Truck of Mat Power : look on shipper and customer legal relationship

What is a shipper in road transport, and what are his legal responsibilities?


by Clémence Levieil, on 9/6/2023

6 min read

Definition and role

Description of the shipper's role in transport

The shipper, also known as the "principal", plays a central role in the road transport sector. He is the entity (natural or legal person) who entrusts goods to a carrier for transport from point A to point B.

The shipper's tasks in road transport include preparing the goods, providing information, selecting the partner carrier, drawing up the contract of carriage, paying for the service and taking delivery of the goods.

Trucks on highway
Trucks on highway

Obligation between shippers in road transport and carriers

The term "obligation" refers to the contractual elements that bind a carrier and a shipper in a transport operation. In other words, when a driver takes charge of a load, the operation must be legally regulated, and each party must know what it is they are responsible for.

The principal is obliged to comply with the following criteria:

  • Information: The shipper must provide the carrier with all the information necessary for the proper execution of the transport, in particular concerning the nature, weight, dimensions or specific features of the goods.

  • Packaging: The shipper is obliged to ensure that the goods are properly packaged, labeled and conditioned to withstand the journey.

  • Payment: The shipper is obliged to pay the carrier for his services in accordance with the agreed terms.

  • Transport documents: The shipper is often responsible for providing the necessary documents, such as the consignment note, safety protocol and logistics site plan.

In France, these obligations are mainly governed by the Transport Code and by specific contracts between shippers and carriers.

A quick reminder of the difference between shipper and carrier

By "carrier" we mean a company that can provide a driver and a vehicle to transport goods from one point to another. These goods are entrusted to us by a "shipper", a company that needs to deliver goods, either between two of its sites, or from production to destination.

A carrier is therefore generally a company with a few administrative employees and operators, who can organize the rounds of a fleet of trucks. A transport loader, on the other hand, can be any company, from the moment it needs to move raw materials, products, machinery, etc., to the destination.

Juridical relationship
Juridical relationship

Examples of loader companies

As mentioned above, all companies can claim to be "shippers" as soon as they require transport operations to run their business.

Here are a few examples, classified by sector:

  • Food industry: companies like Nestlé, Danone or Lactalis may need to send their finished products to distributors, wholesalers or directly to stores.

  • Retail: Chains like Carrefour, Leclerc or Auchan may act as shippers when ordering products from their suppliers and organizing transport to their warehouses or stores.

  • Automotive industry: Manufacturers like Renault, Peugeot or Citroën can send spare parts to their assembly plants or ship finished vehicles to dealers.

  • Electronics and technology: Companies like Darty, Fnac or manufacturers like Samsung or Apple may need to transport goods like TVs, computers or smartphones to points of sale or distribution centers.

Lexicon questions: what is NOT a shipper in road transport?

A sea shipper

Unlike a marine shipper, a shipper in road transport has his goods transported overland! For the sake of clarity, a marine shipper is a person or company who entrusts their goods to a shipping company for transport by sea. But the term can also refer to a shipping company that is competent to operate or charter vessels for the transport of goods.

Between sea and road, it's important not to take the wrong path!

Sea Shipper  full of goods to deliver
Sea Shipper

A freight forwarder

A freight forwarder is an intermediary who organizes and handles the transport of goods from one point to another on behalf of others. He doesn't carry out the transport himself (he doesn't have his own vehicles, for example), but he selects and gives orders to carriers, drawing on his expertise and network to offer his customers the best options.

What is a freight forwarder?

Does the term "freight" seem strange in this context? Let's go back to the word "freight", which refers to goods that are transported. We can speak of "air freight", "sea freight" or "road freight". It simply means a mode of transport for each commodity.

A freight shipper is simply a person or entity who has goods to transport and entrusts them to a carrier for routing.

What are the shipper's legal responsibilities?

Reminder: obligations of the carrier and the shipper

Carrier's obligations

  • Deliver the goods to their destination within the agreed time limit.

  • Keep the goods in good condition.

  • Inform the shipper of any incident or peculiarity during transport.

Shipper's obligations

The shipper undertakes to :

  • Provide the carrier with all information required for transport.

  • Pay the agreed transport price.

  • Correctly package and label the goods if necessary.

Who is responsible for loading: the shipper or the carrier?

The carrier is responsible for the goods from the moment of acceptance until delivery, which includes loading. He may be exempted from this liability in the event of force majeure, fault on the part of the shipper or inherent defect in the goods.

In the event of loss, damage or delay, the carrier's liability is generally limited to a lump sum per kilogram of gross weight of the missing or damaged goods.


Reserves: what are they? Whose responsibility is it?

When the carrier is about to take over the goods, he must ensure that no damage or loss has occurred. If there is no discrepancy between the consignment and reality, he begins his acceptance.

On delivery, it is the shipper (the final recipient) who must check the condition and quantity of the goods. If he finds any damage or shortages, he must express his reservations on the receipt and confirm them by registered letter within 3 days (excluding public holidays).

What are the essential legal elements between the shipper in road transport and his carrier?

When it comes to transport documents, the shipper and carrier are bound by the consignment note. The consignment note comes in a traditional paper format, or, for the past few years, in an electronic format known as the eCMR. It is the essential document accompanying the goods. It serves as proof of the contract of carriage, as a receipt for the goods, and as a document of title.


Did you know?

The eCMR boomed with the Covid crisis, because it made it possible to facilitate tedious administrative procedures, which require human exchanges and transmissions of information, by means of an ultra-fast, digital process. It is road transport's gateway to dematerialization.

Transport price

The price is freely negotiated between the parties. In the event of non-payment, the carrier has a right of retention on the goods.

Transport price
Transport price


Do you know the limitation period? Actions arising from the contract of carriage are time-barred one year after delivery or the time when delivery should have taken place.

Does the shipper also need to take out transport insurance?

Although not mandatory, it is recommended that the shipper or carrier take out insurance to cover the risks associated with transporting goods.

What additional charges or surcharges must the shipper apply?

Surcharges in road haulage are additional charges applied by carriers due to various fluctuations and external factors that affect the cost of their service. These surcharges are generally passed on to the shipper. Here are the main surcharges a shipper may encounter:

Fuel surcharges (or diesel indexation):

The fuel surcharge is probably the most common surcharge. Since fuel prices are volatile, carriers often apply a fuel surcharge to cover unexpected price increases at the pump.

Ecotax surcharges (in France):

This is a tax designed to encourage more environmentally-friendly modes of transport. If implemented, this surcharge would be passed on to shippers.

Congestion surcharges:

In certain highly congested or difficult-to-access areas (city centers, mountainous areas), surcharges may be applied to cover the extra time and costs associated with transport in these regions.

Seasonal surcharges :

During certain periods of the year, such as the holiday season, demand for transport services can increase, resulting in seasonal surcharges.

Regulatory overloads:

Regulations, such as those concerning driving hours and rest periods, can lead to additional costs for carriers, who can then pass these costs on to shippers.

Specialized transport surcharges:

If the freight requires specialized equipment (e.g. refrigerated trucks for transporting perishable goods), surcharges may be applied.

Surcharges for additional services:

These may include services such as loading or unloading freight, scheduling delivery appointments, or any other service that goes beyond standard transportation.

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