The nation’s top trucking regulator told lawmakers she is committed to taking concrete steps to reduce deaths and injuries from large-truck crashes.
At her nomination hearing on Wednesday to be the seventh administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Meera Joshi, currently leading the agency as deputy administrator, was questioned by U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., about what he considers a lack of oversight by FMCSA in addressing such crashes.
“I think it’s clear that this entire industry fell into a regulatory black hole, where it escaped the level of scrutiny which it absolutely has to have if public safety is going to be protected,” Markey told Joshi during testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee.
Markey cited statistics showing that deaths resulting from large-truck crashes had increased by 45% since 2009, with injuries increasing 18%. He also said he was dissatisfied with the response he received from FMCSA after requesting more oversight from the agency last year in the wake of an investigative story on truck crashes by The Boston Globe.
“Unfortunately, the response I received back from the Trump administration was woefully insufficient,” Markey said. “It failed to commit to the major reforms we need, and showed how our truck safety regulators have been asleep at the wheel.”
Joshi, whom Biden named deputy administrator in January, told the committee that, if confirmed, she would oversee several “priority items” to address the issue.
“It’s an interstate industry, and the licensing data around those that drive large trucks must also function in an interstate manner. That means there needs to be swift transfer of current data between states around CDL licensing,” Joshi said, referring to a pending rulemaking in the “final months” of getting published.
It would also require states to downgrade licenses if there’s a positive test in the FMCSA’s Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse, “another important enforcement tool to get risky drivers off the roads,” she said. Joshi said she wanted to accelerate adoption of the rule through grants and other incentives in cooperation with the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.
Joshi also noted that FMCSA is looking to strengthen its new entrant program as well as broaden the scope of motor carrier investigations to target more at-risk behavior. “Motor carriers that have risky behavior need to be investigated, and when they come into the industry we need to have a closer eye on them.”
Supports port congestion relief
Asked what could be done to relieve congestion at the nation’s ports, particularly on the West Coast, Joshi said financial incentives had to be aligned throughout the supply chain.
“There are so many moving parts at the port, in order to make the trucking experience of moving freight in and out as efficiently as possible, there has to be transparency on appointment systems, flexible hours, and more certainty on when containers need to be dropped off and picked up, as well as aligning the financial incentives,” said.
“If the trucking community is bearing the brunt of wait times and that time is not compensated, either because they have to hold containers or because drivers have to wait for loading and unloading, then the congestion and the downtime is felt by them, and there’s no incentive to disperse that among the whole system.”
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., asked Joshi if she was open to expanding a demonstration program underway at the Port of Seattle that includes federal tax incentives to spur the adoption of electric vehicles. “We’ve been working in a certain way for many decades. I think it’s high time to try to change things and look at them differently,” Joshi said.
During the only contentious part of her nomination hearing, Joshi was asked by Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, to explain her rate-making policy and how she was protecting the privacy of independent contractor drivers working for ride-sharing companies while she was CEO of New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission from 2014 to 2019.
During Joshi’s tenure there, the commission collected vehicle and driver information that it used to develop policy around congestion and to establish minimum pay requirements.
“You don’t think this is an invasion of privacy for these individual drivers that are working with these companies?” Blackburn asked.
“The drivers themselves heartily support the effort because it was through this mandate on trip records and pay information that the city was able to support them in efforts to create minimum pay standards, allowing them to make at least minimum wage,” Joshi responded.
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