In our Dec. 1 print issue, we reported on the findings of a two-month investigation into the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s vetting process for motor carrier operating authority.
Specifically, we look at the FMCSA’s granting operating authority to a company which had purchased the assets of Hester Inc., an Alabama carrier that was about to be put out of service from a failed compliance review after an horrific, 11-fatality accident March 26.
On the front page, you’ll find two articles.
One deals with the vetting process for motor carriers, household goods carriers and motor coach companies.
The other is about the driver of the tractor-trailer involved in the crash — Kenneth Laymon.
In the rush to judgment in the days following the crash, there were two media reports that today’s article addresses.
First, it was widely reported that Laymon might have been on his cell phone when the crash occurred.
What we consider strong evidence indicates otherwise.
It was also reported that a witness told officers Laymon was traveling 80 mph when the accident occurred.
Kentucky State Police set his speed at 70.
However, the truck Laymon was driving was governed at 62 mph, his family told us.
As for the vetting process, you might recall that two years ago, FMCSA was facing public outcry over shady, primarily charter bus companies that were being put out of service for safety violations, but which reincarnated themselves simply by applying for a new name and DOT number.
At the time, the agency instituted a rigorous vetting program for motor coach carriers as well as household goods carriers to put an end to such practices for those types of companies.
But the task of implementing such a program for property-carrying motor carriers was simply too burdensome for existing FMCSA resources to handle.
Our research found there are hundreds of new carrier applications each week and dozens of name changes, all of which are opportunities for unsafe carriers to reinvent their operation under a new name with the help of another carrier that might have a broker or contract authority.
We believe everyone at FMCSA has a vested interest in safe commercial vehicle travel.
What they say in public is what they mean, but the resources are simply not there to do the job Congress has demanded.
We hope this investigation gives FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro even more fodder to approach the new Congress and demand more resources.
In an article on Page 8, you’ll read about how the owner of FTS Fleet Services has dealt with the transition that followed the purchase of assets from Hester Inc., and how he’s demanding a high level of safety within the new company.
So far, based on FMCSA inspections, it’s working.
The company that purchased the Hester assets is FTS Fleet Services.
Joe Frederick, the owner of the new company, was very forthcoming in talking about the events surrounding his purchase of Hester’s assets and told us how he’d shelved several unsafe tractors and trailers since taking over.
He also told us he had asked Steve Hester, brother of former Hester Inc. President Scott Hester, to run the company and had given him strict orders to operate a company that focuses on safety.
We also talked with Steve Hester, who likewise was frank about what was going on at FTS, headquarters in Alabama.
The new company is NOT the same as the old one, Steve Hester told us.
But he was also quick to tell us that our inquiries had led to FMCSA visiting the operation, the second time for a compliance review after the agency apparently realized that Scott Hester had signed the FTS Fleet Services request for operating authority.
After a first visit, federal officials told him FTS Fleet Services would have a satisfactory safety rating, and left him documentation to that affect.
But after the second visit, federal officials told Steve Hester he’d be hearing from them and the message would either be that the company would receive an unsatisfactory safety rating and be put out of service, or it would be given a conditional or satisfactory rating and could continue to operate.
We believe Frederick is serious about safety and has made it priority No. 1 at the new company, which based on the compliance review that followed the wreck, was not the case with Hester Inc.
As of press time, the FMCSA had not released to Frederick the findings of its Nov. 1 review.
We hope by the time you read this, FTS Fleet Services will have an answer.
That answer should be a satisfactory safety rating, we believe.
Lyndon Finney of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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