Friday, January 19, 2018

Safety advocate launches attack on FMCSA, its leadership


Monday, August 23, 2010
by LYNDON FINNEY

The safety group said it hopes FMCSA can finally be turned into “an effective force for motor carrier safety under its new leadership, Congressional direction, oversight and guidance will continue to be needed in order to improve the performance of the agency.
The safety group said it hopes FMCSA can finally be turned into “an effective force for motor carrier safety under its new leadership, Congressional direction, oversight and guidance will continue to be needed in order to improve the performance of the agency.

WASHINGTON — Safety advocacy leader Jacqueline Gillan several weeks ago launched what could easily be described as an all-out attack on the effectiveness of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and its past and present leadership.

Among other things, Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, in testimony before the Senate subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security, alleges that the agency:

• Camouflaged the actual truck fatality rate by merging it with the much lower fatality rate for buses and motor coaches and further diluted the “very high large truck fatality rate” by measuring the combined rate not against 100 million truck vehicle miles traveled (VMT), but against the much more generous figure of all annual VMT for all vehicles, including motorcycles, and that

 • During its first 10 years of existence has compiled a “poor track record that was at odds with its safety mission by exhibiting a stark failure of leadership and oversight of the motor carrier industry, an inability to issue effective safety regulations and an inadequate enforcement policy.”

While the advocacy group hopes that FMCSA can finally be turned into “an effective force for motor carrier safety under its new leadership, Congressional direction, oversight and guidance will continue to be needed in order to improve the performance of the agency.”

Gillan pointed to what she called several safety oversight issues.

Whether the above and the allegations below are just allegations or whether they are true (credible sources have told us the truck fatality rate measure allegation is true), what Gillan said in a public hearing is newsworthy because (1) she’s so far off target that the industry needs to know the the measures to which its critics will go to impact changes or (2) the agency in question needs to have an opportunity to respond.

Which is the very reason we’ve sat on this the content of this testimony for weeks on end (we first were prepared to report this in our June 1 issue).

We’ve repeatedly asked the agency’s lead spokesperson for a response, which has been promised several times, but was not forthcoming as of press time (one of the primary tenants of this newspaper is always allowing both sides of an issue to be heard).

And for what it’s worth, we don’t agree with Gillan’s assessment of the effectiveness of FMCSA leadership past and present (no one can argue with FMCSA’s passion for safety and the decline in large truck fatalities), but we do believe it’s her right to speak her peace.

In her testimony, Gillan criticized the agency for what she called:

• Failure to implement National Transportation Safety Board recommendations, including what she called “NTSB’s long-term frustration” with the Department of Transportation’s failure to require electronic on-board recorders for all trucks.

• Failure to monitor and ensure the adequacy of state motor carrier inspection programs. She cited a lack of public information on state truck and motor coach inspection programs.

• Issuance of a “weak and ineffective EOBR regulation which the agency itself admits will apply to less than 1 percent of motor carriers.” She said the rule had serious defects, among them the fact the EOBRs default to “on-duty not driving status” when a truck has been stationary for only five minutes. “This allows time during intermittent vehicle movement in traffic congestion or while waiting in loading dock lines, to be recorded as non-driving time,” Gillan said. “As a result it will extend the drivers’ shift beyond the maximum 11 consecutive hours allowed by the regulation.”

• Inadequate safeguards for FMCSA’s new entrant motor carrier program, which she said “lacked many important aspects of appropriate agency oversight of new truck and motor coach companies, especially the need to mandate an initial safety audit of new carriers before awarding them temporary operating authority and performance a compliance review at the end of the probationary period of temporary operating authority with an assigned safety rating.

• An imbalance in FMCSA’s approach to using its new enforcement metrics in CSA 2010, which she said would place excessive emphasis on driver as opposed to vehicle violations, and

• The lack of a rule requiring behind-the-wheel training for new drivers. FMCSA issued a rule in 2004, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in December 2005 sent the rule back to the agency because the regulation did not require any time behind the wheel. A new Final Rule is expected to be issued late this year, but Gillan said the new rule was “seriously flawed” because the agency reduced the minimum hours recommended by the 19854 Model Curriculum from the 320 hours to only 120 hours.

Gillan continued to criticize the current Hours of Service rule. Driver fatigue has increased under the current rule, she said, by allowing more driving time and three or more hours in each shift for work, including the loading and unloading of trucks. She took FMCSA to task for continuing to allow 11 hours of driving and keep the 34-hour restart rule despite two court rulings overturn the rule.

Gillan failed to give any credit to the DOT, the FMCSA or to motor carriers for the fact that large truck related fatalities decline in 2007 and 2008.

Instead, she chose to link the decline to the economy.

“This reduced death toll is strongly linked with a major decrease in truck freight demand, including substantially reduced truck tonnage starting in the latter part of 2007 and continuing through 2009,” she said in her testimony.

She attached to her testimony a chart that she said showed “the strong relationship between economic recessions and declines in total highway deaths since 1971.”

Creation of a new federal agency to oversee motor carrier and motor coach safety has not resulted in the rigorous oversight and enforcement that Congress directed and the public expected, Gillan concluded her testimony.

“Safety goals are not met but merely changed, rulemakings are routinely overturned in legal challenges because of faulty reasoning and illegal underpinnings, enforcement is sporadic and weak, and unsafe carriers and drivers continue to operate with near impunity.

“While we hope the new leadership team at DOT will set this agency on a new course, it will still be necessary for Congress to conduct constant oversight and provide clear direction to this agency if we expect any strong and sustained progress in reducing deaths and injuries. Advocates thanks you for your leadership and looks forward to working with you on advancing motor carrier safety.”

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

 

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