Transportation law encompasses a wide variety of areas, regulating all aspects of trucking, rail, and airline freight, as well as safety standards for drivers, passengers and crew. The primary source of transportation law is the United States federal government, with the US Department of Transportation being the main regulatory body. The US Code provides regulation of navigation and navigable waters, highways, railroads, customs duties, and general transportation. State law also covers these areas.
For business owners, transportation law primarily means transportation regulations that govern the shipment of goods, specifically contracts of carriage that define the relationship of the parties to the shipping agreement. Transportation law cases and statutes, therefore, have served over the years to define the rights of business owners, vis-à-vis carriers and intermediaries.
You should know:
- All shipments of goods have to be covered by a contract, and this contract must follow the rules and regulations set forth by the federal government, as well as applicable state laws.
- The deregulation of transport industries has eliminated some of the protection and legal defense previously afforded under transportation law for the shipment of goods, especially in regards to federal law.
- Particularly if your business ships a large amount of freight, you will need to be thoroughly familiar with your legal rights and protections regarding your shipments. Transportation lawyers and transportation law firms play a vital role in producing the detailed shipping contracts for today's marketplace.
Learn about transportation laws and know your rightsYou should familiarize yourself with transportation law, and understand how it affects your business. This is true whether you ship only a small amount of goods a year, or your carriage is more substantial. There is a substantial amount of transportation law information available at little or no cost, primarily online.
Get help to understand and comply with transportation regulationsTransportation regulations are complex and have both state and federal components. Unless transportation is a minor portion of your business, hiring lawyers or a law firm specializing in transportation law is recommended to deal with the various contracts.
Make sure you're insured as part of your transportation legal defenseThe most important aspect of transportation law is ensuring that the goods you are shipping aren't damaged or destroyed, and that you are adequately protected if they are. Determine what type of insurance or coverage you will need to ensure you are properly protected.
Export.gov offers extensive information on insurance and protection for exported goods, including everything you need to do to protect yourself, whether you're an exporter, or a receiver of exported goods. Export911 is another good source of information for what you need to know to protect yourself from loss, in case of damage during shipment.
- Don't assume you're an expert on shipping contracts or insurance. If your business is involved in extensive shipping of goods, hire a transportation law firm, or an attorney who specializes in transportation law practice, to help you out.
- Always make sure you are protected from loss, either by applicable transportation laws, your business' shipping contract, or through the insurance you've purchased. Plan for the most catastrophic result and don't risk having inadequate coverage or an unprofessional contract.
- Remember that both state and federal law cover transportation cases, so if you're not covered by one, you may be covered by the other. And, if you are shipping or receiving from overseas, remember other countries often have their own applicable laws that you will also need to be familiar with.