FMCSA chief Martinez’s reception at TCA marks improved relationship between regulators and industry

FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez speaking at the TCA Annual Convention. ( Photo: FreightWaves )

FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez speaking at the TCA Annual Convention. (Photo: FreightWaves)

FMCSA wants to remove non-preventable crashes from CSA scores

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) head Ray Martinez enjoyed a warm welcome on March 12 at a general session of the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) annual conference in Las Vegas. Martinez commended the TCA’s “culture of safety,” recounted his year-long tenure at the FMCSA, and provided updates on the FMCSA’s revision of the hours of service and other initiatives.

Martinez acknowledged that previous regulators had an indifferent relationship with the trucking industry.

“We’re hoping the climate has changed this past year because of the efforts we’ve put forward – this is a different FMCSA that’s trying to work collaboratively with industry at all levels,” Martinez said. “We need information from the industry and we want to make sure that we’re communicating clearly as well.”

The administrator spoke directly to the value that industry organizations like the TCA offer its peers and regulators in Washington.

“Please know that the President and the Secretary of Transportation and everyone at the FMCSA values your contribution to our country,” Martinez said. “This can be an unwieldy industry to work with – lots of voices and opinions – but we need strong organizations to clarify and to make sure that voice is heard on the Hill. I applaud you for your participation.”

The FMCSA’s public listening session in Joplin, Missouri, last September was viewed by many in the trucking industry as a turning point in the relationship between the administration and the industry it regulates. Martinez’s willingness to travel into heartland and listen to small fleets and owner-operators signaled a fresh approach to collaboration. In his remarks on Tuesday, Martinez emphasized the administration’s new industry- and safety-first thinking about rule-making.

“There is a different attitude now,” Martinez said. “There are some people who believe that the more laws you pass and the more regulations you pass, that that equals greater safety. I disagree. It’s not achieved by more laws and regulations necessarily – it happens because of a culture of safety at your companies. I can commit to you today that our agency is here to listen to you, learn from you and work with you.”

Martinez issued an update on the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate, saying that preliminary data has shown that ELDs are reducing the number of drivers who exceed hours of service (HOS) regulations, reducing driver fatigue and saving lives. He reminded the audience that the FMCSA’s mission is to improve the safety of the trucking industry without impeding commerce.

“One of the most important things is we need continued feedback from the industry on what’s working and what’s not working,” Martinez reiterated.

The administrator said that the FMCSA viewed the current moment as an extraordinary opportunity to review and revise the hours of service, regulations that have not been looked at for 15 years. Martinez recounted the four main areas of potential revision to HOS rules – shorthaul limits, adverse driving condition exceptions, the 30-minute rest break, and the eight required consecutive hours in the sleeper berth – and lauded the trucking industry for its participation in the comment period. Martinez said that approximately 5,200 public comments on potential rule changes were submitted by the trucking industry.

“We are very encouraged by the quantity and quality of the responses we received and the information that was provided,” Martinez said “We want to thank TCA especially for your extensive and thoughtful contributions and responses. We are very close to concluding our evaluation and proposing new rules,” Martinez added.

Looking ahead, Martinez mentioned the Commercial Driver’s License Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse mandate, which will go into effect in January 2020. Effectively, the clearinghouse is a database that carriers must query before hiring new drivers and must query at least once a year in regard to their current drivers.

“Specifically, information maintained in the Clearinghouse will enable employers to identify drivers who commit a drug or alcohol program violations while working for one employer, but who fail to subsequently inform another employer,” the FMCSA wrote in a recent overview of the rule.

In an apparently new announcement that garnered spontaneous applause from the audience, Martinez brought up the Crash Preventability Demonstration Program, an FMCSA pilot project designed to generate a data set that could help the FMCSA distinguish preventable from non-preventable crashes. Eventually, Martinez said, the goal of the agency is to remove non-preventable crashes from carriers’ Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) scores.