How trucking insureds are navigating the coronavirus landscape

Some of these essential businesses are thriving in the pandemic, though risks remain

How trucking insureds are navigating the coronavirus landscape

Motor & Fleet

By Alicja Grzadkowska

On the list of businesses that the government of Ontario has deemed essential during the coronavirus outbreak, you’ll find transportation services, which includes commercial trucking fleets that continue to deliver critical goods.

However, trucking companies face a range of exposures during the pandemic as well as changes to the way they’re operating during this time.

“There have been some changes that the government has made in order to ease some of the restrictions on cross-border operations,” said Sam Off (pictured), transportation insurance specialist at National Truck League Insurance Solutions. Namely, the hours of service rule mandated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) typically limits the maximum amount of hours that a driver can operate a commercial vehicle. However, for certain types of commodities, the government now allows drivers to exceed their driving limits to help deliver goods faster and without any undue delays, explained Off.

Meanwhile in Toronto, mayor John Tory has exempted certain retail businesses from the noise bylaw, which in turn allows National Truck League’s clients in the area to deliver goods anytime directly to their customers. All in all, many trucking clients are experiencing a bump in business amid the pandemic.

“I’m seeing some clients thriving in this market condition,” said Off, though he added, “It really depends on the type of commodities that they’re hauling. If you have a specialty in healthcare and home essentials, like food or cleaning supplies, we’re seeing big pickups in these sectors whereas those hauling automotive parts and electronics – what we would call ‘want’ items, not ‘need’ items – have gone flat at the moment.”

Trucking companies that have been able to adapt to this new environment and pick up contracts for different types of goods that they wouldn’t normally haul have been especially successful in this current market, compared to those that are still hauling commodities for which manufacturing is currently shut down. The latter insureds have seen a heavy reduction in their business and significant losses in revenue.

Nonetheless, for those that are still operating, they have several risks to consider, including the fact that their employees could be exposed to the virus.

“Anytime you’re going to the US or crossing the border, it feels as though there is an exposure or risk to your personal safety,” said Off. “You’re travelling through the country and visiting truck stops where thousands and thousands of people go through every day. I imagine that’d be quite nerve-wracking and that’s what we’re hearing as far as feedback from our clients. Nobody wants to bring back health complications to their friends and family when they get home.”

Another issue has been with truck stops, some of which have stopped providing facilities for washroom use and hand washing because they feel that it’s exposing their staff.

On the other hand, an upside to the lockdown orders has been that there are less drivers on the road in general, which in turn means less chances of accidents occurring.

“There’s less personal vehicles on the road at the moment,” said Off. “A lot of these guys are chuckling as they’re going down the road, saying it’s smooth sailing and they haven’t seen the roads this clear in their lives.”

On the insurance side, the most common question Off is hearing from clients right now is about whether they can amend or reduce their coverage. If a client has five trucks and they only have enough work for two or three, they want to make sure that those assets are still protected, even when they’re not in use. They also don’t want to pay full coverage on a vehicle that’s parked in a lot. Luckily, Off says that the vast majority of National Truck League’s markets have relaxed some of their rules, especially when it comes to reduced coverage on parked vehicles.

“With material changes as far as commodities being hauled, as long as we disclose to the insurer that this is a result of COVID-19, we’re seeing them basically be above and beyond accommodating for all the clients,” he told Insurance Business, also highlighting that premium finance partners have been stepping up when it comes to providing support with delaying withdrawal dates and making sure that there’s leniency if the client isn’t going to be able to pay their upcoming instalment. “A lot of our trucking companies are seeing delays in the payments they’re receiving and are not able to pay their premiums on time. They do have the money, it’s just going to be a little bit delayed, so definitely our insurance partners, our underwriters and as well as our premium finance partners are all being very accommodating in this situation.”

Other questions coming from clients include how an ongoing claim will be affected by the pandemic and whether National Truck League is still offering its full services during this time, which it is even as all of its employees are working from home. After all, being available to clients during times of crisis is what brokers do best.

“Peace of mind and reliability are the two big things that people are looking for – am I still protected? Can I still reach you? Can you work with me to help keep my business afloat during the pandemic? Will you be there when I need you? It’s up to brokers to keep their finger on the pulse of the industry. There’s changes happening daily and hourly, and clients are relying on us when they call in to stay on top of the facts and act quickly,” said Off. “Although it doesn’t feel like business as usual, we’re going to do our best to create that atmosphere of ‘nothing’s changed, we’re there for you, you’re still protected, so tell me what’s different and how I can help you.’”

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