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Is FMCSA losing control of its safety mission?

Crash data, regulatory guidance need more oversight by the agency, truckers and safety advocates warn

Truckers, safety officials say FMCSA needs to review its regulations. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Federal regulators are losing their grip on how they administer and oversee rules governing truckers, and it’s putting safety at risk, trucking and safety advocates warn.

In comments filed with U.S. Department on Transportation on the department’s draft strategic framework, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), whose members include local, state and federal truck safety officials, contends that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration “has fallen behind on its core responsibility of maintaining the federal safety regulations” — the agency’s primary method of improving truck safety.

“As a result,” the group stated, “we have outdated and sometimes conflicting regulations that have not kept pace with the state of the industry.”

CVSA stated that regulatory activity at FMCSA “has come to a near standstill” over the past several years, with high-profile initiatives such as the ELD rule or last year’s hours-of-service (HOS) changes consuming the agency’s resources. Those large rulemakings and the time it takes to roll them out tends to push aside technical changes and added guidance that are needed for existing rules, CVSA maintains.

“FMCSA needs to fully implement the regulatory guidance review process … which requires the agency to conduct a regular review of active guidance documents and routinely incorporate appropriate guidance into the regulations in a timely manner,” it stated. “Additionally, it is essential that the underlying regulations be updated and maintained regularly to keep pace with advancements in industry and improve safety.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which represents small-business truckers, also weighed in on FMCSA’s regulatory review process, arguing that the agency should be regularly reviewing significant rulemakings to determine if they are actually improving safety.

One example: FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program. “Currently, the scores generated by CSA, whether high or low, have no causal relationship with crashes and are in no way an accurate or effective way to measure the safety of a motor carrier,” OOIDA stated.

AgencyPending Rules
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 51
Federal Aviation Administration48
Federal Highway Administration27
DOT (Office of the Secretary)26
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration22
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration18
Federal Railroad Administration12
Federal Transit Administration4
Maritime Administration3
Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp.2
Pending rules (proposed and final stage) by DOT agency. (Source: OMB)

The group raised the issue of ELDs and HOS as well, claiming that small carriers have been hit with the majority of the $1.8 billion cost associated with the ELD mandate.

“For owner-operators, these costs have led to less investment for maintenance, equipment, and other critical safety upgrades,” OOIDA stated. “While FMCSA has touted improved [HOS] compliance, we have not seen any data suggesting that ELDs actually reduce crashes. As a result of this compliance focused approach, fatalities and crash rates have been going in the wrong direction for more than a decade.”

According to the 2022 federal regulatory agenda released earlier this month by the Office of Management and Budget, FMCSA has a slate of 18 proposed or final rules pending. While four agencies within DOT have fewer rules pending, the remaining four have more — including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which at 51 has the most proposed or final rules pending among DOT’s nine agencies (see table).

Watch: OOIDA sounds off on safety at FMCSA (12/11/21)

Comments from industry will be used to help guide DOT’s Strategic Plan for FY 2022-2026 — a document that Congress has required from all federal agencies since 1993. DOT’s draft framework reflects six goals laid out by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg:

  • Safety: Work toward eliminating transportation-related serious injuries and deaths.
  • Economic strength/global competitiveness: Invest in the transportation system to provide American workers and businesses reliable and efficient access to good-paying jobs, resources and markets.
  • Equity: Support and engage people and communities to promote safe, affordable, accessible and multimodal access to opportunities and services while reducing transportation-related disparities and adverse community impacts and health effects.
  • Climate and sustainability: Substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transportation-related pollution, and build more resilient and sustainable transportation systems to benefit and protect communities.
  • Transformation: Invest in research to meet the challenge of the present and modernize a transportation system of the future.
  • Organizational excellence: Advance the department’s mission by establishing policies, processes, and an inclusive and innovative culture to effectively serve communities and responsibly steward public resources.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.