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Hersman: FMCSA needs to do better job of getting bad truck, bus carriers off road before they cause fatalities

“We have to get the poor operators off the road before crashes and not after. They’re [FMCSA] collecting data and doing a good job of it but they have to act on that data” and get the bad actors “off the road and out of business permanently,” Hersman said.

By DOROTHY COX
The Trucker Staff

4/22/2014

WASHINGTON —The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is doing a good job of collecting data on trucking carriers and motorcoach companies but they need to act on the information more quickly and put bad actors out of business before they cause fatalities, said outgoing National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman.

Hersman came to the board in 2004. She’s leaving to become president and CEO of the National Safety Council (NSC), the 100-year-old organization chartered by Congress to prevent unintentional injury and death.

She made the FMCSA comment in a question-and-answer session following a farewell luncheon address at the National Press Club April 21.

Hersman referenced four crashes last year, two motorcoach wrecks with fatalities and two fatal truck crashes, in which FMCSA had visited the carriers before the crashes and given them satisfactory ratings only to give them unsatisfactory ratings after the fatalities and put them out of service.

 “We have to get the poor operators off the road before crashes and not after. They’re [FMCSA] collecting data and doing a good job of it but they have to act on that data” and get the bad actors “off the road and out of business permanently.”

Earlier in her career Hersman worked on legislation to create FMCSA, and was asked if the agency had lived up to her expectations.

During the Clinton Administration, the goal had been to reduce highway deaths by half during the next decade, she said, “But we’ve not driven down the fatality numbers. Overall, the numbers have gone up.”

She also said bad bus and truck companies create unfair competition because they operate without following the Hours of Service rules but that there are no incentives for companies that follow the rules.

She asked for a show of hands to see how many people knew how to get on the DOT/FMCSA website and look up a bus company’s safety record before chartering a motorcoach for a school or church trip. She added that more transparency was needed on the website.

Hersman also took rail regulators to task for being “behind the curve” in regulating rail transport of hazardous materials through communities across the country. She said there had been an over 440 percent increase in the number of rail cars carrying hazmat through communities but “the regulations haven’t changed.”

Asked if regulators were sometimes too close to the industries they were regulating Hersman said there always has to be a balance between a regulator who knows enough about the industry to ask the right questions and understand the workings and technology but independent enough to be willing to come up with answers that are “unfavorable.”

When asked what the high point of her career at NTSB had been, Hersman got a little choked up as she said, “Working with the people … our staff and board members and the safety advocates and the truckers … great people getting to work on a great mission.”  

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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