The Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires freight carriers or their agents to prepare a written bill of lading for every shipment transported. As a legal document, the bill of lading specifies the details of a shipment and provides a written inventory and value of the items being shipped. It gives the freight carrier temporary title to the goods, and it functions as the shipping contract between shipper and carrier. The FMCSA requires that the bill of lading contain certain terms, conditions and information.
The parties' contact information must be included on the bill of lading. The name and address of the motor carrier issuing the bill of lading and any other carriers who are transporting the shipment must be included, as well as the name, address and telephone number of an office where the shipper can contact the carrier or an agent representing the carrier.
The bill of lading must specify the form of payment along with terms and conditions the carrier will accept at delivery. If the carrier is collecting payment upon delivery, the bill of lading must include both the maximum amount the carrier will charge to deliver the shipment and the contact information for the payee whom the carrier can communicate with about the charges. The FMCSA also specifies alternate provisions about pickup and delivery dates for guaranteed and non-guaranteed service. All bills of lading must include the actual date of pickup of the goods, a statement of the declared value of the shipment and details about insurance coverage for it.
Three items must be attached to the bill of lading, unless the attachments are provided elsewhere. First, a binding or non-binding estimate of the cost the carrier is charging to ship the goods; second, the service order and third, a written, detailed inventory of the goods.
The bill of lading is an active record that must remain with the shipment. Until the carrier delivers the shipment to the consignee, the bill of lading should remain in the possession of the driver responsible for the shipment. After delivery, the carrier must retain bills of lading for at least one year after their creation date.