea of shared responsibility in regards to highway safety between all parties within the supply chain is a concept that is gaining ground throughout the developed world. Referred to as “Chain of Responsibility” (COR), this new approach has the potential to dramatically change the way goods are shipped within our economy.

Chain of Responsibility Defined

The concept of COR holds that all the people who influence a heavy vehicle driver’s behavior and compliance should, and must, be held accountable if that influence results in non-compliance with traffic rules and laws. The idea of chain of responsibility is responsibility shared, not transferred.

Concretely, what this means is the shipper that needlessly delays a driver at a loading dock can now be attributed a portion of the responsibility for hours of service-related violations or accidents. As explained in the International Transport Forum’s report titled “Moving Freight with Better Trucks”:

"For many breaches of road transport law, the party directly responsible is the driver. However, in most cases, the driver is not the only party to exercise a degree of control over on-road outcomes. In a fiercely competitive industry, each party in the transport chain is subject to pressure from those exercising higher control … This ‘chain of responsibility’ principle is: all who have control, whether direct or indirect, over a transport operation bear responsibility for conduct which affects compliance and should be made accountable for failure to discharge that responsibility.”

COR as Law

Much more than just a discussion point, the governments of Australia and New Zealand have included the COR as law under their National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR). As outlined on their website, the aim of COR is to make sure everyone in the supply chain shares responsibility for ensuring breaches of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) do not occur. Although the bill isn’t new (it’s been rolled out progressively in different jurisdictions since 2005), it is now at the forefront of the logistics reality in these countries.

Who Shares Responsibility With the Motor Carrier?

A person or corporation is part of the chain of responsibility if their actions, inactions, or decisions affect road transport operations. This could include a person who:

  • Consigns goods
  • Packs goods
  • Loads goods
  • Operates and/or drives a vehicle moving goods
  • Plans the pick-up and/or delivery of goods
  • Dispatches the vehicle moving goods
  • Receives goods

The chain of responsibility can also include third parties, those who don’t directly pay for the service but are users, such as customers.

The Current State of Affairs in North America

Although COR isn’t law in North America, it is clearly part of the educational process for safety standards and is also part of general recommendations sent in 2014 to the U.S. Congress. Although most regulatory bodies are under state/provincial control, there are associations such as the North American Fatigue Management Program (NAFMP) whose education program includes awareness on COR. They provide an excellent summary of what COR is in the second section of their publication “Fatigue Management Guide for Use by the Carrier Transportation Industry.’’

COR was also one of the 12 recommendations submitted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) advisory committee in February 2014 to improve surface transportation safety (section 1.B.- page 3). To quote the report, “FMCSA should require that the entire chain of responsibility is ‘on the hook’ for passenger or property carriers engaging in dangerous behavior.’’ Furthermore, they recommend a complete culture shift from current practice; they wish to explore avenues so that when trucks are held up by shippers, the carrier and driver are paid and also to prohibit penalties for carriers and drivers for being late with a shipment.


It is clear that regulatory bodies do not wish to transfer or reduce the accountability of drivers and motor carriers relative to safety. Regulatory bodies, in looking to improve compliance with safety measures, have now implemented or are considering a method of assigning responsibility across all the actors in the supply chain. The potential legislation of COR-related laws may have a profound effect on all areas of the supply chain. While we can all agree that the public’s desire for increased road safety is a good thing, it will require changes throughout the supply chain—ultimately at an increased cost.

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